Eco-Warriors Rise to the Challenge

In the spirit of her IF Award winning documentary of 2008, The Burning Season, Cathy Henkel has returned to the jungles of Borneo for her latest venture, Rise of the Eco-Warriors.

The Burning Season saw Henkel track the story of one Australian entrepreneur, Dorjee Sun, who fought tirelessly for a carbon trading deal with the aim to protect millions of hectares of rainforest in Borneo from de-forestation. This time, Henkel witnesses the journey of a team of fifteen young ambassadors from around the world who are selected to spend 100 days in Borneo with a shared mission of confronting deforestation and giving hope to endangered orangutans.

The call for a group of young Eco-Warriors went out in January 2011 and entries poured in from 26 different countries around the world. Fifteen individuals were selected from the pool of entrants, with three of the group hailing from Australia. The other Eco-Warriors came from the US, Canada, the UK, France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Indonesia and Singapore.

Split into four smaller groups, the Eco-Warriors managed to attack the global challenge of deforestation from all sides. One group was responsible for building a rehabilitation facility for orangutans. Another group assisted a village elder’s nursery by preparing the land for 6,000 sugar palm seedlings as an alternative to oil palms. The education group devised a music theatre show in the local language to perform to students. The remaining team worked on introducing a satellite technology monitoring system, enlisting the help of school students worldwide to monitor patches of forest for any evidence of illegal logging.

With the Eco-Warriors split into four groups and heading off in different directions to work on their delegated tasks, this made documenting the process somewhat difficult for Henkel and her small crew of only four. “For me, it was just part instinct and part information,” Henkel explained. “We got very close to the Eco-Warriors obviously, after such a long time of being there. It was about knowing what they were going to be doing over the next, say, week and my gut feeling of whether this was going to become a major point in the documentary.”

The Eco-Warriors continue to carry on their mission long past their time spent in Borneo. Aiming to educate consumers about the presence of palm oil in certain products and palm oil free alternatives, the Eco-Warriors launched an urban Eco-Warrior campaign in Singapore. The group also continues to raise funds and spread their message via online and social media platforms, whilst retaining connections they formed with the local people of Sintang and Tembak in Borneo.

Henkel and her crew faced many challenges during the filmmaking process, including Borneo’s intensive heat and the treacherous environment of the rainforests, basic circumstances and a frustrating lack of funding. Key partners involved in the early stage of the process, Creative Enterprise Australia as well as National Geographic both withdrew before filming was complete.

Furthermore, delays at Screen Queensland for final approval once the filming was complete forced the producers to launch a crowd-funding campaign on Pozible to begin the editing process. With support from QUT staff and students, the campaign raised $10,000 in 20 days and Rise of the Eco-Warriors was finally completed in August, 2013.

“We financed this film outside of the mainstream and I’m very proud of that,” Henkel said. “We largely raised it from private investment, sponsorship and philanthropy. No broadcasts are attached and no Screen Australia.”

Not only has Henkel and her team managed most of the film financing themselves, they’ve also retained control of the distribution of Rise of the Eco-Warriors which is scheduled for a cinematic release in March.

“I’m also proud that we’re releasing the film in a hybrid distribution model. Doing a lot of it ourselves, taking control, not handing it over to a distributor who just runs away with it,” Henkel told IF. “We’re working with John L. Simpson at Titan View who is really smart and really understands the film. Plus we’ve got Palace and Event Cinemas involved in releasing the film and doing school screenings.”

When Rise of the Eco-Warriors is seen up on the big screen by school groups and cinema-goers, Henkel hopes first and foremost that the film will act as a motivational tool. “I hope that they will walk out of the cinema and feel inspired to do just one thing,” Henkel said. “To recognise that every individual does matter and every action, no matter how small, counts.”

For more information about Rise of the Eco-Warriors and its release in March, visit