Filmmaker Q&A: Patrick Rouxel
“As a species we are the biggest criminals on the planet. Every day we rape the planet, shed blood and cause suffering.”
In Green: Death of the Forests, filmmaker Patrick Rouxel explores the impact of deforestation and the exploitation of natural resources in Indonesia from the point of view of a dying orangutan.
He talks to Al Jazeera about the film and the themes it explores.
Al Jazeera: Why did you decide to make this film?
Patrick Rouxel: I decided to make documentaries to raise awareness about the question of deforestation, bad animal treatment, corporate greed and consumerism about 10 years ago after travelling in Indonesia and witnessing the scale of the environmental destruction in Sumatra and Kalimantan. It was very overwhelming and depressing to witness this and it still is today.
As an ordinary citizen it was not easy to know what I could do to help stop such massive bloodshed. I decided to film what I saw and put that footage together in a way that [would enable me to] share what I feel with others around the world, hoping this would help protect the rainforest. This is how Green (and my previous films on Indonesia) was made. Green is, in fact, a citizen act.
Why is this story important?
The story is important because we are all part of it. As consumers we are fuelling the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest. We are therefore all accountable for the extinction of the Indonesian tigers, rhinos, elephants, bears, orangutans and many more. Their habitat is being wiped out, they have nowhere to go, they are killed or captured, sold, and end up in private homes or local zoos. They are suffering badly.
Being a captive animal in Indonesia is pure hell because the notion of animal wellbeing does not exist there. And every day, through the things we buy, we encourage this destruction and suffering.
How would you define the film? Is it an activism or wildlife film?
Green is a mixture of poetry and activism. It doesn’t judge or accuse, nor does it give lessons or morals. It just shows what is going on in Indonesia and how consumers around the world are connected to this.
Through the story of a dying mother orangutan, the film calls on emotions, empathy and one’s ability to feel sorrow and pain as well as shame and guilt perhaps.
The film is meant to be an eye-opener for those who didn’t know. It is meant to trigger a reaction in the audience, to instigate change.
Have you always been interested in the plight of orangutans, or was it the environmental situation in Indonesia that inspired you to make this film?
It is both the plight of the forest and all the wildlife in Indonesia that inspired me to make Green. The story of the film is centred on a single orangutan because that story came to me as I was there.
I met this orangutan by chance, felt sorry for her and then decided she should become the central character of the film.
She is like an ambassador for the forest and the wildlife. Her story is that of all the other species: the story of all those presently undergoing the genocide, be they the gibbons, the bears, the tigers, the elephants, etc.
How did you finance the film?
Green is a very low-budget film which I financed on my own. For a film like Green, or my latest film Alma or the one I’m working on now, I actually don’t even look for funding. I just go off with my camera, film what I can, try to find a story as I go along and then go home to edit the film on my laptop.
Friends help me for the music, the sound design, colour grading, mix, etc. Making films like Green or Alma does not cost much, it just takes time. Also, having no funding means having no pressure and absolute freedom in doing my films the way I want to do them, which is very appreciable.
Why did you choose to make the film without dialogue?
The film has no narration for many reasons. Firstly, the story of the film can be understood by everyone without the help of narration, so why have any? Secondly the story is “told” from the point of view of an orangutan, and orangutans don’t speak human languages, they have their own silent language which I wanted to respect. Thirdly, and more technically, having decided to have the film available for free download on the internet, the absence of any written text, dialogues or narration means that I only needed one version for all world viewers.
I also think that the absence of words helps the audience to feel the emotions I try to get across. It is a way for the film to appeal directly to the heart without passing by the intellect.
What do you want the viewers to take away after watching the film?
I hope the viewer will feel what I feel: that deforestation is fundamentally wrong, that we must each stop passively participating in it as consumers and actively do what we can to stop the carnage. I hope viewers will think twice before buying anything and ask themselves “do I really need this? How was it made? Where do the raw materials that make up this product come from?”
I hope to make people want to be more caring and responsible. I hope to make people want to invest themselves in environmental conservation in one way or another. I hope to make people feel more empathy for all life on earth.
What is your response to those who say that deforestation and land-clearing is important for a country’s economic growth and that your position represents an oversimplified view of the situation?
Of course the situation is a complex one, but who really benefits from deforestation and land-clearing besides the large corporates and the rich and powerful? Surely not the poor. Something is fundamentally wrong with our economic model and the way most individuals in power behave.
As a species, with our technology and economic values, we are the biggest criminals on the planet. Every day we rape the planet, shed blood and generate so much suffering. I think there can be no valid excuse for deforestation and land-clearing. It remains a crime to destroy the cradles of life on earth: be it the forest, the mangroves, the coral reefs, etc.
Did you anticipate all the awards the film would go on to win?
No, not at all. It was quite a surprise for a small home-made film. I think Green has got more than 35 awards now, including “best of festival” at the two major wildlife film festivals in the world – Jackson Hole in the US and Wildscreen in England. I just hope these awards can help the film reach more people.
Is the main aim of the film to get consumers to change their habits? Would you like to see it used as an educational tool in schools?
Yes, we must change our consumer habits. Yes we must considerably reduce our consumption of palm oil, paper and exotic hardwood. If we don’t, Indonesia will chop down all its forest to the very last tree. Yes the film is an educational tool copyright-free for any non-commercial screening. I encourage all screenings of Green, wherever appropriate.
What inspires you to keep going in your struggle to generate awareness around these issues?
My motivation is empathy for the victims and shame of being myself a part of the problem. I feel so sorry and so bad about what we are doing to all the other species we share the planet with. We have no right to be so disrespectful and so cruel. I personally can’t just go on with life as if everything was okay. So I try to do what I can.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am working on a new film. I think it’s going to be on the question of the overpopulation of the human species. I’m now travelling and gathering footage as I usually do. I hope to finish it before the end of the year.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.