STOP10 Aug 2017: 'The Conservation Conversation' by Ong Kah Jing


‘The Conservation Conversation’ directed by Ong Kah Jing is a documentary film that grapples with the vagaries of modern conservation. Recipient of the DBS Gold Award at the National Youth Film Awards in the non-media student category, the film follows the journey of 24 curious NUS students and their quest to Indonesia to investigate modern conservation efforts.

The film is a triptych, segmenting their journey through Lombok, Bali and Flores. The film opens its discussion with a brief on ‘The Dorsal Effect’, a Singaporean-led ecotourism effort that seeks to provide Lombok fishermen with an alternative to shark harvesting. The film casts an unflinching eye towards the horrors of shark trading; using Lombok as a microcosm of the larger industry, the film deftly amplifies the severity of overfishing that the world at large is at risk of committing. Fortunately, the film does not construct an easy villain out of these fishermen, noting their necessary drive for livelihood and survival as their push towards shark trading. 


The doubts that the documentary raises over ‘The Dorsal Effect’s long term effects on the ecosystem encapsulates succinctly the essential catch-22 that plagues many, if not most, conservation efforts; that it is quagmire fraught with compromises and no genuine solution. As noted in the film, the key problem comes from the potential and perhaps probable complications that may arise in the future as the result of measures undertaken now.


As the team’s expedition progresses to Bali, a thread begins to emerge. Almost predictably human, commerce repeatedly resurfaces as the counterweight and boogeyman to the conservation and protection of the precious wildlife species. In the case discovered by the team in Bali, an entire homegrown bird trading industry arose due to the popularity of bird chirping competitions.


The film closes out with a jaunt to Flores that serves as a thinly disguised call to action, its pièce de résistance if you will. The words of expedition leader, Dr John van Wyhe, ring out resoundingly and ominously in the closing segment; a reluctant soothsayer reminding and warning us of humanity’s irrepressible and often heedless drive for harvesting and consumption. It is not all doom and gloom however, as the film hangs its last word on a defiant, almost hopeful uptick, handing us the responsibility and challenging us to bend against our nature. 


Written by Koh Zhi Hao

You can catch 'The Conservation Conversation' here.


For the full list of August 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here. 

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