By Matt Harmon  

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” International Studies senior Jillian Li is a large proponent of Aristotle’s thoughts on experiential learning. As a Graham Sustainability Scholar, Li combined her interests in learning about other cultures and in documentary filmmaking during her field work in Bali this summer, resulting in a documentary on the pervasive issue of plastic pollution in the Indonesian providence.

Li first travelled to Bali two years ago while completing an internship with Keep Bali Beautiful (KBB), a non-profit that promotes and funds village-based solutions to plastic pollution. According to the academic journal Nature, four of Indonesia’s rivers account are included in the 20 most polluted rivers in the world. This puts Indonesia just behind China as the second-largest contributor to plastic pollution worldwide. While seeing how KBB worked two years ago, Li noticed how widespread the issue of plastic pollution was and wanted to highlight the work of the non-profit in promoting local sustainability operations in local areas outside of the tourist attractions.

“As I saw when I was there, there were a lot of solutions that were created by the tourist industry … but I feel like sometimes those stay concentrated in the tourist areas and so I think it’s important to create local solutions to plastic pollution. Organizations, like Keep Bali Beautiful, that support those local solutions are vital,” Li said.

During her junior year, Li assembled a crew of film students and started drafting the story of the documentary. Then, over the summer, Li and the team travelled back to Bali to film KBB’s operations and examine how the village-based sustainability projects came into being. A project Li’s documentary focuses on is the Tangkas Village Recycling Program, a recycling and environmental education program. According to KBB, the program recycles and composts more than 90% of the waste villagers bring to the plant every week.

However, not every village in Bali has had as much success with sustainability as Tangkas has. Li said one of the most impactful experiences while filming was being shown a landfill in a neighboring village outside of Tangkas.

“In a neighboring village, there is a dump with years worth of waste. This village does not have a recycling center so plastics are mixed with organics,” Li said. “It was interesting to see the difference in waste management practices between this village and Tangkas. I hope this documentary raises enough money so each village can have its own recycling system and plastics and organic waste are separated prior to being placed in a landfill.”

As someone who was new to directing and producing a documentary, Li had to learn a lot about how to both respect the individuals from of the cultures she was working with while also directing cameras to make sure she got the right shot. Li said her experience in International Studies and Anthropology courses helped her maneuver these careful scenarios.

“It’s important to remember that when you’re there filming and directing to also be respectful to the culture,” Li said. “It was really weird for me to direct people, especially people from a different culture because I was afraid of coming off as rude. I think that’s a really important problem to address, especially in a film community where you don’t have the same anthropologist’s mindset.”

As for her hopes for the film, Li plans to keep working with KBB to bring the documentary, which is in Balinese, to villages as a method of engaging with rural communities and empowering them to use their collective power to implement sustainability initiatives.