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Not yet out of the woods

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The brother-and-sister filmmaking team of Ben and Jocelyn Pederick work to expand their award-winning short documentary on the Prey Lang forest

Tracey Shelton

Award-winning documentary makers Jocelyn and Ben Pederick "want to make angry films".

seeing the forest for the trees

You can't put a value on the forest. It is equivalent to life itself,"

says forest protector En Nam. Prey Lang, in central Cambodia, is an

unprotected, primordial lowland forest, home to an estimated 700,000

indigenous people. The forest is also home to elephants, tigers,

Siamese crocodiles and giant trees that breathe oxygen back into the

planet. It serves as a watershed that irrigates the Rice Bowl

responsible for feeding millions of Cambodians. The short film Prey

Lang: One Forest. One Future was made to bring attention to the plight

of the forest which is threatened by dams, mining and deforestation.

For more information visit www.mouthtosource.net/rivers/preylang.

AUSTRALIAN sibling filmmakers Ben and Jocelyn Pederick won the Environmental and Conservation Film Festival of Cambodia Grand Prix du Bassac during last week's Environment Week in Phnom Penh for their short film Prey Lang: One Forest. One Future.

The Pedericks were contacted by the East West Management Institute for Projects of Rights and Justice last year and asked to make an hour-long documentary on the Prey Lang forest in central Cambodia, with funding from USAID.

"This short version [11 minutes] is like a trailer for our longer film, which will be 60 minutes. But it became necessary to make this short version as a purely advocacy film, just so people knew about the forest. At the moment nobody even knows why it is worth protecting," Jocelyn told the Post.

 "The idea was to make a film which could document the way [rural] people managed the forest, how they were coping with the impact of deforestation and mining  and plantations. But also just to look at their lives, and how they lived with the forest," Jocelyn said. "This forest has no profile, even Cambodian people don't know it, even though it's right in the center of the country."

The longer version of the film is already in the works, she said.

To shoot the film, Ben took off into the forest for six weeks with two young Khmer interns. The film follows the lives of six different people who live in or adjacent to the forest.

"The film is not trying to advocate that Cambodia cease development because when people are still dying of preventable diseases that argument would just not fly. The film is about trying to make development nondestructive, to try and ensure that it does not marginalise the local people. Basically, it has to be sustainable," says Ben.

The Pedericks have already built a sustainable filmmaking career, first making films together back in 1997 when they enrolled in the same university.

"I was doing all these other jobs at the same time," says Ben. "All the things you do when you say you're a filmmaker - website development, hammer hand, bar work...."

Their first film, Twenty Pieces - a 30-minute documentary on migrant garment workers in Australia - was made for a mere US$30,000.

"A lot of our filmmaking has always had an advocacy bent," says Jocelyn. "We like to make political documentaries, but documentaries that are entertaining too and not just worthy. There's no easier way to kill a film than to make it purely worthy."

Jocelyn said a turning point for the two aspiring documentary makers was seeing the monumental, four-hour documentary Manufacturing Consent, a film that consists largely of extensive interviews with Noam Chomsky.

"That was like, ‘Wow, it's such a purely political piece.' I think that was the birthplace of the Al Gore-style filmmaking that we like, essayist-type films on big, thematic material."

"Joceyln and I are both media junkies," added Ben. "I really admire people like John Pilger and Wilfred Burchett not just because they are great journalists but because they are freaks. They are not normal people, they just do what they want. Films that have a political aspect to them is something we want to do forever."

Passion and fury

Three years ago Jocelyn moved to Ratanakkiri province as a volunteer to train local youth in filmmaking techniques. A year later, Ben joined her.

"The last two years we have been working really intensively, four films on top of each other seven days a week," says Ben. "But now I know how to control the process of filmmaking, and how to complete a film, it's been a really important time for us"

The pair have a clear passion for filmmaking, and have many plans for the future.

"We want to make angry films!" they both say.

"There is one planned about trafficking," says Jocelyn.

"There's been lots of sad stories done about trafficking, but I want to make an angry film. There's an international unwillingness to connect the dots about what's happening, and that's basically because the corruption goes so high."

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