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Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs” – film-maker and documentarian Werner Herzog.

On Tuesday, September 6, three powerful new films chronicling EIA’s recent undercover investigations into timber smuggling, the ivory trade and whaling will make their world debut in the USA on Nat Geo Wild.

Paul Redman and Clare Perry filming in a Japanese fish market (c) EIA

Broadcast under the collective banner of Crimes Against Nature, Blood Ivory depicts the brutal horror of elephant poaching in Kenya and black market trade in the marketplaces of Hong Kong and China; Making a Killing exposes Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales to package and sell for consumption in Japan; and Chainsaw Massacre uncovers the Vietnamese army’s involvement in the widespread smuggling of timber from neighbouring Laos.

Each film follows seasoned EIA investigators in the field as they methodically piece together the clues of wildlife and forest crime and follow evidence trails leading to corrupt officialdom, organised criminal syndicates and grasping businessmen. Along the way, viewers will share the setbacks and successes in films rich with imagery both startling and haunting.

What they won’t see, and possibly won’t suspect, is the long year of preparations and often physically and emotionally demanding work behind the scenes to get three one-hour films in the can.

The project effectively began in 2009, following EIA’s tiger team in China and Nepal for a pilot film eventually broadcast early last year on Nat Geo Wild as Eco Crime Investigators – Inside the Tiger Trade.

The broadcast, first in the USA and subsequently worldwide (and it’s still in heavy rotation), was such a success that further programmes were commissioned.

On location in Kenya with Mary Rice and Dave Currey (c) EIA

Initial meetings with the London-based production company hired by Nat Geo to make the films focused on the likely scope of the three investigations, the probable shooting times and budget requirements for each, and a loose schedule around which investigators would have to fit all their usual campaign work and commitments.

It was in October 2010, when filming was concluded in Iceland and underway in Vietnam, that I was brought onboard as Project Co-ordinator; you could draw up a job description for the role which might run to several sides of A4, or you could just as accurately say my primary function was to help ease the process along as required.

Both EIA and the production company shared the same goal – to make the best programmes possible; naturally, both came at it with different considerations to the fore. The nature of conducting investigations in the field is that you never know what’s going to turn up and where it might lead; the nature of film-making is that you have to satisfy those commissioning the venture that they’re going to end up with a solid narrative arc and a substantial conclusion, preferably before shooting begins.

From the word ‘go’, EIA was adamant that its investigators would not serve as props, nor would they be mouthpieces for scripted lines which might in any way reflect poorly or inaccurately on the organisation, its methodology or its invaluable work. At the same time, we accepted that the film-makers needed to distil often-complex issues in a way that was accurate and wouldn’t leave viewers scratching their collective brows and reaching for the remote control. Looking at the finished products (and I believe I must have done so a score of times for each!), I think it’s fair to say this was achieved remarkably well.

In the field was where problems could most easily arise as directors fretted that they wouldn’t get the key shots they needed within the timeframe allowed, or when they were debriefing an investigator following an emotionally exhausting undercover filming session and needed the same kind of projected energy on take seven as was given the first time around. But our investigators are nothing if not troopers – and on many occasions during this project they were fixers and guides too – and the passion they have for their various campaigns all but radiates from the screen.

Julian Newman interviewed during filming in Laos (c) EIA

When location filming concluded by late March, it remained to fine-tune the narratives, film interviews with the key campaigners and nail down the voice-over and visual inserts such as animated maps..

With security the key consideration for EIA, this was also the time for me to go through each film with a fine toothcomb and ensure that the identity of our undercover Chinese investigator was protected at all times; you’d be amazed at how often somebody’s features can be fleetingly reflected in background mirrors and table tops.

All that remains now is for you to watch the films, and help EIA by spreading the word for others to do the same.

* After the US premiere on Tuesday, the three programmes are due to be broadcast on Nat Geo Wild in other territories, including the UK, later this year – watch our website and blog for details as we learn them.

Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman

Press Officer

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When I joined EIA back in the mists of time (well, 1997 actually) I was quickly dispatched to a remote part of Wales to undergo camera training. I especially remember the joys of performing a manual white balance with a bulky Hi-8 format camera on a bleak hilltop buffeted by strong winds.

Fast forward to February 2011 and I find myself in the more congenial environment of Arusha, northern Tanzania, helping train Tanzanian NGOs in the use of cameras and a lot of other skills that we at EIA use in our campaigning.

This is the final documentation workshop of EIA’s three-year initiative to support Tanzanian NGOs through training in stills and video cameras, and other vital campaigning skills such as writing press releases and effective lobbying. The 25 participants have come from across Tanzania; Kilwa in south Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, Kigoma in the west, Morogoro in the centre and Bagamoyo in the north.

The participants work on a range of issues, from environmental problems like forest loss and wildlife protection, to social challenges such as women’s rights, drug use and support for pastoralist communities. At the outset I ask them if they have ever used cameras in their work before and only a couple of hands raised. After a few days of intensive training, they are asked to spend the weekend documenting a local issue using cameras.

Julius. Capacity Building. Credit EIA

Julius, from our partner the Journalist's Environmental Association of Tanzania, who has become an excellent trainer and now has the nickname "fundi picha", meaning picture technician.

When we get back together on Monday, the results are truly impressive. Everyone has obeyed the basic rules; focus, exposure, framing, each video shot at least ten seconds long, and not too much wild zooming and panning. Their enthusiasm for the potential of visuals is palpable.

It strikes me how liberating technology has become. Back in 1997 when I did my basic training the video cameras were bulky and expensive, with short battery life and limited tape length. We also had to beg cut-price access to professional edit suites to make our campaign films, which often meant grafting through the night. Now all that has changed. The video cameras the Tanzanian NGOs are using are relatively cheap; provide high definition images via memory card and batteries last for many hours. Coupled with a laptop, the groups have all they need to produce broadcast quality films.

The people we have already trained in past workshops are already putting these skills to good use. In Arusha it is great to catch up with Steve and Elisha, who I met at the first training we provided back in 2009. They are now mentoring some of their NGO colleagues and producing excellent and effective films. It is also good to work again with Julius, from our partner the Journalist’s Environmental Association of Tanzania, who has become an excellent trainer and now has the nickname “fundi picha”, meaning picture technician.

On the last night of the workshop the hotel where we have been doing the training throws a surprise party. As the dusk gathers and the imposing vision of nearby Mount Meru fades into the darkness, satisfaction at a successful gathering is tinged with regret that our current project in Tanzania is nearing its end. Yet it is clear to me that this work will leave a strong legacy; a community of NGO activists putting their documentation skills and camera equipment to good use to push for environmental and social justice in their country. As for EIA, we will continue to work together with our many friends in Tanzania after the training project ends in June.

Julian Newman. Campaigns Director.

Julian Newman

Campaigns Director

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For most people contact with customs officers is normally limited to deciding whether to choose the green or red channel when arriving at airports. Yet customs agents have a vital role to play in combating environmental crime.

 

"Indonesian customs officers inspecting a shipment of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals"

"Indonesian customs officers inspecting a shipment of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals"

 

I’ve just returned from Beijing where I spent four days in a conference room with customs personnel from over 30 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, spanning Afghanistan to Fiji. The gathering was organised by the World Customs Organisation’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) for Asia, which currently has its headquarters in Beijing and its focus was combating environmental crime.

Customs officers play a key role in intercepting consignments of illicit goods, such as protected wildlife, banned ozone-depleting substances and hazardous waste. Yet with more than 20 million shipping containers shuttling around the world plus huge numbers of flights, detecting environmental contraband poses a severe challenge, especially given the pressure on customs to speed up trade and gather revenue.

Rather than carrying out random checks on shipments, which is like looking for a needle in a haystack, accurate risk profiling and intelligence sharing is vital; this is where RILO comes in.

Over the course of the meeting information was shared on environmental crime trends, use of customs codes, methods of concealment, intelligence analysis and case studies. Those readers who follow the work of EIA know that we often call for stronger enforcement of laws against environmental crime. The meeting in Beijing was really all about the nuts and bolts of effective customs operations to tackle smuggling of wildlife and controlled chemicals. The fact that it brought together customs officers from around Asia was especially important; the region’s trade is booming, it contains the world’s three busiest ports in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, and has significant trade in wildlife, illicit waste and ozone-depleting substances.

During coffee and lunch breaks, I had the opportunity to hear at first hand from customs officers of successful actions against environmental crime; recent seizure of illicit ivory in Hong Kong and Vietnam, and interception of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals in Thailand, Indonesia and China.

 

Copyright EIA

"Indonesian customs officers inspecting a shipment of illegal ozone-depleting chemicals"

 

Since the headquarters of RILO in Asia moved to Beijing in 2004, China customs have pushed for stronger action against environmental crime. In 2006 RILO, at the instigation of China customs, launched the regional operation “Sky Hole Patching” aimed at intercepting smuggled ozone-depleting chemicals and hazardous waste. EIA was able to assist by providing a list of companies implicated in these crimes.  We have also produced a series of training films intended to help customs officers to detect contraband wildlife and chemicals.

During a dinner at the end of the meeting Wang Zhi, Head of RILO and Deputy Director-General of China Customs’ Anti-Smuggling Bureau, made a stirring call for stronger action and support to tackle environmental crime. It is a call EIA will certainly answer in our bid to assist customs officers working on the frontline.

Julian Newman

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“I’ve been working in Indonesia for over a decade on EIA’s illegal logging campaign. Despite best intentions my Indonesian language skills stubbornly refuse to progress beyond what I call “taxi driver” level; the ability to chat about the weather, food, football and even a bit of politics while stuck in taxis. It comes in very useful when snarled up in Jakarta’s notorious traffic. One of the first words I ever learned in Indonesian was macet or traffic jam, and varieties such as macet total or gridlock.

I’ve always found good taxi drivers to be an indispensable asset when carrying out an investigation in a strange foreign city, where local knowledge can be vital. Chatting with drivers can also give a quick insight into the pulse of a nation; the issues of most concern to the locals.

Over the last few years on trips to Jakarta the word on the lips of most of the drivers I have encountered is korupsi – corruption. Drivers rail against the country’s endemic corruption; how it keeps the bulk of the population in poverty while a small elite prospers and how it leads to the squander of Indonesia’s natural resources. On occasion, I’ve even witnessed the reasons behind the anger, as my taxi driver is shaken down by the traffic police for a real or imagined offence.

Right now Indonesia is in the midst of a crucial  struggle to tame the corruption which infects every aspect of public life. Current President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came into office on an anti-corruption ticket and the main agency leading the charge has been the Corruption Eradication Commission or KPK. Until 2009 the KPK was making headway, with its clever use of technology such as wiretaps and special courts to try corruption suspects. But when it started going after members of parliament, police and prosecutors (all viewed by the Indonesian public as some of the most corrupt institutions in the country), the dark forces kicked back.

First some members of parliament tried to shut down the special anti-corruption court. Then the police entered the fray. When the KPK had the temerity to wiretap a senior police officer suspected on involvement in banking fraud, the police hit back with allegations that two KPK directors had taken bribes to dismiss a case involving kickbacks paid to secure a lucrative radio systems contract for the country’s Ministry of Forestry. The battle between the police and KPK became known as the crocodiles versus the gekkos and galvanised the public into an effective Facebook campaign to defend the KPK. It culminated in the live television transmission of court proceedings where wiretaps exonerating the KPK were played.

Yet the battle is far from won. In July, the courageous news magazine Tempo published details of senior police officers who held huge sums in their bank accounts. Copies of the magazine mysteriously disappeared from newsstands and an activist from Indonesia Corruption Watch, which had been monitoring police corruption, was badly beaten by unknown assailants.

Forced into a corner the police were compelled to respond. The line they came up with was that of 23 suspicious accounts held by officers, all apart form two involved wealth gained through legitimate business interests, outside of their full-time job in the police, apparently. One of the remaining two accounts was held by an officer based in Papua, called Martin Reno. The police explained that he had already been cleared in court in 2006. EIA knows the Reno case well. I have seen documents detailing a series of payments made to Reno’s bank account by two companies involved in illegal logging in Papua; I’ve even observed his luxurious house in Bali, although I never had chance to track down his portfolio of business investments in Papua and properties in Jakarta. As EIA reported in 2007 in its report The Thousand-Headed Snake, Reno’s acquittal was a classis home town court verdict, with the judge dismissing the case as the main witness did not show up at court; the fact that this witness was one of the timber bosses who had paid Reno and was on the run seemed to escape the judge.

Corruption is a key factor in explaining why major illegal logging culprits in Indonesia continue to evade justice. Last week I was in Jakarta to launch our new report, called Rogue Traders, along with our Indonesian colleagues from Telapak. The report exposes how well-connected individuals are able to smuggle valuable merbau timber out of the country to China, mainly by bribing customs officials and inspection agencies. One of the smugglers, Ricky Gunawan, first came to our attention in 2006. Despite reporting his illegal activities to the authorities of  two occasions, Gunawan remains untouched.

Just before the launch of the report Telapak provided a dossier of our findings to the KPK.  We hope that it will be able to stat looking into the corruption which riddles Indonesia’s forestry sector. That is if it is allowed to do its job of cleaning up and can stand firm against the powerful vested interests currently lining up against it.”

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