Award winning documentary by Malaysian


KOTA KINABALU: For Sabahan Catherine Jayasuriya, Mt 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.

Writing in the Newport Beach California, USA Daily Pilot newspaper, John Depko said: “The film features stunning footage of their climb up the mountain’s famous alpine meadow ecosystem. These beautiful scenes are intertwined with pointed interviews with doctors, patients and researchers working to cure the disease…. joy, hope and tears get equal time on screen.”

Dusty’s Trail: Summit of Borneo has accumulated an impressive number of awards in its first few months of film festival screenings. In addition to being an official selection of the Newsport Beach International Film Festival in California and the Minneapolis Film Festival in Minnesota, the film received Best Feature Documentary and Best Visual Effects awards at the Los Angeles Movie Awards and Catherine was awarded best director of a feature documentary.

Catherine also won best director of a feature documentary at the St. Tropez International Film festival in France. The film also received an award of excellence at the international film festival in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Catherine hopes that climbers and hikers from all over Malaysia will join her and her international team for the 3rd Annual Expedition Mt Kinabalu, which kicks off with a gala send off at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort in Kota Kinabalu on August 16.

Interested climbers can reach Catherine by email at [email protected] or through the Coalition Duchenne’s website at

Coalition Duchenne has several research initiatives that are making advances in potential cardiac and pulmonary treatments for sufferers of Duchenne and other muscle weakening conditions.

Catherine has initiated funding of a $150,000 grant for a team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, led by Dr Eduardo Marban MD, PhD to do a preclinical study using cCardiac-derived stem cells in Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“We know that boys with Duchenne are born with a small scar at the base of their heart”, said Dr Ron Victor, the Burns and Allen Chair in Cardiology Research at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.

“The damage, or remodeling, of Duchenne boys’ hearts increases over time with fatal consequences.”

“Twenty thousand boys are born each year with Duchenne, more than 50 each day. Many do not live into their 20s,’ said Catherine Jayasuriya.

“We need to focus on changing the course of the disease, we lose many young men to cardiac issues. We hope that working with cardiac stem cells is one way we will eventually change that outcome,” she said.

Catherine has shown she is as comfortable working with world-renowned researchers as she is scaling the mountain. Her Sabah roots have equipped her well to overcome the challenges of seeking change on the global stage through film and research.

“More important than the awards that the film has received is the fact that it is inspiring people to be in the present moment and live their lives to the fullest – like Dusty,” said Catherine.