Review: Diary of Cattle (2019)

This short film comes with a rude awakening - cattle surrounded by trash. In this landfill in Padang, Indonesia, cows roam around plastic trash. We have heard enough in the news about the plastic waste situation with no end in sight. Directors Lidia Afrilita and David Darmadi go a step further by bringing about an intersection between wild life, cattle in this case, with our plastic waste. The film offers a close-up view of how cows would interact with our garbage. Basically, we see them devouring plastic as if it is normal food! 

In this documentary, human interactions with the cows are kept to a minimum, forcing us to enter their world and reflect how our disposable culture is impacting other sentient beings around us. Long takes on ingestion movements also allow us to meditate on this frightening situation in the ecological food chain.

The film was released in April 2019 and has been travelling to film festivals such as Vision Du Reel and Sheffield Documentary Film Festival. It just won the Blencong Film Student Award at the 14th Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival in Yogyakarta and is currently screening at the Singapore International Film Festival.

Here is our interview with one of the directors of the film, Lidia Afrilita.

How did you deal with watching the cattle digest plastic waste while making this film?

It was a shocking experience of course considering how much we ourselves as individual, and our local community consume beef daily, then watching the our-to-be beef digesting plastic. 

This film was made in conjunction with the Environmental Council of Padang. How was the collaboration like? Did you have a free hand in making this documentary?

We secured location access from the Environmental council in Padang because at first we didn't intend to make a film about garbage-eating cows. We intended to make videos about scavengers and landfill itself. So, this is nothing like collaboration with the department, but more of location access.

How long did the filming take place and what were the main challenges faced in making this?

In total including research and observation, we have come back and forth to this place for about 1.5 year. It was pretty long because in this film we were trying to capture moments. We cant direct the cows to do what we expect, so the only think we can do is to come back and see if we are lucky to find exciting moments. This is mostly the challenge that we faced. We wanted to make a 24-hour life cycle, so the cycle of the day hour by hour has to be clear in the film, the time flow should be continuum and the transition of time should be clear as if the whole film is taken in 1 day. For example one day we came to the site to capture cows' eating activity at 10 am. The next morning if we want to capture the same activity, we had to check on if the ambiance is similar to yesterday, if the weather is similar to yesterday. Things like that. We have whole lots of footage and what we have now in the film is the strongest moments we succeed to capture during this 1.5 years.

What is your take on plastic waste on animals and plants?

We are now developing a feature length documentary that focuses on the massive use of plastic in Indonesia and its impact on human's food chain, hoping that the film could help improving the awareness of Indonesian people (in particular) that the plastic waste we produce, when they impact animals and plants, it eventually will impact us too. 

Do you believe we will reach a state where people will go through what the cattle in this film, or many animals and plants now, are going through; living through garbage?

I guess we are on heading to that now that there is a research found human feces contains micro plastic. The meat we eat, the salt we eat, the fish we consume, and most recent finding in Indonesia, the egg we eat are also contaminated. 

Also, as much as how importance is the issue on plastic waste portrayed in this film, we want to emphasise that this film portrays the life of cows as it is, not from human's interpretation, but through the cows' perspectives, not trying to humanize the cows, but seeing them as they are. We wish audience can watch this film with a reflective or meditative approach that this is one fact that shows how bad we can treat animals that are very close to our life.

Interview by Varun Naidu

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