Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What to Include in a Documentary About What Sustainability Should Really Look Like

As you remember, this series of blog posts started out as notes to myself and my colleagues to help remind us of research we’d done into getting some additional funding to expand our cocoa farming improvement project in Aceh Timur, beginning in Simpang Jernih sub-district.  We wanted to make sure that, as in all JMD’s projects, “sustainability” really means something other than the right word to say when you’re hoping a donor checks off the box marked “okay to fund for another quarter.”

So among other things like adding to our knowledge of the political, social and environmental realities of the area, we wanted to discover personal realities: how people view themselves as citizens of the province, citizens of Indonesia, where they see their future and their kids’ futures, and how content they are to continue old traditions and strengthen their communities . . . or is everyone ready to give up and leave as soon as any outside assistance leaves?

What better way to do this than in some type of documentary form, whether through a “professional” documentarian, a university  or film school student specializing in documentaries, or a filmmaker interested in new ways to get people to speak honestly to “the rest of us” about their lives and feelings and hopes? 

I think we have built enough trust in the community to be able to get some pretty good data on what initiatives and activities could be sustainable in the district, and how they would remain so. I haven’t figured out the instrument yet (maybe it would be best to give video cameras to different groups of people and have them go film their peers and ask questions; I can’t find this anywhere but about 10 years ago a documentary filmmaker did this with young girls in street gangs and it was fascinating) but I think that OF COURSE we’d need to raise money for this too . . . and what better place these days than Kickstarter?

Sometimes, when we’ve done surveys in Aceh, we've found that just like anywhere else we get more honest answers when people are not given a lot of time to think about their answers, or that we are coming to do some interviews.  But I do want to make sure that people would feel comfortable answering questions coming from strangers about:

• What you want to see for your kids’ future
• How the conflict affected you personally (physically, possessions, loss of family, displacement, etc.)
• Did it disrupt your family life?  Is anything the same
• What you feel about your government
• Sharia law
• What you think about big companies from outside Aceh working in your district?  Do you know what they are doing in your area, and how they are doing it
• Personal anecdotes about the forest and its plants/animals, the conflict, illegal activities you know/knew about
• Would it be okay to talk to your kids privately about this stuff?  What age were they during the conflict
• Would it be okay to film you

Re: Cocoa specifically (this should also be asked of government officials):
• Do you think that Aceh Timur can overcome its obstacles and be successful? (name the obstacles or what you see as obstacles) and how you’d define success
• Are you willing personally to hang in there and stick with cocoa farming
• Do you believe women can (or should be allowed to) change or assist in changing the economic face of this region?  Are they doing so now

We also need interviews with:
• Palm oil manufacturers and the large cocoa plantations, if they’ll consent
• Anyone who believes that large agribusiness is good for the region
• Maybe the Kalimantan guys (oh, do I have a next installment on that one for you)
• Representatives from the Ministries (agriculture, environment, forests, etc.)
• Representatives from international conservation NGOs
• Forest rangers
• Anyone doing social services (mainly to show that they don’t exist)
• Possibly the author of the book on “Conservation Refugees”

As part of the process it might be appropriate, although we haven't done it in the past, to give people something for their participation, like seeds, or vouchers for motorcycle fuel or some small token.

It would also be great if we could give the 2 villages that we’re interviewing some communal thing, like needed materials for an existing school, or repairs to a health/community center.  But all of this would have to be part of the funding we’d need to raise.

The documentary would have to also be able to explain how the world cocoa market would benefit from Aceh Timur’s smallholders being allowed to utilize full potential of their cocoa plantations

It would also have to effectively demonstrate how the protection of the rainforest is key to the economic success of the smallholder and the preservation and sustainability of this local farming population.

Easy peasy.

Can’t wait to start.

In the meantime, however, JMD staff is preparing to start Training #2 this week—let the organic fertilizer production (and the organic integrated pest management) begin!

Next: Speaking Truth to Palm Oil: current documentaries on rainforest destruction in Indonesia, and JMD’s Close Encounter of the Oily Kind in Kalimantan

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