Rise of the eco warriors

Sophie Sambrook
23 September 2014
The eco warriors put their skills to the test to help stop deforestation. Photo: Rise of the Eco Warriors Facebook.
The eco warriors put their skills to the test to help stop deforestation. Photo: Rise of the Eco Warriors Facebook.

For many people the idea of making a difference to the world on an environmental scale seems like a laughable concept.

However, for 15 students from across the globe this is an idea that became very much a reality.

The recently released documentary Rise of the Eco Warriors takes us on a journey following the experiences and adventures of these young environmental enthusiasts as they put their skills and knowledge to the test in an attempt to stop deforestation and protect orang-utans in Borneo, Singapore.

These eco warriors were charged with several different tasks such as building an orang-utan rehabilitation centre, starting a reforestation nursery, education shows for the local schools and introducing a satellite monitoring system.

Twiner (right) and fellow eco warrior, Mark Kuroski, perform their education show. Photo: Rise of the Eco Warriors.

Each of these tasks were carried out in an attempt to aid communities in their fight to protect their local environment and the wildlife within it.

Written, directed and produced by Cathy Henkel, this film all but forces buckets of emotion and passion you didn’t know you had to the surface.

One of the film’s eco warriors, Kodi Twiner said it was the “marriage of all the different elements of the film” that makes it so powerful.

“The amazing cinematography and the soundtrack make the viewer forget they’re watching a film that is scientific,” she said.

“Watching the film without the soundtrack is very different to watching it with it.”

Producer Mark White agreed that the power of the film with the music and visuals can cause quite an emotional reaction.

“For many audiences we’ve had incredible responses, especially younger people,” he said. “It really plays well to that audience.”

Twiner was one student chosen out of 215 applicants from across 26 countries to be a part of the eco warriors’ team.

She said she doesn’t really know what her inspiration was to join the fight against deforestation having grown up in a very industrialised town in Queensland.

“I just feel a strong connection to the natural world,” she said. “I was keen to work with like-minded people and do something extraordinary that took me out of my comfort zone.”

The eco warriors team is still working on the project two years on. Photo: Rise of the Eco Warriors Facebook.

The team was made up of people aged between 18 and 35 years of age, from a mixture of different countries including Australia, Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Kenya, France, Indonesia, Netherlands and Singapore, and lead by microbiologist and conservationist Dr Willie Smits.

The purpose of the project was to work with the local communities to protect their forests from being destroyed by the palm oil industry, which is knocking down forests to build oil palm plantations.

“We made this film partly to bring you to awareness because nobody was talking about it,” said White.

“Three years ago when we started no companies were talking about deforestation, now something like 50 percent of companies are doing something about it."

Filming took place over 10 months. With 100 days of footage, editing took two years to complete. The film was finished in August 2013.

“There were people who told Cathy [Henkel] that this film would never get made,” Twiner said. “And she knew she would never stop until it was.”

Henkel was awarded the Green Documentary Producer of the year for the film, which Twiner described as a catalyst for people to dig deep and use their ability to affect change.

The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) believes that encouraging greater uptake of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) is the best way to bring the negative impacts of unsustainable palm to a halt.

In 2013, 15 percent of the world’s palm oil had been made sustainable.

Yet questions have been raised as to whether palm oil can be made sustainable, a discussion White described as “the can of worms”.

“In the opinion of Willie Smits, this is not a crop that can be made sustainable,” he said.

“I didn’t see any evidence of sustainable palm oil when I was on the ground,” Twiner added.

White discounted the marketing attempts that the palm oil industry is making in order to change their negative image of slavery and destruction.

“What credibility do they have?" White asked. "I think they have none.”

Twiner said the experience of being an eco warrior was like a rite of passage for her in saying that she came back a very different person than when she left.

“I thought I was just going on a three-month placement to Indonesia and it’s two years on and I’m still working on this project,” she said.

Twiner is now spending more of her time promoting the film and encouraging others to do everything they can to make a difference.

“Spread the message," she said. "We have so many conversations every single day and if you can make one of them about this, that’s more than you did yesterday.”

If you wish to find out which products you are buying contain palm oil and want to put a stop to deforestation visit the Say No to Palm Oil website.

Or if you want to support the eco warriors message you can donate or simply purchase the film from the Rise of the Eco Warriors website.

The Rise of the Eco Warriors film trailer. Supplied.