‘Green’ – a silent witness of Sumatra’s last forest-dwellers

This astonishing documentary exposes something that we all know: the massive, unprecedented degradation of our planet.

Scientist have unequivocally asserted that we, humans, and our activities have had a profound impact on all ecological systems on Earth [1,2].

We certainly live in times of bio-crisis [3] as major studies have shown that species become extinct 1000 times faster than the rate typical to earth’s history [4,5,6]; it is the “6th great extinction” caused by us.

One of these threatened species is the Orangutan like the female protagonist of the documentary ‘Green’. All orangutans are on the verge of extinction; Singleton et al [7] and Ancrenaz et al [8] have reported that they suffer from habitat destruction due to logging, mining etc [9].

Orangutans, as many other wild species are forest-dwellers, so they are directly affected from such massive deforestation projects orchestrated by industries, other institutions and our own tolerance.

There are manifold folk tales about Orangutans since their are known by native people for millenia. They were considered not much different from human beings. The word ‘orangutan’ comes from the Malay and Indonesian words orang (“person”) and hutan (“forest”); the are the “persons of the forest” [9].

Orangutans are only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. The population of the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii), which is shown in the movie, has declined by 80% over the last 75 years and has been labelled as ‘crtically endangered’ by IUCN. We are actually just one step before the overall extinction of the Sumatran Orangutan.

‘Green’ the Film

It becomes evident throughout the film that it was created by an experienced and visioned director, Patrick Rouxel, who has worked for WWF and Greenpeace as well as he has released his own documentaries (‘Tears of Wood’, ‘Losing Tomorrow’ and ‘The Cathedral Forest’). His latest documentary, ‘Green’, has been awarded 36 times so far in festivals across the world. That is an accomplishment considering that it was shot by a single person with a small camera and a tourist visa.

In this film we do not see the usual talking heads; there are no comments, no dialogues – it is just pure images, put together in an ‘eloquent’ manner (slightly reminding the approach of the documentary ‘Our daily bread’).

The strong point of this film is that it is connecting the dots without the need of experts explaining what it is all about. The viewer becomes not only an observer, but a real ‘witness’ just a breath away from the film’s subject, which is a homeless creature and the diminishing rainforest.

We witness through the eyes of Green, a female orang-utan, which is taken out from a deforested area to be treated. The ‘leading role’ was carefully given to an orang-utan not only because this species is the emblem of Sumatran rainforest but also because orangutans can express highly-transmittable feelings to human beings with their manlike characteristics.

Equally shocking though are the shots of rainforest destruction as contrasted with the images of its pristine state. We can feel together with Green the devastation of losing the rainforest, our home, which is disappearing to give way to man’s industries.

The scenes of the wildlife are masterly shot and edited; by avoiding any musical dressing we can hear only the sounds of nature, the voices of animals and thus we can feel the magic of tranquillity unspoiled by anything mechanical or artificial.

You can watch the whole documentary here:

This silent visual storytelling is quite effective with numerous striking scenes like the opening one (quite controversial) which shows an orangutan transported in a small bag while she looks suffering. It evokes a feeling of discomfort until we realize that she is to be treated.

‘Green’ is not a narration of distant events, it conveys the message that we are all responsible as we all participate in this tragedy as long as we consume the products of the logging industry, like paper and furniture. We can also see the massive palm plantations in the place of the rainforest in order to satisfy our demand for palm oil. This is how immense diversity is reduced to industrial monocultures.

Patrick Rouxel demonstrates a subtle ability to draw the connections between landless orangutans driven to extinction, the vanishing rainforest, the insatiable forest industries and our own consumer habits in a sort of genocide rooted to how our global community functions. All that without saying a word.

In this film, Orangutans are treated like equals, as peers of humans that lose their homes and lives. It is not the typical wildlife shots that display nature as distant or exterior to mankind. Green rightfully blurs the boundaries between ‘human’ and ‘natural’. When watching the film we are rather more likely to display empathy for our fellow living being; we not only feel pity for the loss of pristine nature or desperation because we are also directly affected (deforestation is a major cause of global warming) but we also feel homeless and ruined in their place of the forest people (orangutans).

Therefore the film departs from a strictly anthoropocentric point of view towards a worldview which is more biocentric and thus more compassionate.

Impossible consumption

The present economic system is based on enormous rates of consumption and production processes that are at least catastrophic to the point where our very future is at stake.

We have been devouring irreplaceable ecosystems, like the Sumatran rainforest in this case, with little left for the generations to come – what has been robustly evolving since time immemorial is being depleted in few decades time.

Scientists have concluded that we have exhausted ecosystems beyond their capacity to sustain human activities as such [10,11].  It is crystal clear that the current way we live in Western affluent societies can no longer be maintained [12, 13].

The Sumatran rainforest is almost gone, so are its inhabitants like the orangutans, and this is another sad story of our severely degraded environment. There are industries responsible for that and you can see them in the ‘Act’ page on Green’s website.

Unfortunately, Sumatra does not harbour the sole rainforest at stake. In fact all tropical countries have logged overwhelmingly large parts of their rainforests. Below you can see the percentage of rainforest loss across these countries in just 15 years time (1990-2005) [14]:

Ways to do something!

  1. What is recommended in the website is that we can avoid all products made of Indonesian rainforest wood (Merbau, Kempas, Bangkirai, Keruing, Meranti, Teak) like plywood, furniture, window frames, doors etc. as well as paper, especially the ones painted in South East Asia.
  2. In order to stop the expansion of the palm oil industry we can refrain from buying palm oil products or driving bio-diesel cars (there is usually palm-oil in the mix). Here you can see which companies are involved in food production with palm oil. Here you can find cosmetic brands and products with palm oil.
  3. Moreover you can stop investing to banks and companies involved in deforestation and donate to groups and NGOs that try to do something about it. You can download this pdf on palm oil commodity chains and discover which banks and companies are investing in palm oil production.
  4. Organize a screening of this film as it is kindly distributed for free. There are no royalties nor any legal complications. Just contribute with a donation. Download it and play it! Visit the studying Green website to find more material from academics’ reviews in order to prepare a complete lecture.

The big picture

Freegan Kolektiva wants to make clear that this is not an isolated case it is the norm that dictates most industrial production patterns. The big picture is that the error is systemic.

If you watch ‘Green’ you then feel like avoiding Knorr, Fa, Palmolive and all the other associated food, cosmetic companies; if you see ‘Food Inc’ you want to boycott Monsanto and all food industry; if you read about the world’s sweatshops then you would probably want to refrain from buying clothes of the most popular brands like Nike.

The bitter truth is that as long as resources become cheap inputs or products they are going to be exploited (even human labour). Palm oil is a cheap raw ingredient that can be used for instance in the food industry, so why not to use it? Corporations are made to make maximum profits with minimum costs, otherwise they are left behind in a competitive market. Companies are not built to feel or care.

What we need is a paradigm shift, a change of worldviews that can lead to a fundamental economic and eco-social transition. The change of our lifestyle can lead to real change, here and now. Avoid big business in general and start building your own alternatives in your community.

Resist greenwashing!

‘Green’ (2009)

Director: Patrick Rouxel

Producer: Patrick Rouxel

Running time: 48’

Language: – (no narration, international)


[1] Blaikie P (1995). Understanding environmental issues. People and environment. Morse S and Stocking M (eds.) UCL press, University College London.

[2] Steffen W, Sanderson A, Tyson PD, Jäger J, Matson PA, Moore B, Oldfield F, Richardson K, Schellnhuber HJ, Turner BL , Wasson RJ (2004). Global Change and the Earth System: A planet under pressure. Springer, Heidelberg, Germany.

[3] Mueller T and Passadakis A (2009). Green capitalism and the climate: it’s economic growth stupid! Critical currents; contours of climate justice-ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics. No. 6 October 2009. Dag Hammarskjold Foundation Uppsala.

[4] Ehrlich PR and ehrlich AH (2008). The dominant animal; human evolution and the environment. Island press. Shearwater Books.

[5] MA (2005). Ecosystems and Human well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC

[6] Sinclair ARE (2000). The loss of biodiversity: the sixth great extinction. In conserving nature’s diversity: insights from biology, ethics and economics van Kooten GC, Bulte EH and Sinclair ARE (eds.). Ashgate Publishing.

[7] Singleton I, Wich SA & Griffiths M (2008). Pongo abelii. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Retrieved on the 26th of March 2012 from: www.iucnredlist.org

[8] Ancrenaz M, Marshall A, Goossens B, van Schaik C., Sugardjito J, Gumal M. & Wich S (2008). Pongo pygmaeus. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Retrieved on the 26th of March 2012 from: www.iucnredlist.org

[9] Wikipedia (2012). Orangutan. Retrieved on the 26th of March 2012 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangutan

[10] Dodds WK (2008). Humanity’s footprint: momentum, impact and our global environment. Columbia university press, New York.

[11] Lincoln SF (2006). Challenged earth: An overview of humanity’s stewardship of earth. Imperial College Press.

[12] Flavin C and Engelman R (2009). The perfect storm. In State of the world 2009: into a warming world. The worldwatch institute.

[13] Sim S (2009). The carbon footprint wars: what might happen if we retreat from globalization? Edinburgh university press.

[14] Earth Observatory (2012). Causes of deforestation: direct causes. Retrieved on the 4th of April 2012 from: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Deforestation/deforestation_update3.php


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