The Burning Season – Director – Cathy Henkel
The Burning Season, an ‘eco-thriller’ released in 2008 to both critical and popular acclaim is about a young man confronting the biggest challenge of our time: global warming. The documentary examines whether a massive carbon trading deal can protect the forests of Indonesia, save the orangutans from extinction and help redefine the Earth’s future.
The main protagonist in The Burning Season is a young Asian-Australian called Dorjee Sun, who heads a carbon trading company called Carbon Conservation.The Burning Season’s director Cathy Henkel, met Sun in late 2006, not long after she decided to make a film about the forest fires in Indonesia. Henkel had learned that these fires not only resulted in the deaths of between four and five thousand orangutan every year, but also contributed 15 per cent of the world’s annual carbon emissions.
Henkel asked Sun for permission to follow his quest to find a solution to the fires as part of the documentary. Not long after, Sun initiated discussions with the office of Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had announced his intention to offset carbon emissions in what is the world’s seventh-largest economy..
The trading mechanism Sun proposed is based on the concept that developing countries should be compensated if they lower rates of deforestation and associated carbon emissions. The Kyoto Protocol historically neglected the concept of so-called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries) carbon credits, even though on average 20 per cent of carbon emissions worldwide are caused by tropical deforestation – with the majority from Indonesian fires.
The Burning Season reveals how Sun negotiates with the governors of Aceh, Papua and Papua Barat in Indonesia. All three governors agreed to cede their carbon credits to him and his colleagues, giving Carbon Conservation the exclusive right to trade the credits on the international market.
The Burning Season also juxtaposes the stories of Lone Drosher-Nielsen, who cares for more than 600 injured and orphaned orangutans in Indonesian Borneo, and Achmadi, a palm oil farmer on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, who is open to finding an alternative to this devastating farming practice.
Henkel admits that finding an end for The Burning Season was very difficult. “This story is one that’s going to play out over the next five to 10 years,” she explained. However, the United Nations conference on climate change in Bali in late 2007 provided a great ending for the film.
In Bali, Sun brings together the three provincial Indonesian governors with the governor of Brazil’s Amazonas state. Shortly after this meeting, dubbed the ‘Green Governors Gala’, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced that Indonesia stands to gain potentially billions of dollars on an international carbon market by avoiding deforestation. He also revealed a plan to save the endangered orangutan.
The Burning Season’s theatrical release took place in mid-2009. It was released on DVD by Madman Entertainment in Australia (in March 2010) and in the U.S. in April 2011. It won Best Documentary at the 2008 Inside Film Awards and the Audience Choice Award at the Brisbane International Film Festival the same year. It was part of the official selection for the World Documentary Feature Competition at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
*** Stars Kerry Sunderland