Well, I have finally finished my film on forests, called Cambodia: Forests, Water, Life. It’s not often I can say that I am truly happy with a film, there is always something you want to tweak a little bit more, but I am very pleased with the outcome of this production. That’s not to say I couldn’t still make a couple more changes somewhere if I had the time and money.
It’s been an incredibly frustrating year, work wise. I have produced 2 reports and a film on the subject of Prey Lang, none of which have seen the light of day. One report and a short film, which included an interview with the late Chut Wutty, were only for behind closed doors meetings, which is fair enough but my second, a 100 odd page report seems to be being suppressed by the NGO who I produced it for. Anyway back to this film. I had wanted to make something like this ever since I produced a short, very low budget, film for the Maddox Jolie Pitt Foundation in Battambang a couple of years ago. I was astounded at what I was filming up there and have wanted to use it as an example of what can happen when you clear a large area of forest. It’s the perfect example.
I finally got my wish when a Danish botanist I have had the pleasure of working with on several occasions, Ida Theilade PhD, very generously offered a small budget from her own pocket to make a film in an attempt to persuade the government here to look again at what is taking place in Prey Lang forest. She, like myself has been shocked by the destruction we have witnessed in Prey Lang over the past 5 years and wanted to try to help the wonderfully hospitable people who live there and at the same time save what is a truly amazing piece of forest.
I spent months talking to dozens of experts across a wide range of fields, from forestry to fisheries, experts on pollution, nutrients and much, much more. Apart from the more obvious subjects such as biodiversity or carbon sequestration we discussed other less well-known issues, such as how rubber plantations can impact fish breeding; how forests impact local weather patterns; groundwater problems; how methyl mercury held in trees is released as mercury when forests are cleared and burnt. This last one in particular was quite an eye opener, although in the end I simply did not have the time to squeeze it in. There was simply too much to say.
Given that I was not able to include the point on mercury, I will try to explain briefly in layman’s terms. Methyl mercury is stored in trees and plants and just how much largely depends on the geology of the specific area. I came across a report from Brazil from the late 1990’s where some scientists were sent to study the effects of gold mining. The main concern was the wide spread use of highly toxic mercury in it’s extraction. What transpired was a complete surprise to the experts involved. They discovered that the massive deforestation taking place in the area was actually releasing far more mercury than the gold mines. It’s rather complicated and I do not claim to be any kind of expert, but a very basic explanation would be, when trees are burnt the relatively harmless Methyl mercury stored in them is released as a more deadly form and ends up in groundwater and rivers where fish and other forms of aquatic life are exposed to it. For humans the most common way of ingesting mercury is though eating fish, and the fact is, it bio accumulates and doesn’t degrade significantly over time. After talking at length to several experts in this field I discovered that the predatory fish are known to be particularly at risk as they obviously eat the smaller guys, which already have mercury in them. Here in Cambodia that would include species like the ‘Snake head’ a very popular local dish.
The Brazilian report can be found at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v368/n6474/abs/368816a0.html
Mercury is a very nasty chemical and it only takes a minute amount to cause horrific results or even death. The list of problems from the various forms of mercury is enormous so I won’t attempt to list them all, try wikipedia for a more detailed explanation. However, the problems it can cause include, serious birth defects, neurological problems, skin diseases, infertility, kidney damage and problems with eyesight to name just a few.
You will have to watch the film to see what is included, but other issues I also failed to include were, carbon sequestration, community forests in Battambang and elsewhere, and the reality of supposed increases in local employment from economic land concessions. This last point would have been very useful to include but it would have taken a lot of time to explain clearly and I felt that although I had a very good overview of the issue I simply did not have enough to make the assertions I wanted.
This film covers a great deal of issues and is meant to be educational and accessible to the general public. Thanks to the work of Cornell Hillmann, a German national teaching 3D graphics here, I was able to include several animations to help explain how watersheds work and how forests impact groundwater levels and local weather patterns.
One huge problem throughout this production has been the lack of people willing to speak on camera. All due to fear of reprisals, which may sound odd when you view the film and see how the subject is approached. I spoke to many local and international experts based here and dearly wanted people from related ministries such as in fisheries and forestry, to explain various processes. Unfortunately, while everyone I spoke to clearly understood all the issues and exactly how serious this was potentially for the country, not one person was prepared to speak up. Formal requests for interviews were also made to 3 ministries, but sadly all failed to respond. And this is all because the example watersheds mentioned in the film happen to include the very sensitive Prey Lang. I find it rather sad that scientists and experts are suppressing their own findings and knowledge at the possible expense of their country, although I do very much I understand why they are so concerned. Anyway, this film will be broadcast on CTN’s news channel CNC, this Sunday the 4th of November, although they have not as yet specified a time. Hopefully it will raise awareness of what is happening and the possible consequences. Water security is an increasing problem worldwide and I just hope this film is received in the way it was meant to be, as a friendly warning of what can happen if development is not carefully controlled.
Lastly I would like to dedicate the film to my late friend Chut Wutty, who was brutally murdered while investigating illegal logging in April this year. He spent many years working to help protect Prey Lang forest and I think he would have appreciated how I have approached this film.
Links to the film on Youtube:
Lastly, a HUGE, in fact positively ENORMOUS, thank you to my assistant and narrator Yung Sokhan