Tong Tana - The Lost Paradise 2001, 35 mm 80 min.
Bruno Manser the main character of our film where in the end of November 2000, two months after we finished our film reported missing in the jungle -most probably he has been killed.
This film is a follow up of a film also made by Charon film in 1989 called Tong Tana - A journey to the heart of Borneo. The first film was about one of the greatest ecological catastrophes of our time, the destruction of the world's oldest rainforest. It was also a film about one of the last nomadic tribes on earth, the Penans who have lived in the same way for thousands of years. A Swiss, Bruno Manser was living with them. At the time, he had been in the jungle for six years.
He was being hunted by 200 Malaysian commandos, with a bounty on his head of 100 000 Malaysian dollars, dead or alive. Bruno was known as the “wild man of Borneo”.
Local newspapers painted him as a kind of terrorist and stories
circulated in the coastal towns of the “white raja of the jungle” carried around on a bamboo throne. Less was said of the real threat to the Penans, the relentless felling of the rain forest. Bruno returned to Switzerland 1990 after six years with the Penans convinced he could be of more use from the outside giving voice to the Penans and their struggle to survive.
For almost ten years, Bruno traveled the world, collecting money and staging spectacular actions, giving interviews to CNN and the BBC. He also met influential politicians and celebrities such as Al Gore and Prince Charles. Even Steven Spielberg called and wanted to make a film about him. However, Bruno said no. To his horror Bruno realized how slow the political machine can be, caught up in its own intrigues and plots. He also realized that his struggle made little difference, the logging continued and the situation for the Penans became more and more desperate.
Sixteen years have passed since the first time he saw the virgin rainforest. He was then a romantic who dreamt about the simple way of the nomadic people of the rainforest. He had himself left home at 18 to live as a nomadic sheepherder in the Swiss Alps. He was looking
for his roots away from a civilization that he felt had nothing to offer him. Next step was a journey to Borneo. Once inside the rainforest he got to know the mysterious forest-people, the Penan, one of the worlds' last remaining nomadic tribes, so shy that very few outsiders have met them. This is where Bruno wanted to live. “I went to Borneo with sentimental dreams of the noble savage, but gradually became involved in politics as the logging increased” Bruno returned to Switzerland convinced he could be of more use from the outside. But what he really wanted to do was to continue his life with the Penans.
After ten years in the west with little success to raise the Penan and the rainforest issue Bruno decides to leave and return for good to the Penans. If nothing else he would face the end with his Penan friends. On Borneo, Bruno is still a wanted man. His only chance of getting back in is through Indonesia illegally. This means a long journey by river followed by a three-week trek over the border through unexplored terrain, where his only chance of a meal is the wild game he might be lucky enough to catch.
The film shows how Bruno Manser leaves Switzerland and arrives in Samarinda, Indonesia, a sleepy port still harking back to Joseph Conrad´s time. He checks in at a hotel under a false name and goes into town to prepare for his expedition.
With the help of some old contacts, Bruno arranges for a boat and someone to smuggle him along the river-ways towards Malaysian Borneo, 1500 km from Samarinda.
He returns to a Borneo that he no longer recognizes. The great untouched rainforest where he once lived is now gone. He passes through a landscape of charred stumps and deserted areas no longer fit to live in. During the journey, Bruno reflects on his past, his time in the virgin forest, how it all began 20 years ago when he left Switzerland. It seems so long ago. Bruno is shocked. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined this devastation cut off from all view like an ecological Gulag. How could it have become like this?
After several weeks travel through this devastation, he reaches the untouched forest, the border areas between Indonesia and Malaysia. The last remaining virgin forest on Borneo.
However, even here he notices a change. The rivers are brown and there is little wildlife. The region is still large enough for the Penans to be able to continue their nomadic life-style, but not for long. A forest filled with thousand of plants, medicinal herbs that unless something is done will be extinct. A forest is disappearing and with it a culture. Its not only the Penans daily life that is on the edge of extinction but also their inner life is threatened by destruction and re-programming. An Australian sect somewhat like the Jehovah's Witnesses is a new threat. According to the old Penan chief, Along Sega, “The missionaries forbid us to dance and to believe in our dreams. Our existence is based on that.” The old tribal property, their amulets, legends, and traditions are not tolerated by the missionaries. The Christian sect wants the Penans to end their nomadic way of life, which also suits the logging companies. Bruno reaches the Penan camp and is welcomed by friends.
Bruno and the Penan chief, Along Sega decide to organize a meeting of the Penan chiefs from all parts of Borneo. The meeting is stormy. They discuss strategies. The Penan are traditionally known as peaceable and have until now not used violence in their struggle. Now the situation is desperate. Penans turns to Bruno and says, “Where are all the people out in the world who are supposedly helping?” Penans who have received money from the logging companies try to defend themselves. Bruno is disappointed, and after the meeting decides to go further into the forest to think the situation over. In the beginning of November 2000 Bruno was reported missing- most probably he has been killed.