What is your name and where are you based?
My name is Alex Eilts, and I am currently based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A.
What kind of films do you make? How would you describe what you do?
I am an ecologist, and have only recently begun making natural history films. My interest in getting involved in filmmaking stems from my desire to help integrate science in a more in depth way to natural history films. I believe that nature films can not only inspire people to action but also inform their actions as well. I hope I can help other filmmakers to remember that science makes for a great story.
Who or what inspires you in your photography and why cover nature and conservation issues?
My interest in pursuing natural history filmmaking is relatively recent, but nature films have been an inspiration to me for much longer. The natural world around me as well as films with scenes from far off places influenced my decision as a child to pursue ecology. As an ecologist, I understand both the emotional and functional reasons for conservation. Conveying both of these rationales to people is necessary if we hope to preserve Earth’s biodiversity against immense opposing pressures, and film is a powerful tool to reach and educate a wide audience.
What has been your biggest challenge filming in the field?
Currently, I am out there on my own, therefore any situation where I am filming myself takes a little extra time. Even making sure I am in focus and in frame can be a bit of challenge. I film with a micro 4/3 camera and perhaps the most entertaining thing is when people see me delivering lines to what appears to be a still camera. I’m certain I look a little crazy to passersby as I apparently have an in-depth conversation with my camera; that or perhaps people suspect I have an advanced voice activated camera.
Has technology hindered or enhanced your photography?
Because I have no formal training in filmmaking, with either the equipment or the processes, technology has completely facilitated my endeavour to make videos. Digital video capture, computer editing, and social media all create the capacity to give a voice to a greater segment of society. This has allowed for unique stories to be heard, particularly in documentary style films. At this stage, I depend on these technologies to create a voice for myself, and as an avenue to get my message out there.
What is your favourite place in nature?
I think this is the most difficult question in the list. There numerous enjoyable aspects about any one place, and so many places from which to choose. When it comes down to it, I’m happy to be outdoors, especially if the bugs aren’t bitting too badly and it’s not terribly hot at the time. There are, however, a few groups of places that I simply love. Oceanic islands because they are such an evolutionary playground, with their unique forms and unusual combinations of species. Gondwanan remnant regions because they demonstrate the results of continental drift so clearly as well as species sorting. And Mediterranean climate zones because they display such wonderful extra-tropical biodiversity and convergent evolution.
From your field experience, what is your biggest concern when it comes to the environment?
The disenfranchisement of the public in relation to science and conservation is a primary concern of mine, and the motivating factor for my involvement in film. In a democratic society, it is the right of the people to decide conservation, education, and science are of no value. The corollary of this is that it is the responsibility of those with the knowledge and those who care about these topics, to keep them in the public eye, so that their utility and importance are “plain to see” to everyone.
How do you think the media industry should be addressing environment and conservation issues?
The general media has a tendency to underestimate their audience and “dumb down” science, leaving people confused as to what data supports conservation – amongst other – decisions. This is confounded by pseudo-symmetry in journalism, where fringe opinions are given equal time in an effort to create apparent balance. For science and environmental issues, this creates the perception of a lack of general consensus on a range of topics where it may, in fact, exist. This can leave an intelligent audience believing that basic facts are actually unknowns, which is a disservice to everyone.
If you could give one message to the world’s leaders on climate change, what would it be?
I don’t think the political will to come together and make global scale changes will come from our leaders. I believe it will need to come from people. So, I hope that by helping communicate the science behind headlines to the public, and arming people with information to create political pressure, I am speaking to those who will make the difference.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a web-series called “Decoding Diversity” which examines the factors that lead to the observed biodiversity in different locations. Though I film the episodes in locations which illustrate the patterns most clearly, the ecological principles are broadly applicable.
What advice do you have to someone wanting to break into the industry?
I wish I knew. I am currently trying to find my place in the industry. If I do find my way, I’ll be happy to share the secret.
What would you like to be remembered for?
If I could contribute to people having a better understanding of the science behind what we know about our natural world, and how that informs our conservation priorities, I would be pleased.