As inspiring as "An Inconvenient Truth" was frightening, Cathy Henkel's energetic docu, "The Burning Season," tackles one aspect of global warming and introduces people trying to make a difference.

As inspiring as “An Inconvenient Truth” was frightening, Cathy Henkel’s energetic docu, “The Burning Season,” tackles one aspect of global warming and introduces people trying to make a difference. Heady facts about emission trading schemes threaten to overwhelm the viewer, but pic also packs plenty of genuine emotion, and the presence of altruistic Australian entrepreneur Dorjee Sun in the financial corridors of power gives it the same giddy atmosphere that made “Startup.com” so exhilarating. A 42-minute version aired on PBS in July; other pubcasters should. Feature-length version shown at Brisbane should be a hot ticket on the fest circuit.

Henkel starts in the jungles of Borneo, where orangutans are dying or being displaced thanks to deforestation, which covers the region in smoke and creates carbon emissions. Danish conservationist Lone Droscher-Nielsen, dedicated to saving the simians, nurses back to health the few apes she can rescue from “the burning season.” Images of orangutans wandering in devastated forests are heartbreaking.

Repping deforestation’s other side, pic’s second thread focuses on the plight of Indonesian villager Achmadi, one of thousands who strip palm trees for palm oil (frequently marketed as vegetable oil) for international cosmetics and confectionery corporations. His motivation is simple survival — and the rare privilege of sending his daughter to school.

Docu gains noticeable momentum with the introduction of Sydney-based entrepreneur Sun, a 29-year-old trained lawyer and vet of the dotcom boom. Wanting to make a difference, Sun looks at Indonesia — the world’s third largest carbon-emitter, after the U.S. and China — as an obvious starting point.

So begins a race around the world as Sun attempts to apply a Wall Street mindset to the problem of global warming. His goal is to enlist conservation activists, Indonesian provincial politicians, and London and Gotham financiers to get funds and a business model in place in time for the Bali Climate Change summit in December 2007, where the Kyoto Protocol was to be renewed.

Sun both excites and confuses the international banking community with his concept of creating a market for carbon credits. Docu helpfully includes animation, in the style of Indonesian shadow puppetry, to clarify Sun’s vision.

With his Anthony Robbins-like optimism and exclamations of “cool” and “awesome,” Sun makes an infectious and amiable protag.

Pic criss-crosses between strands and follows events all the way to the Bali conference. Potpourri of material is well shaped and a tribute to the skill of both helmer Henkel and editor Jane St. Vincent Welch. Animation sequences by Hackett Films’ Mary Benn are both edifying and visually pleasing, while Nicolette Boaz’s score helps maintain dramatic momentum. Hugh Jackman’s narration is somber without being melodramatic.

At screening caught, film looked just OK on DigiBeta projection; result should play better on the tube.

The Burning Season

Australia

Production

A Film Finance Corp. presentation of a Hatchling Films production, in association with Films of Record, Freshwater Pictures. (International sales: National Geographic Intl., Washington.) Produced by Jeff Canin, Cathy Henkel. Executive producers, Trish Lake, Roger Graef. Directed, written by Cathy Henkel.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Leonard Retel Helmrich, Ismail Fahmi Lubish; editor, Jane St. Vincent Welch; music, Nicolette Boaz; sound, Handi Ilfat; animation, Mary Benn, Hackett Films. Reviewed at Brisbane Film Festival, Aug. 2, 2008. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Dorjee Sun, Lone Droscher-Nielsen, Achmadi. Narrator: Hugh Jackman. (Indonesian, English dialogue)
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