KOTA KINABALU: For Sabahan Catherine Jayasuriya, Mount Kinabalu has always been a symbol of strength and a reminder of her ancestral roots.
Therefore, it was fitting that Catherine featured the mountain as the backdrop for her award winning documentary, Dusty’s Trail: Summit of Borneo (2013) which is screening at the Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival on June 11.
Catherine’s film is showing at festivals worldwide, both helping to raise awareness for Duchenne muscular dystrophy and showcasing a Malaysian who is making a difference on the world stage.
Dusty’s Trail: Summit of Borneo is an inspirational documentary about a young man’s journey with Duchenne, a fatal and debilitating muscle wasting condition that affects one in 3,500 boys worldwide.
The story tells about people coming together from around the world to climb Mt. Kinabalu for charity to raise awareness for Duchenne. Catherine is the founder of Coalition Duchenne, a charity that raises awareness and funding for Duchenne research.
“Dusty’s Trail: Summit of Borneo celebrates life through the ties that bind all humanity. It’s about the power of creating a positive, happy, fulfilling and inspiring life when the odds seem against it,” said Catherine.
Filmed in Sabah and California, the documentary is based on interviews with doctors, researchers, parents, friends and people who have been inspired by Dusty’s life, some with whom he has never met, and others who share the same path. Sabah is featured extensively in the film, both the mountain and the people. Some of the interviews include: State Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun; Tan Sri Thomas Jayasuriya; musician Amir Yussof; architect Richard Sokial Nelson; environmentalist Cynthia Ong; and the parents of boys with Duchenne who live in Sabah.
Catherine’s 20-year-old son, Dusty Brandom, was diagnosed with Duchenne at age six. For Dusty, this meant that every muscle in his body was going to steadily weaken for the rest of his life until his heart and breathing muscles would stop functioning.
Catherine’s bond with Sabah resonates in the film. She is one quarter Kadazandusun. Her grandmother lived in Limbanak just outside Kota Kinabalu. The Kadazandusun people, who live along the foothills of Mt. Kinabalu, hold the mountain sacred and believe that their ancestors’ spirits dwell on the mountaintop.
“The mountain has watched over everything through the years. Like an anchor, the mountain reminded me of where I was from and kept on drawing me back, guiding me through some difficult years while I was away from home. It spoke to me of strength and endurance. Throughout life’s ups and downs, the mounting remained the same, and so did a certain part of me. It reminded me that despite the changes that life brings, there are fundamental things that always stay the same,” said Catherine.
While the sentiments are local, the goal of the film is to reach a global audience.
“Malaysian filmmakers like James Wan (Saw, Fast and Furious 7) have had tremendous international success. Within my documentary genre I am not seeking to create a blockbuster but hope to have an impact by raising awareness and funding for Duchenne. Film is a wonderful medium that can make a difference,” said Catherine.
Her film crew, Allan Smith, Andrew Fink and Chuck Jonkey, captured over 80 hours of footage around Coalition Duchenne’s 2012 Expedition Mr. Kinabalu, including the mountain climb, interviews with doctors and scientists working in the United States, of Duchenne, and most importantly young men with Duchenne and the family members who support them. In one scene, they followed Catherine to a Kampung where they met a 14-year-old with Duchenne, called Azmi. He is shown being helped by his siblings and contrasted with Dusty’s life at home in California. The circumstances are very different but there is a commonality of rising above a shared challenge.
Following the ten days’ shooting in Sabah, most production included over 300 hours of editing and took place over eight months mainly in California. During this time, while overseeing the intensive editing and mastering process, Catherine was able to surprise her film-making friends by securing iconic songs such as Bob Marley’s “One Love” and contemporary hits such as Phillip Phillip’s “Home” for the film.
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