According to a 2015 study by the University of Georgia, a total of 275 million metric tons of plastic waste entered the world’s oceans in 2010, and among the top polluters was the Philippines, which ranked third.
Instead of simply repeating reports and mentioning numbers and percentages, the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in August mounted an exhibit and premiered a documentary both entitled “Alon!” to show the immense problem of plastic waste in our seas.
The exhibit featured a series of photos of local surfers holding plastic trash they picked up from the beach in a five-minute period.
The idea came to Architect Gerry Torres, director of Benilde Center for Campus Art and the curator of the exhibit, when he lived for several days at Lola Sayong Surf Camp in Gubat, Sorsogon. During his stay, Torres chatted with its head, local surfer Noli John Mercader, who shared with him his idea of turning plastic waste into something useful.
“I talked to Noli, at one point, he said he was thinking of turning plastic into surfboards. That gave me an idea,” recalled Torres.
He continued, “Initially, I wanted to do an exhibit on surfing, particularly surfboard designs. But later on, I realized that it was not enough for an exhibit to just focus on surfboards. So, I thought maybe I should do something else, and then it dawned on me that perhaps the issue of plastic is something that I could tackle.”
Torres pushed to go with the exhibit to raise awareness not just among Benilde students, but also those who are going to witness the campaign. It highlighted the call for change of the community most affected by trash in the ocean.
Along with photos, a short documentary of the same name was premiered. Alon! featured the top surfing destinations in the Philippines—Siargao, La Union, Baler, Mati in Davao, Gubat in Sorsogon, and Sabang Daguitan in Leyte—heavily affected with plastic waste.
With the help of Gabby Fernandez, the former chairperson of Benilde Production Design Program, who directed Alon!, the vision of raising awareness through film became a reality.
“Plastic pollution. It fascinated me. The ultimate story of a generation. And seen from point of view of the surfing way of life, I found it visually arresting,” Fernandez said when asked on why he agreed to do the film.
Local surfers, or “eco-warriors” as described by Torres, were asked on their opinion about the country being the third worst plastic polluter in the world and how the plastic waste has affected our oceans.
“I connected that the surfers would be the first ones who will see the trash, plus the surfers would be the people who really love the ocean. They just love being in the oceans,” said Torres.
These surfers also asked and beseeched the tourists—foreign and local—to participate in preserving the oceans by not using plastics and opting to use other alternatives.
Fernandez and the production team still hold onto the dream where there is zero plastic waste and that the film would help everyone get there.
“I’m hopeful it will. If it succeeds, much of it will be owed to the juxtaposition between the allure of the surfing lifestyle and the horror of the plastic in the oceans. It’s quite a dramatic contrast,” said Fernandez.
In the future, Torres is hoping that the film will not just stay in the four corners of their exhibit, ongoing until Dec. 14, but will reach more audience—both young and old.
Fernandez, meanwhile, said that an updated version of the film is on the pipeline, as of writing.
“We’re thinking of shooting additional footage for an ‘updated’ version of the documentary. A Director’s Cut if you will,” he revealed.
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