Cambodia's Reforestation Project Works to Reverse Decades of Damage

The lush forest of Cambodia's Koh Kong Province was destroyed when people fleeing the Khmer Rouge began living there. Now the Wildlife Alliance is working to regrow it:

Illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, uncoordinated mining, and other unsustainable development have already decimated Cambodia’s forests. In 1990, 73 percent of Cambodia’s land area was covered by forest. In 2007, only 57 percent of Cambodian land was forested. 

Navigating the landscape with a Canon DSLR camera and minimal equipment, filmmaker David P. Alexander is tasked with documenting their efforts. He talks about his adventures in an interview below.

The Atlantic: How did you get into documentary filmmaking? How did you end up in Cambodia? 

David P. Alexander: I have always loved travelling, learning new things, and just getting to know people from different backgrounds. I’m that weird guy who will start a conversation with you in line at the grocery store or on the bus. When I realized I could make a living talking to people and using videos to tell their stories, I just kind of ran with it. I moved to Israel to produce a feature documentary about foreign volunteers in the Israeli Defense Forces, and I also started freelancing from the region.

The Green Report After over three years in Israel, I ended up going back to school for a Masters degree in Journalism. Close to graduation last May I applied for my current position with Wildlife Alliance in Cambodia.

What has the experience of shooting for Wildlife Alliance in Cambodia been like?

Working at Wildlife Alliance has been both a fascinating journey, and a challenging one as well. Everyone here is passionate about their jobs, and as such the work often carries over into the nights and weekends.

One time I was out searching for illegal loggers in the jungle, and I had a “seeing through the Matrix” moment. There I was, dripping sweat in the middle of the Cambodian rainforest, and I just realized that this is what all the “green” talk is about. You have people trying to cut down the forest, and you have people trying to protect it. It was great to see a concept as broad as preserving the environment reduced to eight guys on patrol in the jungle. 

Another moment that stands out was when I found a Bamboo Viper sleeping in my bungalow. I read about the snake later and apparently your hand falls off if it bites you, or something crazy like that.

What gear and software are you working with?

I am operating with minimal gear out here. Everything I need to produce these videos fits neatly into a small backpack. Specifically I am shooting with a 24-105mm lens on my Canon T2i (550d). I have two 32-gigabyte memory cards, and one 16-gig card. I use a Zoom recorder for the audio, and have a shotgun microphone and a wireless lavalier. I do all my editing on a MacBook Pro with Final Cut Pro, and so far have managed to fit all my footage on a 1-Terbyte hard drive. I also have a Gopro camera and a hand-me-down tripod.

Creating compelling videos for causes, environmental or otherwise, can be challenging. How do you approach these stories?

Approaching each story with a genuine sense of curiosity is the most important thing for me. You can’t tell a good story if you don’t understand it yourself. From there I just I try my hardest to keep things simple and clear. The work Wildlife Alliance is doing is inherently interesting, which makes my job a bit easier. Poverty alleviation through eco-tourism, reforesting the jungle, or encouraging community agricultural development, it is all interesting stuff. My job is just to relay the message in a way that hopefully keeps you engaged for about 3 minutes or so.

What’s next for you? 

After my work with Wildlife Alliance is finished, I think I am headed back to Tel Aviv to produce videos for Omanoot.org an Israeli non-profit dedicated to the Arts.

I also recently watched the new Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, and think I might pull an Owen Wilson, move to Paris, and get creative. I’m hoping to meet Hemingway.  

For more of David P. Alexander's videos, go to cargocollective.com/?davidalexander.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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