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Jeremy Irons: Fighting Trash in Bali and Beyond

Michael Pohorly met with Jeremy Irons – fresh from the movie Trashed – at the Kartika Soekarno Foundation’s Posyandu Clinics in Gianyar, which sponsors social support.


JEREMY, what brought you to Indonesia?
I was invited to Jakarta, to show our Trashed documentary, by Ibu Kartika Soekarno, and I must say that I meet a lot of people in life and there are only a few that I’ve been happier to meet than this wonderful lady.

This is your first trip to Indonesia?
Yes, although Trashed did some filming in the rubbish-filled canals in Jakarta, I wasn’t present for that. When Ibu Soekarno told me about her foundation I was delighted to join her here to Bali and see her work.

Your film highlights the dangers rubbish is inflicting on our food systems and ourselves. How did you get involved?
I wanted to make a film about something that was socially informed and I looked at other ideas before coming to Trashed. I had worked with director Candida Brady on another documentary and she was very concerned by the number of man-made chemicals present in newborn babies. Candida then did a lot of research on how this happens. She discovered that a large reason is the way we get rid of our trash by either incinerating it or burying it. She had an enormous amount of research and it was extraordinary. I thought that even though I’m reasonably well read, I know nothing, really, about the extent of this problem.


What do you think of the rubbish situation here in Bali?
Before I came here I’d heard it was pretty terrible. And as I look in drains and rivers, I can see a lot of plastic so I know there’s a big problem here.

How does your profession tie in with environmental concerns?
I see my role as the messenger. I’m not an activist, that’s not my role. I’m an actor and a storyteller … so I can hand these concerns over to people who can teach children and work with local governments to change things.


I viewed Trashed and was shocked to learn that not only the floating Pacific garbage pile is essentially the size of Quebec, but also that the plastic flotsam exists in every sample of ocean water in the world. What astonished you in making the film?
I was astonished by everything! How much garbage we produce worldwide was absolutely astonishing. I was astonished by how truly dangerous and deadly dioxins are to humans. These dioxins come from burning rubbish.

Were there any positives you took away from making the film?
I was heartened that at least in San Francisco – they are dealing with trash extremely successfully. This is the model we chose to show. They recycle 80 per cent of their trash. Recycling creates jobs, it creates money, it’s wonderful for the economy. It has to start at the grass roots level, it has to start with the children, and has to start with the understanding that what they have and what they are throwing away has value if it’s disposed of sensibly.


Trash has value?
Yes, as long as the types of rubbish are kept separate it’s what is called clean garbage. Whether it’s food, plastic, paper or metals, if it’s kept separate and it can be recycled and then it is a resource.

Recycling is just a part of life for many cities now with separate bins for everything in every home and business, but what can be done in places like Jakarta?
In big cities like Jakarta a huge amount of organisation has to take place in order for these recycling systems to work – collection organisation – so it’s a bit of a problem to be worked out … you have to put processes in place. But it starts with a mental attitude – it starts with education. You need to start educating the very young.

What’s your impression of the clinic here in Giaynar?
I’m enormously impressed with the children, with the staff especially. Seeing it work in Gianyar is wonderful. And if it can work here with child health improving then other places in Bali will want to follow. So often in life we think that a problem is too big but you have to start small, show that it works, and everyone wants life to be better, so it will eventually spread.

I’m also impressed by the cartoon booklet that Eco-Bali has put together for the kids to show them how they can make a great difference by cleaning up their rubbish. We have the saying, “from small acorns great oak trees grow”, and I think the booklet is the sign of an acorn.

How we can change society if we don’t educate our children? I’m here in Indonesia to talk about trash and, of course, education, health, fighting against malnutrition. These things are really difficult to do and seeing it work in Gianyar is wonderful.


Are you going to be doing any other films addressing global issues?
Maybe. There are no specific plans but I have a desire to do it. I’ve spent a lot of my energy making films that I sometimes wonder how worthwhile they are. So it’s nice to spend similar energy making something that feels very worthwhile and is certainly worthwhile to travel around talking about it … rather than acting in something say like Beautiful Creatures.

Aside from the rubbish, are you planning to take in some of the beauty of Bali as well?
Yes I’m planning to enjoy and discover Bali as much as I can. I’m very interested in the crafts here, the design, the architecture, and my wife, Sinead, and I may even climb the volcano.

That’s a big hike for a short visit.
Maybe we’ll split it up then … she’ll do the bottom half and I’ll do the
top half.

Final words?
Thanks to everyone here for making Sinead and I feel so welcome.