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Bruno Manser - Laki Penan (Switzerland 2007)

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Bruno Manser - Laki Penan (Switzerland 2007)

US Premiere was in 2007. Scientist and environmentalist Bruno Manser left Switzerland in 1984 to live with the indigenous Penan jungle people in the remote rain forests of Sarawak, Borneo. For six years he learned their language and adopted their culture and the Penan accepted Manser as one of themselves, calling him Laki-Penan, the Penan-Man. When the first bulldozers began to systematically clear the rainforest, Manser aroused international awareness of the ecological and human disaster through spectacular activities, which made him powerful enemies. In the spring of 2000, on a secret journey to the Penan, he disappeared without a trace. The film dips into this remote world and allows those Penan who had become Manser’s second family to speak of their mutual adventures and fears and his ability to unite the Penan in resisting the tree-fellers and the police. What emerges is a balanced portrait of the passionate scientist, mystic and romantic portrayed one-dimensionally in the media as an angry environmentalist. The film also tells of the Penan people’s tragic fight for survival as they are forced to yield to the all-powerful timber industry. Directed by Christoph Kühn.


Bruno Manser, a Swiss shepherd made famous for supporting indigenous rainforest tribes in Borneo, has
disappeared in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. His Swiss colleagues today
announced he has been missing since May, 2000, and is possibly dead. An extensive search in the past
few months has revealed few clues as to Manser's whereabouts or whether he is indeed dead or alive.
Swiss diplomats yesterday asked the Malaysian government to help in the search for Bruno Manser.
There has been no response from Malaysia as of yet.


Forty-six year old Bruno Manser is best known for the six years he spent living with a group
of nomadic Penan people in Sarawak from 1984 to 1990. He learned their language and
culture so well that he became an accepted member of their community. In the late 1980's,
the Penan and other indigenous groups in Sarawak made international news by erecting
blockades to stop logging in traditional lands. Manser's political involvement and links to the
outside world boosted worldwide coverage.

Living with the Penan, Bruno Manser assumed an almost mythical status. Yet to the Malaysian
government he was initially dismissed as the "Swiss Tarzan," and quickly became known as
public enemy number one. Determined to end Manser's anti-logging activities, search parties
were sent out to find him. Twice Manser was captured, but both times he managed to escape.
A government bounty to bring the Swiss activist in dead or alive grew until it reached US
$50,000. Due to stepped-up involvement by the military, Bruno Manser was eventually
forced to flee Malaysia in 1990.


Returning to his home country of Switzerland, he formed Bruno Manser Fonds, a non-profit organization
dedicated to assisting the Penan and other indigenous groups in Borneo. He traveled all over the world
to raise support for their struggle against deforestation. Manser became the subject of several books
and a documentary movie, "Tong Tana."

During the early 1990's, Penan blockades in Sarawak were dismantled one by one by the Malaysian
military. As attention from the international media faded, hundreds of indigenous protesters were
arrested. Manser nonetheless remained devoted to the cause of Sarawak's natives. It was rumored
that he would periodically sneak across the Indonesian border into Sarawak to work with his Penan

Logging continued unabated. Eventually logging concessions covered over 90% of Sarawak's forests.
Manser took part in a series of publicity stunts to draw attention to the situation in Sarawak. This
culminated in 1998 when Manser slipped through the Malaysian border and landed a motorized hang
glider on the Chief Minister of Sarawak's lawn. He was immediately arrested and deported.


According to reports, Bruno Manser crossed the over land border from Indonesian Borneo into the
Malaysian province of Sarawak on the 22nd of May, 2000. Colleagues say he had been growing
increasingly frustrated by the lack of impact he had from overseas. He wanted to return to help the
Penan directly.

Yet, shortly after his arrival in Sarawak, he disappeared. A few days after crossing the border from
Indonesian Kalimantan, he wrote a letter to his girlfriend while hiding in the forest near Bario, a town
near the Sarawak border. In the letter he claimed he was tired and waiting for darkness before
continuing his journey deeper into Sarawak. The letter was probably brought to the Bario post office by
one of his many Penan friends. This letter is his last confirmed contact.

As weeks turned into months without further word from Manser, his associates in the Bruno Manser
Fonds office in Basel, Switzerland, started a search. Word discretely reached the Penan that he was
missing, and the Penan sent out search teams to find him. Two men were found who said they had
guided him for two days in a northern direction from Bario, but after that his trail grows cold. Local
contacts claim that the Malaysian military heard of Manser's border crossing, and sent out search teams
as well. Apparently they haven't found him either.


Since first meeting the Penan in the early 1980s, Bruno Manser has devoted his life to
saving the Penan culture and forests they live in from destruction. Borneo has the
oldest, most diverse rainforest in the world. In Borneo's forests there can be more tree
species in one square mile than in all of North America or Europe. The Penan are the
last nomadic people in Borneo.

Manser's dream was to see the Penan and other indigenous groups
save their forests from logging, and the wave of new blockades in
the last few months has been the most hopeful development towards
that end in many years. Manser and his Swiss Foundation believe it
is not too late to save Borneo's remaining forest and protect the
rights and cultures of the indigenous population.

***** First Analyzed File Results *****

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