People in the region are likely familiar with Engin Altan Düzyatan. The Turkish actor has appeared in nearly 20 feature films and has a successful television career to his credit. Everyone knows about his acting prowess, but behind the glitz and the glamour is a man who is deeply committed towards the environment. However, unlike a token gesture or lip-service, which is can often be the case with some celebrities, he decided to dive in at the deep end and head on a voyage across several countries to witness first-hand the effects of waste on our oceans, and the impending threat this poses to marine life and eventually humans. He chronicled his travels in a set of documentaries.
While Altan says that he is concerned about the state of the planet for the sake of his children and future generations, it was a journey to Africa that made him realise the enormity of the water problem facing our planet. This eventually resulted in him undertaking the cause and producing a documentary titled Be Witness. “My concerns grew on a family trip to Africa. I saw that while Africa has water, the access to it was limited. There was a dearth of wells which could supply clean water to the people, and the problem couldn’t be readily addressed due to the lack of finances. So, I decided to film and photograph this tragedy, raise awareness. With the proceeds I was able to open up wells that supply water for up to 25.000 people in Africa. Tragically, on the other hand, in the modern world where we have access to water we misuse it and are doing little for its conservation. All of our water is polluted with dangerous amounts of plastics and micro plastics. So, after the documentary about African water shortage, I decided to film another documentary about the plastic and micro plastic problems our world faces,” says Altan.
As part of the documentary, Be Witness, he went on a journey to investigate the causes and consequences of this peril that faces us all.
Teaming up with the Rainbow Warrior, the flagship of Greenpeace which is used for exploring the Mediterranean Sea, Altan set out with the team to get a deeper understanding of the magnitude of the problem.
As part of the trip, he visited several countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan and England. He was seeking the answer to the questions: How big is this issue? How can we avert it? He wanted to show the real scale of the problem to the world and raise awareness.
What they witnessed was worrisome.
In Thailand, for instance, the team visited the Smoky Mountains and some of the paradise islands of the country, where they were able to see first-hand the devastation caused by plastic pollution. They documented how mankind is destroying the beautiful coral reefs and the water ecosystem. He also saw how the residents of this slum were forced to make a living off the trash that surrounded them, and even ate the food that grew in the vicinity.
The situation was equally grim in Malaysia, where Altan joined the efforts to clean the rivers. He also secretly visited the infamous illegal trash factories in the country. However, this was not something those involved in the trade were thrilled about and even threatened the crew with guns, asking them to leave. Moving on to the Philippines, the team discussed the problem with non-profit organisations working on the problem in order to find the solutions that could help alleviate these environmental issues.
However, it was not all doom and gloom. The trip also revealed some bright spots that demonstrated what could be achieved through awareness and resolve. In Japan, he found a glowing example of ways to mitigate the problem: the team visited the zero-waste town of Kamikatsu, where all the waste produced by inhabitants is recycled or reused. It was evident that with action and awareness the problem can be contained to a large extent. Armed with the first-hand experiences and evidence, Altan used his documentary to engage opinion leaders to convince them to take concrete action to prevent and protect the waters in the region and beyond.
“I want people to be aware that our nature is dying. We are destroying everything that is beautiful. We need to change. We need to change our habits. If I can create even a small awareness through my documentaries, I would be happy,” adds Altan. Apart from being an accomplished actor, Altan is also an extreme sports enthusiast and indulges in all sports that are centred around nature. From kite surfing to kayaking to skiing to scuba diving, he feels that we need to be mindful of the problems at hand or there may be no way left to enjoy and explore the beauty of nature.
“We need to stop using disposable plastics. Soon we will not be able to find clean water, we will not be able to eat fish from our waters. Plastic is there everywhere, polluting our world. ‘Plastic vs. Planet’ that is the question. Which side are you on? We need to start being proactive and stop disposable plastic usage as fast as possible,” Altan concludes.