Eagle Awards' documentary films bring nature to life

This year's environmental-themed documentaries in annual competition held by Metro TV and In Docs may lack focus but are entertaining and are remarkable efforts by first-time directors

The Jakarta Post
Saturday, September 20, 2008

By Nauval Yazid

Jakarta --- Think local TV is destroying our minds? Think again. For every ton of nonsensical and overblown soaps, there are a handful of shows depicting real lives in a less extravagant manner.

In short, they are far cry from the staged and painstakingly scripted "reality" shows.

One place to look for these is in the Eagle Awards, an annual documentary competition for first-time filmmakers held by private news station Metro TV with In Docs (Indonesian Documentaries), an organization that aims to introduce and distribute the craft of the documentary genre to anyone with great filmmaking aspirations.

If we have to single out a life-changing TV show addressing issues that have often caught both local and national governments off-guard, Eagle has more than what it takes to claim that label.

The winning films in the past two years have brought wide attention to the disadvantages underprivileged people face in getting access to proper healthcare and education.

In 2006, Suster Apung (The Floating Nurse) profiled Nurse Rabiah, a lone fighter who attended to the sick in isolated areas of South Sulawesi using outdated medical tools and a heavily damaged boat unfit for the rough sea crossings needed to visit her patients.

Her story moved no one less than Vice President Jusuf Kalla to donate a better transportation system for her and medical equipment to support her noble and nonprofit service.

Last year's winner, Kepala Sekolahku Pemulung (My Headmaster: The Waste-Taker), touched and shocked many with its almost unthinkable story: A principal of a poor elementary school in Jakarta has a side job collecting garbage to make ends meet.

What happened since was an injection of financial aid from the education board in the Greater Jakarta Administration to save the school and the principal's life.

Given the spectrum of the competition's theme this year -- "Hijau Indonesiaku" (My Green Indonesia) -- it remains to be seen whether one or all of five finalists will have the same dramatic impact as the these winners from the past two years.

For what it's worth from the audience's point of view, the theme could not be more apparent in giving TV viewers something to root for -- panoramic scenes of nature and life, albeit the high-minded concerns underlying every film selected.

Bearing the most dramatic title of all, Prahara Tsunami Bertabur Bakau (Raising Mangroves After the Tsunami), directed by Emanuel Tome Hayon & Mikhael Yosviranto, tells the story of one Baba Akong who almost single-handedly championed planting mangroves after his village in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, was completely destroyed by a tsunami in December 1992.

After initial resistance from his fellow villagers, his persistence paid off: 23 acres of mangrove lands give the people a decent living, and Akong was recently nominated for the Kalpataru award in environmental pioneering earlier this year.

A slightly similar spirit of eco-entrepreneurship is evident in Pulau Bangka Menangis (The Crying Bangka Island), directed by Rudi Harlan and Nursubah from Bangka Belitung.

The film follows the lives of two friends, Fatoni and Edy Elson, who both work in tin mines until they realize the tin quality in Bangka has gradually diminished to the extent it is almost nonexistent.

While Edy remains faithful to his profession and keeps on digging and searching for new tin mines throughout the entire land, Fatoni quits his job and decides to plant rubber and palm trees in the land he previously mined. Despite their contrasting approaches, the two remain friends.

Two other films focus on ecological problems solved collectively rather than by individual efforts.

In Buah Yang Menunggu Mati (Fruit Awaits Its Death), directors Anom Bayu Santoso and Badrudin Kurniawan inspect the suspicious decline in the quality of apple plantations in Batu, East Java. Once hailed as the icon of the city, apples produced in Batu are facing their dying days as a result of excessive use of pesticide in past decades.

On a wider scope, Menjual Mimpi di Sambak (Selling Dreams in Sambak) observes residents of Sambak village in Magelang, Central Java, trying to preserve their main forest and prevent illegal logging by planting fruit trees throughout the forest and turning the forest into an eco-tourism destination.

The fifth finalist, Tanah Terakhir (The Last Land), directed by Rahmawati and Esti Asmalia, looks at the contrasting conditions between the big companies using the land along River Krio in West Kalimantan and the native residents whose lives have not been improved by the supposedly beneficial invasion.

While the premise is stated clearly in the beginning, most of the film is dominated by a slightly out-of-place father-and-son story that takes a look at one father who puts all his efforts into the ownership of his lands, compared with his son's spoiled and irresponsible attitude.

Entertaining as it may be, we cannot help feeling the lack of focus in delivering what is supposedly a strong environment-related theme. This flaw can be found in all films to varying degrees, often compounded by a lack of emotional impact and coherent narrative lines that make the films easier to follow.

Still, despite these minor points, these productions could not be more worth applauding, especially if we take into account that these are the directors' first forays into serious filmmaking, with limited time to do more coherent research on their subjects or to master the necessary technical skills during the production process.

As honestly shared during the Eagle Awards' premiere screenings earlier this week in Erasmus Huis, the finalists come with various life backgrounds. Some of them had to quit their full-time jobs to dedicate their time to making the films, and others were left clueless when asked what kind of camera was used in making their films.

Amateur as they are right now, we can only be amazed by two things: That their subjects are already engaging and that, by delving into their offerings, we are glad that TV has made us think again. This time, it is all for a good cause.