E360 Film Contest Winner

In Indonesian Mining Region, the EV Boom Takes a Heavy Toll

The green electric vehicle revolution has a decidedly dirty side, and the Winner of the 2022 Yale Environment 360 Film Contest — “From Dreams to Dust” — vividly tells the story of the high cost of nickel mining through the life of an Indonesian mine worker.

2022 Yale Environment 360 Film Contest

Lithium-ion batteries are a key component of electric vehicles, and essential to EV battery production is nickel. But mining nickel is often a heavily polluting enterprise, and nowhere is that more evident than in Indonesia, which produces nearly a third of the world’s nickel.

In “From Dreams to Dust,” Indonesian filmmakers Stephanie Tangkilisan and Muhammad Fadli visit the coastal community of Tapunggaeya, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of mining. Once a picturesque fishing village on the island of Sulawesi, the hills in and around Tapunggaeya have been torn apart by vast open-pit mines that cause life-threatening landslides, pollute drinking supplies, and contaminate coastal waters.

“From Dreams to Dust” follows a 36-year-old truck driver at the mines named Lapola, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name. Though happy to have a steady salary to feed his family — albeit a meager $200 a month — the former fisherman describes how his once-idyllic village has been transformed into an industrial zone where landslides forced the closing of the village school and formerly white-sand beaches and clear waters are now fouled by red-brown mud. Sulawesi’s nickel mines are owned by a combination of smaller companies, state-owned enterprises, and industrial giants like Brazil’s Vale.

“When I see the [fishing] boats, I don’t miss the past,” Lapola tells the filmmakers. “I don’t think and dream about it anymore because it doesn’t exist.”

About the Filmmakers: Stephanie Tangkilisan is an Indonesian filmmaker living in New York. Her first short, “Trouble Finds You,” was shortlisted for the BAFTA Student Film Award for Documentary. Her producing credits include Michael K. WIlliams’ Black Market. Muhammad Fadli is a documentary photographer and producer based in Jakarta, Indonesia. His work has appeared in National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among other leading news outlets. He is the author of Rebel Riders and co-author of The Banda Journal, which won the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook of the Year 2021 Award.

About the Contest: The Yale Environment 360 Film Contest honors the year’s best environmental documentaries, with the aim of recognizing work that has not previously been widely seen. This year we received 490 submissions from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the winner.