In the burning season in Indonesia, farmers clear the land, in order to develop palm oil plantations. Achmadi is one of these farmers, introduced at the start of Cathy Henkel’s documentary The Burning Season, in 2007. Such deforestation destroys the habitats of endangered orangutans, and also comprises 20% of global carbon emissions. The film looks at the problem from multiple angles, including Achmadi’s and also 29-year-old Australian entrepreneur Dorjee Sun. A green activist and millionaire (owing to a successful recruitment software company and the creative agency, Joosed), Sun plans to “capitalize on climate change,” and help to save the planet at the same time, by selling carbon credits. Once Sun secures an agreement among three of Indonesia’s governors, the film follows him as he travels around the globe, pitching the idea to banks, Starbucks, eBay, and other corporations. His presentations appeal to their bottom lines: there is money to be made in such investments (a helpful bit of animation shows dollar signs hanging off tree branches). The film cuts back to Achmadi in tears, worrying about his family’s survival in the face of increasing restrictions and clampdowns on burning: “Who cares about us?” he worries. “They talk about arrests and bans on burning the forest. I’m already scared of losing my head.” Sun hasn’t forgotten: he hopes to put farmers to work in other ways and save the orangutans he remembers adoring as a child.
Following a premiere at the Tribeca Film festival in 2009, as well as a turn on PBS’ documentary series, Wide Angle in 2008, the film is now available on demand from FilmBuff.
See PopMatters’ review of the film as it appeared on PBS’ Wide Angle.