My Experience at KLEFF : When Environmentalism Meets Film Festival

KLEFF: What Is It And What Is It About?

Ng Wai Pak from Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) on the left and Tee Thye Lim from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on the right

I first heard about Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF) from a friend who is interested about nature. As I was quite fascinated about its concept of environmentalism, I bought the tickets for three sessions: Session 2 on 24th October (Wednesday), Sessions 1 and 2 on 25th October, (Thursday). I know, I’m the type of person who can be easily persuaded ( shush, it’s only between you and me, okay?) and a self-proclaimed FOMO expert.

KLEFF is Malaysia’s first environmental film festival, which is run by EcoKnights, an environmental NGO.  The festival is held annually for the past 10 years and this year’s festival would be its 11th instalment.

The week-long festival was held at MAP Publika, Mont Kiara Solaris from 22nd to 28th October 2018. This year, the festival’s theme is “Forests, Water and Climate Change”. Each session costs RM10 with the duration of about 2 hours, which includes the talk given by a director and a Q&A session regarding that.

There are a few of my personal favourites in these sessions, I’ll only be talking about these wonderful gems in this article.

Session 2 | 24th October

Red Shanked Douc Langur (2018)

The film, for the most part, focuses on the red-shanked douc langurs. The narration throughout the film is pretty much talking about the facts regarding these monkeys. It has made me, with a sudden realisation, to see them as a family resembling our own. From what I have found out from this film, they actually share many similar traits with us. Granted, humans share the same infraorder called simiiformes, a sub-category for primates, with the red shanked douc. So, it should be no surprise that I am able to relate to what they are doing.

One commonality between humans and doucs would be our social nature. As captured in the film, the doucs interact with each other in their small community. This common ground has made me reflect deeply about how we human beings tend to put ourselves on a self-imposed pedestal with the notion of being superior to other animals. However, we should be aware of the fact that we too are animals living in this wide interconnected web of living organisms on Earth. As such, our coexistence with animals shouldn’t be perceived as a hierarchy system that allows our unregulated slaughters of them for our benefits.

The film incorporates many close-up shots which play a rather gigantic role in giving the audiences a sense of intimacy to the doucs. These close-up shots of the doucs are downright close to the point where one can see the texture of their furs and faces. By showing them in such a close distance, it is as though they are appearing in front of the audiences as in reality. This, to me, is the mark of an effective documentary– the voyeuristic power of moving pictures to gradually ignite the growth of empathy by forming some level of emotional attachment with the audiences.

Bird of Prey (2017)

Source: IMDb

This film explores the reality of being a documentary filmmaker in a documentary team that endures the long and arduous process of filming the bird’s nest. The film isn’t shy about showing the unglamorous realities of the documentary filming process. The director, Eric Liner managed to include both the filming of birds and the background stories of it in the documentary with the pertinent balance of amount between these two. This is why I think this film is equally as much a documentary about the birds as it is a documentary about the filmmakers, the crew members and the people involved in the conservation efforts of these birds.

The film doesn’t solely focus on the animals and its facts. It also shows the challenges that comes with the conservation of the Philippine Eagles. One of those challenges is the difficulty of grasping the right way to ensure the birds to lay fertile eggs. With no comprehension of the method for this, it can increase the overall difficulty to prolong the survival rate of the bird population. It is not just about the birds, but also about the larger context that involves the birds. It’s us humans who have caused the near extinction of the birds. However, it’s also down to us humans to try to slow down the negative impacts of human activities, namely deforestation.

In some ways, this film is somewhat of a non-linear longitudinal documentary where the viewers get to see video snippets from To Free an Eagle (1980) wedged in between the current time frame of the film. It frames the documentary through the nostalgic lens as though it’s a trip down memory lane that leads us to acknowledge the past in order to examine the current issue. Due to such method of filming, it also looks like a sort of biographical piece on the cinematographer, Neil Rettig. It portrays many scenes of him showing his love for birds from the past to the present.

He says in the film, “For me, these creatures (the Philippine Eagles) are masterpieces of nature.” This kind of passion for the preservation of the species can potentially be infectious. Seeing this, it also reinforces my thinking about how the conservation movement isn’t just about knowing the rational and “right” thing to do. A pretty large part of it, I suspect, is based on this love for these animals.

Session 1 | 25th October

Waste Dreams (2017)

The film Waste Dreams (2017) is a documentary about school communities in Columbia doing their part in waste management. The way these communities do about it is to pack used thin plastic and aluminium packaging into plastic bottles. Then, they have those filled up plastic bottles as replacements of the traditional bricks used for construction. The film then becomes a reflection of how people all over the world are trying to make a difference in their own way and at their own terms.

The film shows that the model of reducing the single-used packaging may not be easy for many people. It is because many of the capitalist societies have already integrated refined sugar in the form of soft drink, bubble tea and coffee as a big part of their everyday life. What I have learnt from watching this film is that reducing consumption of these single-used products may be feasible. However, the complete elimination of them is virtually impossible in this modern era. So, it delivers a message to us–rather than removing it completely, why not have a more feasible solution to the waste problem.

I find the opening and ending scenes showing a woman consuming a bag of potato chips are unnecessarily long . However, what makes this documentary interesting is the nuanced take on environmentalism through the interviews of a number of rather contrasting opinions about this issue of waste management. I think it is trying to show that the conversation around waste management is complex. There isn’t one monolithic solution to this issue. To me, this documentary depicts this reality by initiating questions about it that are left to us for further inspection.

The documentary is filmed in Spanish, which is Columbia’s national language. Though it is just a short documentary, that level of exposure to a foreign language is very eye-opening to me. This has made me more aware about the English-speaking bubble that I’m so often in, prompting me to reflect about the fact that environmentalism is actually a global discourse happening at this moment. It is also a subtle symbol of the inclusiveness of the festival by showcasing different voices in this environmental movement.

So, The Real Question is, “How Was It?”

These are the tickets for three of the sessions that I’d attended.

Fortunately, I can safely say that I don’t regret my purchase decision. KLEFF has exposed to me a list of creatively disparate short films that are beyond my normal exploration. Some of them are not necessarily my cup of tea with their personally bewildering experimentalism. Nonetheless, I still appreciate them from a mind-expanding perspective. In any case, the entrance fee is basically cheaper than your typical Starbucks drink. If you want to further justify the purchase.

So, to conclude, I do recommend anyone who has an inkling of curiosity and interest in environmentalism in their bones. I’m sure KLEFF will welcome you all with open arms.

Written by Pamela Ting Li Wang

Read the article, not the description about me.

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