Filmmakers get credit they deserve
18/06/2008 3:37:00 PM The Camberra Times
Independent Australian producers Cathy Henkel and Jeff Canin maxed out seven credit cards to make their latest documentary The Burning Season. The film centres on, about the deliberately lit fires that rage across Indonesia every year to clear land for crops.
The ABC, BBC and US network CBS had all pre-bought the film and the Hatchling Productions pair had also managed to secure funding from Australian film funding bodies as well as distribution through National Geographic.
But filming began in March last year while and the cash flow didn't come through until December, when Henkel and Canin were at the Bali climate change Kyoto Summit and most of the filming had already finished.
"It's quite a complex deal and it probably took all of last year to put together. However, the story began and I just had to go," Henkel said.
"So it's tricky and it's a lot of risk that the independent producer has to take but we managed to do it and it's now fully financed and this is not unusual."
Life in the documentary business is tough but Henkel believes life without documentary would be a poorer place.
She and Canin were in Canberra this week on Monday to meet with politicians, including Greens senator Bob Brown and Environment Minister Peter Garrett, for a special screening of the film.
Henkel said she hoped the screening would emphasise the importance of documentary film in Australia.
"[With the formation] of the new agency Screen Australia we just want to ensure that documentary has a high profile and is recognised for its importance. Of course we need Australian documentary for our culture but we are also arguing that we have an innovative, growing viable business," Henkel said.
The Burning Season tells the story of three people from different worlds, whose lives intersect in the lead-up to another burning season young Australian entrepreneur Dorjee Sun who wants to establish a cutting-edge carbon trading scheme that effectively re-values forests; an Indonesian farmer Achmadi who burns trees to clear land for growing palm oil; and Danish expatriate Lone Droscher Nielsen who cares for over 600 injured and orphaned orangutans.
"This is a character-based story so we're following three characters and their journeys through last year the various struggles, obstacles and issues that they encountered. It's not issue-based as such but the issues emerge from the characters," Henkel said.
"It's very fast-paced and a bit of a thriller: you don't know what's going to happen next. We also have Hugh Jackman narrating the film and that's because we wanted a storyteller who would get across some of the tough concepts that people need to understand. They need to understand what Dorjee's trying to do and they also need to know the global facts, such as 20 per cent of climate change comes from deforestation."
She said it wasn't a documentary in the style of Michael Moore.
"It's not a polemic and it's not propaganda either. It is a story but it asks the questions of the audience: Do you think carbon trading could save the forests of the world? Do you think Dorjee's onto something? Is he a pioneer of something that could be replicated around the world or do you just think he's a profiteer?"
She said documentary had the power to change people's opinions.
"I can only speak for myself but my life has been changed by seeing documentary films and my attitudes are frequently changed by seeing films. So I do believe that they do change attitudes and that's clearly why we do it. We hope that people will at least think about and discuss important issues that we raise. If it changes even one person, you've made an impact."