Rise of the Eco-warriors tells the story of a group of passionate and adventurous young people from around the world (three of these are Aussies, and one Indonesian) who gather in the forests of Central Kalimantan for 100 days.

Director Cathy Henkel (who also directed 2009’s The Burning Season) tells the story of a mission to confront one of the great global challenges of our time, saving rainforests and giving hope to endangered orangutans. Their task is enormous, and the odds are stacked against them.

Rise of the Eco-warriors showcases the devastating impact of the palm oil industry in Indonesia and its consequences on local communities, the environment and the world at large. The obstacles faced by the young people are seemingly insurmountable, and the film does a great job at highlighting the size of the issue, and that it is the small steps and contributions that can make the biggest difference.

AIYA NSW’s Nicholas Mark spoke to Cathy Henkel about this innovative Australia-Indonesia co-production:

Do you or the Eco-warriors speak Bahasa Indonesia?
I do not, but the eco-warriors arrived speaking very little and with constant interaction with the locals they were soon getting along very well. Some of them eventually went on to use Bahasa Indonesia to give presentations about this issue to Indonesian schools.

What are the Eco-warriors up to now?
They are now all active in their own ways and applying the learning and understanding that they gained from this experience. Australia’s Paul Daley is now even continuing to work in Indonesia’s forests, so the language has definitely come in handy!

What platform delivery approach have you taken for this film?
We have an independent distributor, and have heavily used social media platforms, so there is no normal advertising here. We are telling the story of the film on Facebook (include link to page), which now has over 26,000 likes!

How was the film financed?
It is all Australian finance, with it coming from philanthropy, private investment, crowd funding and some from Screen Queensland. The Australian production tax offset is also very attractive!

How did the local communities react to the eco-warriors’ presence?
The eco-warriors were very honouring and respectful of the local dayak people, who were very supportive in return. The head of the local dayak tribe begged us to help them, and gave us a very traditional welcome. We have since raised money for the local school and an orang-utan centre, and people can now contribute to those on the film’s website (link to website).

What was it like to partner with Indonesian production company, ‘Canopy Indonesia’?
Canopy are based on the ground, in Borneo, so they were able to assist with everything from arranging the film permits and as our crew. The cinematographer, Ismail Fahmi Lubish-Ezther, was also from Jakarta, and did a superb job of capturing both the beauty and destruction in the forests. Canopy are also helping us to bring the film to Indonesia and to create the Bahasa Indonesia subtitles.

What message do you have for young Australians and Indonesians?
Stay hopeful, and we have to believe that we can work together collectively in increase awareness and make a difference.

Rise of the Eco-warriors launches later this month on limited release. For a full list of screenings visit the film’s website. Private screenings can be arranged through Virgo Productions.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association or its partners.