Indonesia Unfair: Documentary Filmmaker Dandhy Laksono Strives for Impact

Documentary filmmaker Dandhy Laksono. (Photo courtesy of Dandhy Dwi Laksono)

By : Dames Alexander Sinaga | on 4:31 PM March 22, 2018
Category : Life & Style, Movies, Environment, Human Rights

Jakarta. Production house WatchdoC released the ninth documentary film in its The Blue Indonesia Expedition project, titled "Asimetris,” on March 13.

The Bekasi-based company is owned and run by journalist-cum-film producer Dandhy Laksono, who said the film is an exposé of the palm oil industry in Indonesia and its impact on the environment.

In 2015, Sumatra and Kalimantan experienced devastating fires, with more than a million hectares of forest destroyed and dozens of people killed.

A prolonged dry season caused by an especially strong El Niño effect had been blamed for the fires, but Dandhy believes clearing lands for monoculture plantations – like palm oil plantation – using fire was the real cause.

"The impact of those fires is far more costly than what the palm oil itself brings back," said Dandhy, who is one of the producers in the new film.

He said the 68 minute-documentary, which was shot by 13 videographers, is trying to tell farmers they should not use their land for monoculture farming, including growing oil palm trees.

"The film also sends a message to governments, policymakers, the military and journalists to look at things from a broader perspective before making policies. They should consider more aspects than just economic growth, foreign exchange and so on. The environmental impact [of monoculture plantations] has cost the country more than it's getting back," Dandhy said.

Documentaries a Game Changer

Dandhy claimed documentary films have already changed the course of journalism in Indonesia.

"Most in the media are too busy covering high-level politics, big narratives about economic growth and infrastructure development and what the president likes to do in his spare time," the 42-year-old told the Jakarta Globe.

He said land conflicts, threats to indigenous societies, natural disasters and other humanitarian issues are often ignored by the nation's press.

Dandhy has produced more than a hundred documentaries and more than 500 TV features on social and environmental issues in Indonesia since 2009.

WatchdoC was founded by Dandhy and his friend Andhy Kurniawan, another ex-journalist.

Dandhy – who has also written two books, "Indonesia for Sale" and "Investigative Journalism" – said the WatchdoC team collects money from their own savings to produce the documentaries.

In 2015, Dandhy partnered with journalist Suparta "Ucok" Arz in The Blue Indonesia Expedition Team, traveling around Indonesia on a motorcycle and making documentaries on environmental and social issues for a full year.

Their adventure caught the attention of the media and went viral on social media.

In 2016, WatchdoC released a documentary called "Jakarta Unfair" about forced evictions carried out by the Jakarta administration in the name of infrastructure development.

Urban activists criticized the evictions, ordered by Jakarta's then governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's, saying it discriminates against the urban poor.

2016 was an intense year in the capital, as the gubernatorial election turned into one of the most divisive in history. The documentary Jakarta Unfair created controversies, with some saying it was anti-Ahok or anti-Jokowi propaganda and a screening of it was canceled.

"We're not aligned to anyone politically. We did not start from political alliances. We've been here long before Jokowi," Dandhy said, referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo by his nickname.

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