February 5, 2018

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has made a public commitment and begun the process to clean up the Citarum River, largely thanks to a series of “micro-docs” created by New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking alum and environmental activist Gary Bencheghib with his brother, Sam.

“Micro-docs,” a term coined by NYFA Documentary Filmmaking Chair Andrea Swift, are social media-optimized, super-short documentaries. The Bencheghibs, who founded Make a Change World together, have successfully leveraged the powerful format to spark real environmental change in Indonesia, where they were raised.


Their project on the polluted Citarum River in the summer of 2017 was motivated not only by a love for their home, but also a concern for the growing amount of plastics found in the ocean; as they report in one micro-doc, 80% of the plastics in the ocean today come from land-based sources, especially rivers and streams like the Citarum. There are 27.5 million people who live off the Citarum River, which is the source of 80% of the water supply for Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta.

“We really wanted to create a shocking visual of all this trash that’s coming in from our rivers into the ocean,” Gary said in his micro-doc. “…We have to start from our rivers, because that is where we can still capture the waste before it gets out in the open sea.”

So the brothers set out in kayaks made out of plastic bottles and bamboo, travelling 68km up the river. Armed with their cameras, rubber boots, and gloves, the brothers documented a two-week journey through what can only be described as apocalyptic conditions, revealing communities of people who live along the riverbanks and even work in the highly toxic waters — where enormous collections of discarded plastic, dead animals, and other waste often pile up and catch fire.

“The smells were awful,” reported Sam.

The Bencheghibs released their micro-docs to environmental groups like the Bening Saguling Foundation led by Indra Darmawan, Ibu-ibu bersih, Pak Sariban and Jurig Runtah. The short format of micro-docs the brothers created provided the perfect vehicle to reach their audience with maximum impact. The videos went viral.

“After completing our descent, our videos were watched by hundreds of thousands online and eventually reached the Indonesian Government,” the brothers wrote in EcoWatch.

As 2018 begins, the Indonesian government has followed through on their initial response to the videos and pledge to fully rehabilitate the river. The President invited 20 environmentalists to meet with government ministers. He has called for the ministries, government branches, and institutions to work together for a total cleanup of the Citarum River.

“If they can integrate, I predict that the rehabilitation of the river can finish well within seven years,” the President said.

The Bencheghib brothers celebrated this announcement on Instagram:

The New York Film Academy congratulates Gary and Sam Bencheghib on their incredible work through Make a Change World.