Fidelis E. Satriastanti
When Salahuddin Siregar started filming two farming families in a village on the edge of the Mount Merbabu forest in Central Java, he just wanted to document their daily lives.
What he ended up with was “Negeri di Bawah Kabut” (“The Land Beneath the Fog”), a documentary that examines the impact of climate change on the lives of real people trying to make a living and survive.
“It started because I just wanted to make a documentary about their daily lives, as I had been living in [nearby] Yogyakarta for two years,” said the 33-year-old filmmaker.
“We did not plot anything. We just followed their daily lives for two years and that [climate change] came up. And it turned out that climate change also has a powerful impact on education and poverty.”
“Negeri di Bawah Kabut” follows the struggles of two families coping with changes to weather cycles that lead to crop failures and result in hardships as the farmers struggle to put their children through school and pay for their daily needs.
“I did not mention ‘climate change’ in the documentary,” Salahuddin said. “They don’t know about it anyway. They just knew that the rainy season was not supposed to be that long and they were trying hard to deal with it.”
He said there was no script and the families just went about their normal business, as if the camera wasn’t there.
Salahuddin’s film, which received an award at the International Film Festival in Dubai last year, was Wednesday’s opening movie at the South to South Film Festival being held in Jakarta until Sunday.
Founded by local NGOs in 2006, the festival, which takes place every two years, was inspired by solidarity between “southern” or developing nations whose natural resources are often exploited by “northern,” developed countries.
This year’s event, under the theme “Spirit Without Limits,” will include more than 30 feature and short films from around the world that will shed light on numerous environmental concerns.
Dimas Jayasrana, the festival’s program director, said the film festival did not deal exclusively with environmental issues but also addressed the causes and impact of environmental damage, including political, social and economic changes.
“The idea is not that new. We are not just showing environmental movies about floods or planting trees, but instead we are saying for example, if there are mining activities, we must look at the fact that communities in mining areas are still poor,” Dimas said.
He said “The Land Beneath the Fog” was chosen to open the event because it was strong in both technique and content.
“Are environmental issues still important as film topics? Sure, alongside women’s issues and human rights. However, not many films tackle it with sufficiently high standards,” he said.
“Most tend to preach, for example, ‘don’t litter,’ ‘don’t cut down the trees.’ We are lectured like elementary school students. Of course, we all know that littering will exacerbate floods. Planting trees? Where’s the land to plant them in Jakarta? I mean, you need to have more to offer than just generalizations. You need a nuanced discourse.”
Salahuddin said global themes, such as climate change, needed to be localized. “You need to have local environments in documentaries, not just go on about the ice caps melting,” he said. “For instance, crop failures are connected to food security. You just need to show that connection.”
Dimas said topics could be presented on different scales depending on the target audience.
“You can show the impacts of climate change at a micro level, such as in Salahuddin’s film. But you can also show the big picture, as in Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ ”
The South to South Film Festival also features foreign movies, such as “Uber Wasser,” from Austria, which details global shifts in rainfall patterns. From the other side of the globe, “Sipakapa Is Not for Sale” tells the story of a small community in a gold-rich area in Guatemala.
The event’s schedule is available at www.stosfest.org.