Indonesian Floating Classroom Comes to the Big Screen

Kalabia, an environmental education boat in Indonesia, arrives in a village

The MV Kalabia, an environmental education boat in Indonesia, arrives in a new village in the Raja Ampat archipelago. (© 2014 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films. IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.)

Aboard the MV Kalabia, an education boat in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, our movie theatre consists of a makeshift screen made from a white bedsheet strung over the top deck of the boat. During our movie nights, villagers come and sit on the wooden docks to watch educational films.

But this month, thousands of moviegoers on the other side of the world will get a glimpse at the stunning views, fascinating creatures and vibrant communities I get to see every day here in Raja Ampat — on a multistory, 3D IMAX platform!

The new 3D IMAX film, “Journey to the South Pacific,” documents human and marine life in the coastal areas of the Bird’s Head Seascape, often described as the global epicentre of marine biodiversity. It’s also home to thousands of people who depend on marine resources for food, coastal protection, tourism income and other benefits.

However, these benefits are under threat from a range of human activities, including destructive fishing using dynamite and cyanide, consumption of sea turtles and their eggs, throwing garbage into the ocean, coral mining for construction, pollution from mining activities and overfishing of certain species such as sharks, groupers and anchovies.

Since 2008, the Kalabia — a former tuna-trawling boat — has been touring the islands of Raja Ampat, spending a few days at each village to deliver a highly interactive conservation education program to the children of these communities.

For three weeks in January 2013, the Kalabia education team hosted the MacGillivray Freeman film crew in several villages around Dampier Strait Marine Protected Area (MPA). The film is focused on positive action for the ocean and will feature the Kalabia education program as the story’s “heartbeat.”

boys in Indonesia

The main character in the IMAX film, Jawi (center), with some friends. (© 2014 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films. IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.)

Named after a local species of walking shark, the Kalabia’s staff runs a three-day marine conservation education program that has been designed from the ground up to build community awareness and instill a sense of pride and ownership of marine natural resources, while urging conservation of these unique ecosystems.

Through exploratory hands-on activities, students gain basic knowledge about coral reef, mangrove and seagrass ecosystems and their functions, as well as an understanding of basic ecological concepts. Most importantly, the education team has carefully crafted the module to address the issue of threats to marine conservation in Raja Ampat. Nothing could be more effective than participants learning to snorkel and seeing with their own eyes the difference between a bombed reef and a reef that is still intact and healthy!

This environmental education program is delivered to the 100+ remote villages of Raja Ampat by a dedicated team of locally hired, charismatic conservation educators from Yayasan Kalabia Indonesia (YaKIn) who have received intensive training. Originally developed by CI and then operated for a number of years by CI in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the boat is now run by Yayasan Kalabia Indonesia, a new spinoff NGO.

The education team was incredibly cooperative, patient and understanding of the time and multiple takes necessary to capture the “perfect” images for IMAX 3D. Their enthusiasm and charisma was essential in keeping the students engaged and excited during the filming process as well. Their commitment is all the more impressive considering that the concept of IMAX is completely foreign to them; there isn’t even a regular cinema in the area, so they really don’t understand the scope of the undertaking!

This movie will heavily feature the local community. Permenas Mambrasar, a native of Yenbuba village and an educator aboard the Kalabia, will be featured in the film along with his uncle, Yesaiah, and cousin, Jawi — the film’s main character.

After the first few days of filming, Permenas made an interesting observation: “It’s easy to watch a film … but infinitely more difficult to make one!”

The team was made up of five camera crews carrying 17,000 pounds of filmmaking gear. In a location without electricity, phone or internet, you can imagine the logistical challenges. It often took four hours to film one three-minute roll of film, of which perhaps only a fraction would actually make it to the big screen. This time included not only setting up the gigantic, 300-pound camera, but also waiting for the right weather, light conditions, coordination with the helicopter filming the aerial shots, etc. Not to mention that all this is happening in a place where the pace of life is generally quite slow and laid-back — a challenge indeed!

“Journey to the South Pacific” is part of the One World One Ocean multimedia campaign by MacGillivray Freeman Films. “To The Arctic,” which launched in 2012, was the first in the series of large format films planned for the campaign.

Professional and personable, the MacGillivray Freeman team was a pleasure to work with. They were conscientious of the potential issues caused by working in the villages, and did their best to minimize negative impacts.

One of the Kalabia team’s favourite moments of filming was the opportunity to visit an area they had never been before (as there are no villages in the area) to showcase the boat in the iconic, stunning and enigmatic backdrop of the coral karst islets of Wayag for the big screen.

islands of West Papua, Indonesia

The islands of West Papua, Indonesia. (© 2014 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films. IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.)

The MacGillivray Freeman team also worked closely with CI’s Mark Erdmann as one of the film’s key scientific advisors. Mark accompanied the filming of the magnificent whale sharks of Cenderawasih Bay and gigantic leatherback sea turtles of Warmon — just two iconic, threatened species CI is working in partnership to protect in the Bird’s Head Seascape.

As we parted ways with the film crew, the Kalabia sailed on to Misool Island and Waigeo, continuing its mission to bring positive behavioural change and a stewardship ethic to the villages of Raja Ampat. I hope the IMAX film can help expand global awareness of this beautiful and important region to new audiences.

See you at the movies!

Angela Beer is the education advisor for the MV Kalabia. Look up showtimes on the film’s website