A passion for Sabah’s rainforests

THE lush greenery of Sabah’s rainforests have always been the source of inspiration for many, including the production of award-winning narrative and documentary films.

And the picturesque landscapes that the forests offered are the object of affection for professional photographer and filmmaker Jorge Camilo Valenzuela.

Born in Chile, raised in Brazil and now based in France, Valenzuela is a self-declared citizen of the world but had his heart docked in Sabah.

The award-winning photographer works across the globe, mostly in tropical rainforests and his first documentary film which was shot in Sabah had won him two international awards.
The film, Into the Wild of Borneo grabbed the awards for Best Ecosystem/Habitat Category in the New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival 2016 and the Best Director of Photography in the Marbella Filmmaker International Film Festival 2016.

“Into the Wild of Borneo was produced three years ago,” he said to the Daily Express.

“During the initial process, I came to Sabah alone to capture all the wildlife images which took me about three to four months.

“And then my production team from France came down to finish the film together for about two months.”

The project also marked a beneficial tie-up with a local entity to provide extra technical crew to complete the shooting.

“When my team did the film, we collaborated with University College Sabah Foundation (UCSF).

“I did a masterclass in UCSF and I brought along five best students as my film crew for Into the Wild of Borneo.

“It was a good initiative as they contributed a lot into the making of the film.

“Usually when foreigners come here to make films, once finished they would went back to their countries and the locals are left with nothing…you did know what happened, you did not get anything out of it.

“But my project was different…I love Sabah and I have been here since 2009 and even made a coffee table book of the photos I took here,” he said.

However, due to time constraints, he could only covered Danum Valley, Crocker Range and Kinabatangan areas for the film.

“The biggest challenge was time and as we are short budget as well, we worked hard every day.

“We had to sleep late and woke up early the next day and it was very hot in the jungle…and the crew was also tired.

“The film was made purely out of passion and I do not think many people would able to do that.

“You have to be strong and brave, especially when you take up-close shots of the wildlife.

“For the next project, I hope I can also shoot in Imbak Canyon, Tabin, Maliau Basin and other parts of Sabah.”

Sabah’s forests, he said, had won his heart thanks to its tranquillity and natural charms.

“It is very peaceful…in the morning, when you wake up, you can hear the sounds of the gibbons and birds, and then the light comes shining through with the fog fading out.

“It is hard for me to explain it, it is just so peaceful and I love be in the jungle.

“And the animals…when you have connection with the orang utans, or the pygmy elephants, it is so intense, I cannot describe it in words, I felt loved, and respectful for these wildlife and nature,” he said.

Having worked in the Amazons, in Peru and Brazil, and in Uganda with the gorillas in the mountains as well as the pumas in Patagonia, Velanzuela is well-exposed to various types of natural surroundings.

“When I came to Malaysia in 2006, I first went to Sarawak and the peninsula, but when I visited Sabah a few years after that, I instantly fell in love with the State.

“The people are very nice, friendly and smiley, and the food is very good.

“Everybody take time to greet each other whenever we meet and there are many ethnic groups living together here…it is very peaceful and harmonious.

“And I tried to come here at least once a year for my photography works.

“I think I am one of the best promoters of Sabah in France as I hold regular photography exhibitions, and National Geographic and Unesco are one of my partners for these exhibitions.”

However, he disclosed that he had yet to exhibit any of his work in Sabah.

“I can hold an exhibition here if I am funded. In fact, I would like to promote my works here, but you must be funded when you want to make something of a high quality.

“And I do not do photo exhibitions in malls, I need a proper gallery or a big space as well as the right setting.

“I also have to consider the photo printings…it must be high quality as the exhibition is not about me, but about the photos and the places that the photos were taken.

“It would not be good if I promote Sabah around the world with bad quality photos.

“It will not be a good image for Sabah if you exhibit your works with bad printing in malls,” he said.

His love for the forests and wildlife is not without challenges, not excluding endangering his own safety.

“I was asked to test a new camera and also do a reportage photography in Sabah, in 2012

“Unfortunately, got my knee broken when fell in the jungle and I was all alone…but I did know that it was broken until later on.

“So I stayed on for a month to finish my work with a swelling and painful leg.

“Once completed, I went back to France and got my knee X-rayed and the doctor told me that I was crazy as my knee was broken.

“The doctor promptly arranged for a surgery the next day.”

He also shared that one of his fondest memories was shooting pumas in Patagonia.

“I went there in 2010 to trail a ‘mama puma’ that now has become a ‘grandmother’ as its ‘daughter’ has three babies.

“I approached this group of pumas, and they are big…it was very intense as anything can happen in when you are in the wild, in a second, the puma could jump on me and kill me.

“But I am here now, I live to tell the story. I think the pumas know that I do not have any bad intentions and let me do my work.

“I love animals so much and I think they, too, know this as well…they can feel it if you are scared,” he said.

Valenzuela will continue to show his love for Sabah in his works through his next big project.

“I am very focus to initiate my first full-feature narrative wildlife film here.

By: Ricardo Unto

Read more @ http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/news/140268/a-passion-for-sabah-s-rainforests/


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