Island Girl on the Red Carpet 

Yes, this is a very late post - but it's true when they say that oftentimes when you’re on the move it's harder to find the time and the words to write an experience. Well, what was supposed to be a two week trip to the Cannes Film Festival to premiere my first feature length documentary, Bigger Than Us, turned into a 2 months long trip due to the overnight changing regulations to come back to Indonesia! What a world we live in, hey?  

And sitting up in bed at 1am, finally back in Jakarta, in my hotel quarantine room, I’m suddenly overwhelmed with everything that happened. Like - what the hell just happened? 

The film, the adventure of a lifetime, was selected to premiere at the 74th Cannes Film Festival in their first ever selection for the climate, alongside 6 other films. What a celebration, what a milestone, and yet, how simply normal all of this should be. 

I’ve thought a lot about shifting priorities, resetting our values and what we choose to put attention to. These stories deserve our full attention. And these issues need to be treated as the emergencies that they are. 

Bigger Than Us is not an inspiring movie. It is real life with real problems and real hope.

When I was 18 years old I got the opportunity to travel the world and meet young people who share the same vision for a better world. Meeting them and learning about their significant work on the frontlines, through the eyes of one changemaker to another, is what the movie is all about. 

Here are some of the incredible changemakers I got to meet for the film: 

Mohamad Al Jounde, 20, Lebanon 

Mohamad created a school in a refugee camp in Lebanon after escaping with his family the repression of the Syrian revolution. When he arrived in Aley at 12 years-old, he was denied education and he decided to found a school to give a chance to children like him. 

Mary Finn, 22, Greece

After spending two years volunteering and working on emergency relief efforts for refugees in Greece, Turkey, France and on the Aquarius rescue boat, Mary is now studying midwifery to make her humanitarian aid work even more precise and impactful.

Rene Silva, 26, Rio De Janeiro

At 11 years-old, Rene created the first media to share information and stories about his favela written by and for the community, “Voz das Comunidades”. He and his team of 16 journalists work on telling the story of inequalities, racism and resilience from the inside out.

Winnie Tushabe, 26, Uganda

Winnie fights for food security and self-sufficiency of the most impoverished, refugees and villagers in Uganda. In this country, refugees are given a small parcel of land upon arrival. But what does it mean when that land is depleted by years of green revolution and extreme climate change? Everyday she teaches hundred families on how to secure their access to food so they can survive and send their kids to school.

Memory Banda, 26, Malawi 

Memory is a major figure against child marriage. She mobilized girls to stand up against harmful traditional practices, influenced community leaders and managed to get in the Constitution the legal marriage age changed from 15 to 18 years for the whole country. 

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 20, USA

Xiuhtezcatl is an indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. He is one of the twenty-one young people who pressed charges against the US government for failing in his duty to protect the environment for the future generations. 

The glitz and the glam of Cannes was culture shock for all three of us. Myself, Mary and Mohamad were reunited at the festival and as we walked on the red carpet, climbed the famous red stairs, stood in front of hundreds of cameras, gave interview after interview, I realised how special all of it was. The whole walk down the red carpet, I had an out of body experience, I wasn’t really present, until we got up to the top of the stairs and turned around suddenly it hit me!...I really felt that it was happening for the first time at that moment! It was a moment with chin up and a growing feeling in our chest of pride and celebration for the many challenges we’ve all had to overcome. Looking to my left and to my right, seeing Mohamad in his tux and Mary all dressed up, it reminded me of how out of place we all must look and feel compared to what we actually do everyday. 

Some people criticized us for going because we had to fly, because we were at a fancy event that hasn’t really made sustainability a top priority - but for me, being at the Cannes Film Festival was an opportunity (and a challenge) to penetrate a privileged audience with uncomfortable conversations, an audience that should be influenced to change the most. 

The theater room had red chairs and thick curtains pulled back to reveal 

And the film was well received! We had a standing ovation and the audience erupted in applause. 

But we do not need more compliments, we need action. 

The festival recognised the climate for the first time ever. I hope that this shows other leading organizations in all industries that it is time to take things seriously. Some of the major commitments the festival took are: 

  1. A fleet of official cars composed of 60% electric or hybrid vehicles. All of these vehicles belong to the existing fleet and will be reused for the Festival. 
  2. A 50% reduction in paper printing (which is huge for a large event like this!)
  3. The total elimination of plastic water bottles (over 22,000 in 2019!!!!)

And some more about energy and waste recovery programs they implemented! Read more about them here:

It's good to recognise climate on the agenda, but as you can see, sustainability is a long and complex journey! It took the Cannes Film festival 74 years and they still have a long way to go! And we don't even have a decade to turn things around. We have to integrate sustainability into every aspect. It can't be a category, shuffled away making headlines once or twice. It can't be a department, or a CSR program. It has to be the backbone of everything we do and every choice we make.