Exclusive Interview – Tanya Petersen

Tanya Peterson:

Thinking Out of the Box: How can Film and Television deal with “hot” issues like climate change?

Tanya Peterson is a former Co-President of Filmmakers for Conservation. 

She helped found ClimateWorks Australia, served as the Head of TV and Film for WFF International in Geneva for eight years, and is currently the head of Marketing for the The Gold Standard Foundation, “a certification organization pioneering Results Based Finance approaches to clean energy deployment, conservation and broader development.”

Featured Filmmaker – Justin Jay

What is your name and where are you based?jj

Justin Jay, Charleston, South Carolina

What kind of films do you make? How would you describe what you do?

I have recently finished my first film and it is a conservation awareness film about the drill monkey. It is an educational film for the people of Equatorial Guinea showing them the beauty of their wildlife and the importance of biodiversity. It is told from their perspective and narrated in Spanish by a native Guinean. I would love to make more films like this in the future, films that share a conservation message with the people directly involved with those issues.

Who or what inspires you in your photography and why cover nature and conservation issues?

I started my career as a wildlife biologist in order to try to help understand our impacts on the environment. After realizing that my skill set could be used to help share this issue with others, I decided I would try my best to contribute as much as possible. I have gained inspiration from the scientists and conservationists that I have spent years working with. They sacrifice themselves to do what they feel is right. Many of them are over-worked and underpaid for a job that many times falls on deaf ears. I feel like I owe it to them to help people listen.

What has been your biggest challenge filming in the field?

My biggest challenge of filming in the field is being away from my fiancé. We have been together for eight years. I love every minute of being in the field other than that. Technically, the lack of gear and support that I am able to bring into the field hinders my filming. It is pretty much what I can carry on my back so I hope nothing breaks and I can just forget about any special camera shots.

Has technology hindered or enhanced your photography?

Technology has definitely enhanced my photography by simply being more accessible. With the advent of consumer grade digital cameras I was able to purchase all of the necessary gear in order to undertake my photography endeavors. Without this technology I wouldn’t have been able to go out by myself and develop my skills as a filmmaker.

What is your favorite place in nature?

This is a pretty ambiguous question. I will try to answer it the best I can. My favorite place in nature would have to the forests of Bioko Island. If you sit still long enough you can feel every inch of forest come alive around you. Once this happens it is as if the forest welcomes you back to exist as just another organism within creation rather than as a separate entity, as in nature and man. You realize there is only “nature”. It is very existentially refreshing and therefore my favorite place in nature.

From your field experience, what is your biggest concern when it comes to the environment?

The loss of Biodiversity. This can be attributed to many causes but the loss of diversity is driving us to a weaker planet, robbing us of the beauty of life and is going to result in catastrophic consequences for humans.

How do you think the media industry should be addressing environment and conservation issues? And if you could give one message to the world’s leaders on climate change, what would it be?

I think the media should be addressing environmental and conservation issues without fear of driving away viewers. I feel like there is a lot of programming that isn’t even given a fair shot to succeed because it might not fit the mold of high-earning shows that put less significance on conservation. Without a strong presence of comprehensive and ethical coverage of these issues it is easy to be entrenched in a paradigm that doesn’t value critical views for fear of being too extreme for moderate audiences.

The message I would give the world’s leaders would be: Listen to your scientists. They are in agreement on this issue. The danger is real and present. Every day that you fail to act brings us one day closer to full collapse.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on our second film about the drills of Bioko Island. This film will follow our efforts of trying to film one of the largest and rarest species of monkeys as we work with scientists and conservationists to help preserve their species.

What advice do you have to someone wanting to break into the industry?

Get out there and do it. There is plenty of consumer gear that can get the job done. No matter how much you read about it or study it, there is no substitute for just going out there and trying your hand at it.

What would you like to remembered for?

I would like to be remembered for making ethical films. I really want to move in the opposite direction from current wildlife programming and hopefully change some minds about what is entertaining. Not that I have achieved any of this, but it is a driving force for me wanting to get into this field.

Links: www.thedrillproject.org

Madelaine Westwood

Madelaine Westwood


The Great Apes Film Initiative (GAFI), set up by Madelaine Westwood in 2005, uses the power of film and other media in the service of conservation. They have three target audiences: Presidents and Government Ministers, National Television Audiences and Local Communities (including schools, universities, karaoke bars, river boats, wildlife management centres, army & national park rangers). They currently work in 17 of the 23 great apes range states across Africa and SE Asia and approximately 300 million people have seen, through GAFI screenings, donated films made by the BBC, National Geographic and many independent producers. To measure the impact of these films, they do questionnaires at community screenings and then support the local solutions requested. As a result, projects alongside the screenings take place… Things like tree planting, training NGO’s to make their own films in local languages, alternative income revenue support (e.g. bee keeping!) and educational talks.

They have also created, alongside technical partners, the first pedal powered cinema for the field which allows them to take the films to remote communities where there is no power… 2010 saw the first pedal power project in Uganda being so successful, they’ve had many requests from other NGOs and organisations to provide one for their projects too!
GAFI & Madelaine Westwood, utilising films that would not necessarily have otherwise affected change, are making innovative and engaging use of them at grass-roots level to make a difference by inspiring huge numbers of people to take action, find sustainable solutions to their problems and preserve Great Apes along with their environments… An example of films that are truly making a difference!


GAFI Website: www.gafi4apes.org
Also: www.nutshellproductions.co.uk/gafi/difference.html
YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/GAFIforApes
Twitter: @GAFI4Apes
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GAFI4Apes
Blog: http://greatapesfilminitiative.blogspot.com/
The Bike That Helps Save Gorillas – GAFI in Uganda: http://youtu.be/mkFeFJ16CgA
Director of GAFI: Madelaine Westwood
Tel: +44 1491 575 017″ Fax: +44 1491 579 335″ Mobile: +44 7770 577 549
Email: info@gafi4apes.org
For information on volunteering, please contact Madelaine: m.westwood@btinternet.com
By Jason Peters