His most recent film ‘What Rainforest?‘ reveals the onslaught of oil palm plantations on the Native Customary Rights land of the indigenous peoples of Sarawak in Malaysia. It is part of a bigger campaign found at www.whatrainforest.com which aims to restore the rights of the indigenous peoples and to stop, and eventually reverse, the destruction of the rainforest.
In their words:
EngageMedia (EM): Tell us who you are as a filmmaker
Chi Too (CT): I am not a filmmaker, I only happen to make films. Films are one of the many mediums in which I engage my audience.
EM: How did you come to video as a medium? Why do you work with the moving image?
CT: I was introduced to video whilst studying in college where I began making fictional short films. I work with the moving image simply because it can be an effective means to address and convey ideas and issues. However, I would also be the first to assert that the moving image can also be the most ineffective means to convey ideas and issues. I have never dared to call myself a filmmaker, simply because I’d like to believe that I am capable of expressing myself through various mediums, and that various issues have various needs that can only be effectively expressed by various mediums.
EM: What are the main issues you address in your video work?
CT: My main concerns are of the rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants. My passion for the issue began with the former, however, upon learning the sufferings and injustice faced by latter as a result of the former, I began shifting my attention towards the indigenous peoples.
EM: What radicalised you as a filmmaker – or how did you come to work with these issues? Did it happen in the moment, or was it a process?
CT: I was really thrown into the deep end when I began. I was called by Greenpeace to Papua New Guinea as a volunteer at the Global Forest Rescue Station. As volunteers, we were supposed to convey our experiences to our respective national organizations via blogs.
Unfortunately for me, there is no Greenpeace presence in Malaysia, therefore I thought that perhaps the best thing to do is to make a documentary about it. Reality sank in hard when I arrived in Papua New Guinea only to realize that I had no idea how to make a documentary. It was a case of sink or swim. Fortunately for me, it was there where I met the late Pip Starr. Whilst I was there, Pip screened ‘The Okapa Connection‘ to the local community, It was then that I had my eureka moment: ‘So that’s how you make a documentary’… I went on to make ‘Paradise Bus’.
EM: Tell us about your favourite piece of video you have made, in regards to social justice or environment.
CT: Having made three documentaries, I have yet to make one which I am truly happy with. Some may say that I am too harsh with myself, but yeah… I believe my favourite social justice video is somewhere in the future.
EM: How do you think online distribution is changing the field of independent video making? How do you use online tools in your work?
CT: I use online video as part of my distribution strategy. However, due to the length of my films and the available (or rather lack of) internet infrastructure in my country, I do not take really take it too seriously as audiences tend to shut themselves off if they have to wait for videos to load. Unless of course if the said audience is already interested in the issue itself. Which leads me to the problematic nature of the internet, in which content only reaches out to audiences who are already interested in the first place. Though this is good to bind solidarity among activists and believers in change, unfortunately, it does very little in terms of changing perceptions of the average person on the streets, which I’d like to believe is the ultimate goal of the social filmmaker.
This is compounded by the fact that the internet is now over-saturated with videos that are of very low quality and value. This makes it even more difficult for a filmmaker to push his/her film across the internet. I would say that internet video was in its initial stages revolutionary for independent filmmakers, but of late, given the mass competition we face on the internet, it might have turned into a monster that is beyond our control.
Tools like EngageMedia are heaven-sent for filmmakers and discerning audiences who yearn for quality material. However, the question remains as to how are we going to get the ‘average Joe’ who enjoys bloopers on YouTube to come over to EngageMedia and get their dose of social activism?
This is a difficult question which I have no answer to. But as a filmmaker who puts much time and resources into producing a film, I cannot allow myself to leave distribution to optimism and feel-good vibes about the internet. This is a question that I will strive to answer for as long as I still make films, and as long as the internet still exists.
EM: Any other comments?
CT: Quite a number of my friends and family have questioned me as to why I do what I do. Many have warned me of the potential dangers I’m putting myself in. Many have told me that this could be a job for ‘somebody else’. Unfortunately, the current situation requires immediate attention. And fortunately for me, to everyone else… I am ‘somebody else’
If you know of any interesting filmmakers around the Asia Pacific you’d like to see featured on EngageMedia.org, drop us an email at contact[at]engagemedia.org