New Zealand photographer David Metcalf and Indonesian director Erick Est took the audience on a heartfelt journey deep into the forests of North Kalimantan during a screening of their documentary film, “Long Sa’an: The Journey Back,” at the American cultural center in South Jakarta on Tuesday (16/05).
The story follows Philius, a 60-year-old Dayak man who makes his way back to his place of birth – Long Sa’an village in Malinau district – to pay his respects to his ancestors.
Philius, who left the village when he was 15 years old, now lives in Setulang, also in Malinau district. For nearly 45 years, he has never returned until he met David and his crew.
Five other Dayak men who were also born in Long Sa’an eventually join the adventurous journey along with people from different nationalities and backgrounds, including Rex Urwin, a master coach and workshop developer; Robi Navicula, a songwriter and environmentalist; Kevin Locke, a cultural ambassador and hoop dancer from the Native American Lakota tribe; Martin Holland, co-founder and director of the Heart of Borneo Project; and James Greenshields, a veteran of the war in Iraq.
Philius said his decision to leave his ancestral home decades ago was based mainly on his desire to have better access to health and educational facilities.
“Long Sa’an is located up on the hill and it takes two days from any medical care [facility]. Our tribal leaders that time agreed to resolve this problem, so we moved to Setulang village because it is closer to the hospital,” he said.
If a woman had birth complications, she would often die because it was not possible to get her to a hospital on time, Philius said. However, the hardship he once experienced has not made him forget his childhood home.
The film explores the connection between indigenous cultures and forest preservation. Although Philius now lives in Setulang, where there is 24-hour electricity and educational facilities, he said he never forgot his roots and still loves nature and the environment.
In the movie, the Dayak call the forest “Tala Olen,” or “Forbidden Forest.” They have strict cultural taboos about cutting down trees, or damaging the forest in any way.
“This forest is our home. If this place is destroyed, then our culture and we are destroyed along with it,” Philius says in the film.
The Dayak people are known for their deep spiritual connection to their land, forests and rivers. Their ability to maintain their land provides audiences with an opportunity to learn about and appreciate Dayak culture.
“This documentary film aims to raise awareness about rainforest conservation and the protection of Kalimantan’s forest,” Erick said.
“The movie-making process is quite challenging,” David said. “We had to journey up two major rivers for hours and I had no idea what was going on inside there. So, I just trusted the process and this movie is finally made.”