Dialog Box

The Burning Season

Case Study Synopsis

Dorjee Sun, a 32 year old Australian, travels the globe in pursuit of a carbon trading deal that could protect millions of hectares of pristine rainforest, save the orangutan from extinction - and make him a fortune.
The young environmental entrepreneur believes there's money to be made from saving rainforests in Indonesia and making a real impact on climate change. His plan relies on his ability to convince the wealthy, high polluting corporations of the west that they are the key to the planet's environmental future.
But the scale of the problem is enormous. Rainforest areas equivalent to 300 football fields are cut down and burnt every hour to clear land for crops such as palm oil. As a result of this massive rate of deforestation, Indonesia is now the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world.
The perpetrators are primarily large-scale corporations seeking a quick profit. But there are also millions of subsistence farmers who use fire as a low cost method of clearing land. One such farmer, Achmadi wrestles with the dilemma of contributing to climate change and needing a viable alternative so he can feed his family and put his daughter through school.
The annual burning season in Indonesia has many casualties. In Borneo, wildlife carer Lone Droscher-Nielsen rescues and cares for orangutans injured and orphaned by the fires. She desperately needs a long-term solution to save the species and to return the animals in her care back into the wild.
Armed with a laptop and a backpack, Dorjee sets out across the globe to find investors in his scheme. But the corporate world is not yet unwilling to value the world's most precious assets, and he receives over 200 rejections. Until the global community signs up to a new agreement on climate changes and forests are included in carbon trading mechanisms, the big corporate players are holding back.
The final Act plays out on the global stage at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali and in California at the invitation of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite enormous obstacles, including the collapse of financial markets, Dorjee pulls off a landmark deal that will reduce global carbon emissions, offer alternative livelihoods to small farmers like Achmadi and give new hope to the orangutans. THE BURNING SEASON is the story of a remarkable achievement by one young man not afraid to single-handedly confront the biggest challenge of our time. His determination to succeed and his award-winning achievement will uplift, entertain and inspire hope in our future.

Case Study Impact


A case study in philanthropy support and the role it can play in the development of an Australian documentary.

“The Burning Season” is a documentary currently being produced by Cathy Henkel and Jeff Canin of Hatchling Productions. The concept for the film grew out of Jeff Canin's work for GRASP, (Great Apes Survival Project) during 2006 where it became clear that the Borneo and Sumatra orangutans were on the brink of extinction. Over 5000 orangutans are being killed each year as a result of deforestation and massive fires being deliberately lit to plant palm oil. Our research revealed that, apart from the threats to the orangutans, the deforestation was contributing around 20% of the world's carbon emissions, making Indonesia the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. At this point, we decided that this should be the subject of a Hatchling Productions documentary.

The first thing needed was background research and the preparation of pitch materials to take to the broadcasters. This would involve travelling to Adelaide for the AIDC (Australian International Documentary Conference) and a trip to Indonesia to shoot footage of deforestation and the impact on the orangutans.

We approached a Melbourne based Family Trust and they immediately saw the urgency and importance of the issue and provided financial support ($35,000) during the development stage of the film. The support from this Family Trust at this crucial stage has been fundamental to our success in getting the film fully financed.

The funding allowed us to undertake research and to put together a pitch proposal to take to AIDC in Adelaide in February 2007. We received strong expressions of interest there from National Geographic, BBC, CBC and ABC. We used the remaining funds to take a crew to Borneo and Sumatra to shoot some initial sequences. I was also able to record an historic meeting in late April in Bali between our central character, the young environmental entrepreneur Dorjee Sun, and three Indonesian Governors; from Aceh, Papua and West Papua. At this meeting, the Governors declared a temporary moratorium on all logging and Dorjee secured signed agreements from the three governors giving him exclusive rights to trade their remaining forest in an ambitious carbon trading deal. The film tracks his progress across the globe to meet with big business and influential political leaders to put the deal together.

As of September 26th 2007, the “The Burning Season” was fully funded. Our broadcast partners are ABC, BBC and CBC and our distributor is National Geographic. We also have financial support from the Film Finance Corporation Australia and the NSW Film and TV Office. The Australian Film Commission also provided development support to the project.

We offered to repay the Melbourne Family Trust grant and they subsequently agreed to support the project further with funds to assist the widest possible release in Indonesia. This includes translating the film into Indonesian and taking the film to small village communities in Indonesia in vehicles fitted with a DVD projector and screen. This roadshow will be part of a touring campaign to raise awareness about climate change, highlighting the destructive impacts of logging and burning, and the urgent need for change in the way they value and manage their forests.

Cathy Henkel. November 2007.


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?


What is your education and outreach strategy?

Cathy Henkel
Jeff CaninCathy HenkelTrish Lake
Total budget
90 Minutes