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Behind the Screens: The Burning Season

Monday night's panel discussion after The Burning Season was raucous, with two hecklers throwing their two cents in. The discussion itself was quite informative. Read on to find out what happened.

The Burning Season still

The marriage of corporations and banks with environmentalism and deforestation is an odd one. As the Behind The Screens series, sponsored by iShares, kicked off Monday night with The Burning Season, the panel following the screening featured a few outspoken critics. Despite the interruption, the discussion was lively and informative.

Cathy Henkel's latest doc revolves around Dorjee Sun, an Australian entrepreneur who creates a corporation called Carbon Conservation to finance the preservation of rainforests via carbon trading. The burning of fields in Indonesia and the saving of the orangutans are also key plotlines in the film, but Dorjee's story takes the front seat, as he works his way up through the levels of the Indonesian government and brings Merrill Lynch on board as the backer of his corporation. At a Green Governors summit, Dorjee and Governor Irwandi meet Arnold Schwarzenegger. After the screening of the film, Sun, Henkel, and New York Times environmental correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal were on hand to discuss the film.

Moderating the discussion was NPR's Ira Flatow. His opening question was a direct one: How did the film happen? "I saw An Inconvenient Truth, and I was inspired by that," Henkel explained. "I met Dorjee at a Christmas party, and then he rang me in January, and said, 'I know how Arnold Schwarzenneger can save the orangutans.'" "When Steve Irwin died," Sun added, "I felt like the world had lost someone really good. Who was going to protect this planet? There was a UN conference on avoiding deforestation going on in Sydney. I started talking to people in the lobby there. I got kicked out, but someone told me that if I could get a letter of introduction, I could get in. So I got the letter, and that's how this got started."

No sooner had Sun related the anecdote than the first heckler jumped in. "You want to tell us about getting kicked out, Dorjee?" someone from the back exclaimed. "Okay. Carbon trading is extremely dangerous, and it is extremely bad for the environment." The heckler went on, and Sun attempted to assuage his concerns, but no sooner had he done this than, as if by contagion, a second voice of dissent emerged. "Merrill Lynch?" heckler number two asked incredulously. "You don't save the forests by putting a value, a price, on them. You do it by boycotts." "That train has already left the station," Sun responded. "That has been tried for twenty, thirty years. It doesn't work. We don't have time for ineffective strategies."

When the dust from the two interruptions settled, Henkel attempted to address the concerns raised. "This concept really presents a paradigm shift," she explained, "because until now, the only thing Indonesians were being paid for was, 'Chop your trees down, we'll buy your wood.' Orangutans are still in danger. They may be extinct in ten years. But now, we finally have a system where people can profit from not deforesting." Later on, Henkel added, "I really believe in what environmentalists have been doing for years, but this is a mainstream film, meant to inspire people that they really can do this as an occupation. Saving the rainforests is no longer a side project."

The most tense moments, however, were yet to come. When the floor was opened to the audience, the second heckler, who had cleverly moved across the theater so he would not be recognized as such, asked a question. "I feel like the film is intellectually dishonest," he said. After much preamble, and prodding from Flatow, he made his way to his question. "Is there a reason that the carbon tax ideas don't have concerns raised about them in the film?" "If you can find a better way to do it, to stop deforestation, I'm all there," Sun said. "But the other options don't lead anywhere. If you are passionate about the carbon tax, which you clearly are, email me, I'll give you my card, I've only got three left but I'll give one to you." The heckler, seemingly annoyed, started making his way towards the exit. "Hey, wait, don't go," Sun said. "I hope your role is to get engaged and not to just levy criticism and then walk away. Come on."

The heckler continued moving towards the exit, saying he was frustrated that he hadn't gotten an answer. Sun got up out of his seat, and walked over to him, and gave him his card. "Seriously, email me," he said. They talked for a bit, and the heckler seemed to be at least moderately satisfied. "All right," Sun said, "let's hug it out." They did.

The Burning Season screens throughout the Festival. Get your tickets today!


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