The new book Conservation Filmmaking: How to Make Films that Make a Difference is both a crucial guide for new filmmakers and a helpful energizer for experienced filmmakers.
Co-Author Piers Warren draws upon his wealth of experience as the Principal of the WildEYE International School of Wildlife Filmmaking to provide clear, helpful instructions for how to get started making documentaries.
Beyond production, planning, and important guidance leading to sources of funding, however, Conservation Filmmaking also encourages filmmakers to screen their films with the local audiences who can truly make a difference. Too often in our world of natural history entertainment foreign film crews come in to document the beauty of an area and neglect sharing what they’ve seen to inspire those who live in such areas to care for them in new ways. That’s one of the ways co-author Madelaine Westwood adds her experience to Conservation Filmmaking. As the founder of the Great Apes Film Initiative and the Pedal Powered Cinema Project, Westwood’s spent her career making sure people in remote areas have access to such film projects, and encourages all filmmakers to do the same. Conservation Filmmaking also includes advice for how to monitor the effectiveness of your films.
Conservation Filmmaking includes a comprehensive list of case studies of successful wildlife filmmakers and conservationists, showing how with the instructions included in this book and a great amount of passion, we can all make a difference whether you’re the head of media production for Greenpeace or if you just simply refuse to stand by as nature suffers, like 19-year-old Abbie Barnes. Founding members of Filmmakers for Conservation, Warren and Westwood close out the book promoting the ethical filmmaking guide FFC developed to ensure readers go out there with enthusiasm and restraint.
Cheers to Piers, Madelaine, and the crew at WildEYE for continuing to inspire, train, guide, and lead future conservation filmmakers to make a difference, and to continue to inspire the natural history industry to do more to protect biodiversity around the world.
How many baby pandas does it take to make a conservation film a success?
Two? Four? Nine?
Hedging their bets, PBS, National Geographic and Passion Planet went with… 14!
In their upcoming series, Earth: A New Wild, viewers will get to ogle fourteen baby pandas, as Conservation International Executive Vice President Dr. M. Sanjayan guides them on a journey exploring the intrinsic nature of humanity’s role in nature. Filmmakers for Conservation was at a sneak peak of the upcoming series screened at National Geographic in Washington, D.C. – the five-part film promises to bring optimism to the conservation conversation to living rooms all over the country.
Dr. Sanjayan said he wanted to work on this series – and call it The New Wild – to remove the distinction between the natural and the human worlds. “We humans are part of nature,” he said, “and when you realize that, we realize saving nature is saving ourselves.” He said in certain areas it was impossible to film wildlife without getting humans in the frame, and he hopes by telling the story of how humans are part of nature – not separated from it – viewers will learn, “Just how much we need each other to survive.”
Filming over 5 years in 29 countries and 45 locations, the producers decided to separate the films based on habitats, with episodes covering “Home,” “Plains,” “Forests,” “Oceans,” and “Fresh Water.” The first episode explores “Home,” establishing the series arc that humans share our home with nature – and it goes big, with Dr. Sanjayan’s visit to the breeding center of the Bifengxia Panda Base in Wolong, China. Researchers there have determined when females are most fertile as part of their efforts to re-wild the iconic species, and after resisting the concentrated power of such adorable panda delight, witnessing the baker’s dozen of black and white babies roll around on the floor, Dr. Sanjayan dons a panda suit himself, as he witnesses the first-ever release of a captive-bred panda into the wild.
Breeders take care of giant panda cubs inside a crib at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, Sichuan province, September 23, 2013. Fourteen new joiners to the 128-giant-panda-family at the base were shown to the public on Monday, according to local media. REUTERS/China Daily
Along with Zhang Xiang’s historic amble, Dr. Sanjayan visits Dr. Jane Goodall in Tanzania, where new chimpanzees have entered the Gombe National Park, thanks to community initiatives to connect fragmented habitat by subsidizing border trees. But now the villagers report chimps have taken infants from their homes, highlighting the difficulty of life in the shared wild.
The “Plains” episode introduces the theories of Rhodesian-born biologist Allan Savory, about the need to restore to the plains the millions of herd animals who once kept them healthy. Dr. Sanjayan visits the Russian steppes, where the proboscises of saiga antelope once roamed with more snouts than the wildebeest of the African savannahs. With their floppy schnozzes warming the frigid air, the saiga roam, eating and dispersing 100 plant species. After the fall of the Soviet Union, poachers ravaged the herds from numbering two million down to 20,000, hunting their horns for traditional Chinese medicine. A boom in irrigated agriculture has also led to their home pastures in Kalmykia to become the first manmade desert in Europe, as 80% of the arid region has lost plant coverage. Dr. Sanjayan tries to show that hope abounds, meeting researchers who are tracking the saiga’s numbers, and finding ways to protect them from poachers.
The “Plains” episode also offers the most bizarre human-wildlife interaction, as Dr. Sanjayan travels to northern Scandinavia, where the Sami people were possibly the first to domesticate herd animals. Those who still live the traditional, semi-nomadic lifestyle, follow their herds of reindeer throughout the winter. The males can get very aggressive in the rutting season, however, and after the autumn battle for females they are so exhausted that nine in ten will perish in the following winter. Well… ancestral knowledge was quick to incorporate anatomy into the equation, and Dr. Sanjayan’s Sami hosts invite him to participate in the traditional cure:
The Sami call their modified male reindeer the “Gentlemen of the Tundra,” as they spend the winter helping the females dig through the snow for those last remaining morsels to munch…
Dr. Sanjayan kept the “Forests” episode under wraps, but FFC did catch glimpses of the final “Oceans,” and “Fresh Water” films, in which Dr. Sanjayan goes fishing in the mangrove nurseries of Florida for pregnant and newborn lemon sharks, and then kayaks the Colorado River to its end with photographer Peter McBride, where the mighty river painfully dies in the dusts of Mexico’s Sonora Desert. Although Mexico receives less and less of the Colorado’s life-force, not far from the dried-up wetlands it once watered Dr. Sanjayan and McBride fly over the Cienaga wetlands, where 40,000 acres of new life has sprung from farm water run-off somewhere upstream. Dr. Sanjayan points out nature’s resiliency: as one door closes, another opens.
Earth: A New Wild will air on PBS starting on Wednesday, February 4, at 9/8c PM. Now that you’re warned of the carnage of cuteness of 14 baby pandas, enjoy the programming, and let us know what you think!
The Drill Project features the first-ever broadcast images of wile Bioko Island drills; large, silver baboon-like monkeys with obsidian black faces, and dominant males with bright blue rears and red genitals. An educational film, The Drill Project illustrates the beautiful relationships formed in the biodiversity of Bioko Island’s tropical forests, and explains how the drills are an important part of their ecosystem. Viewers learn, however, that not all is well in these forests, as traditional bush-meat hunting practices have given way to commercial poaching with shotguns and snare traps. The Drill Project gives a voice to the drills and the six other species of monkeys on the island by exhibiting these lesser-known primates’ struggle with human misunderstanding and advocating the abolishment of primate hunting on the island.
The film includes interviews with local community members and biologists discussing the importance of wildlife protection to serve future generations and its economic value to the country of Equatorial Guinea. The film is in Spanish, the national language of Equatorial Guinea, and narrated by Demetrio Bocuma Meñe an Equatoguinean who studies environmental science and policy in the United States. Our message is a positive one and it is meant to give the local public of Equatorial Guinea a national pride in their wildlife.
The Drill Project is currently broadcasting on the National and International television channels in Equatorial Guinea and premiered both in Equatorial Guinea (December 15, 2012) at the Guinean Cultural Center in Malabo and in the USA (April 15, 2013) at Drexel University in Philadelphia. In March of 2013 we organized film screenings in three villages near the protected areas where the last drills remain, and we left a group of biology students from the local Universidad Nacional de Guinea Equatorial in charge of continuing to organize showings of the film. The Drill Project has aired in schools, village centers, and living rooms to ignite conversation about the bushmeat trade. The head of the biology of UNGE is a friend of President Teodoro Obiang and claims that the president has seen and approves of the film.
Coal River Valley, West Virginia is a community surrounded by lush mountains and a looming toxic threat. ON COAL RIVER follows a former miner and his neighbors in a David-and-Goliath struggle for the future of their valley, their children, and life as they know it.
Ed Wiley once worked at the same coal waste facility that now threatens his
granddaughter’s elementary school. When his local government refuses to act, Ed embarks on a quest to have the school relocated to safer ground. With insider knowledge and a sharp sense of right and wrong, Ed confronts his local school board, the state government, and a notorious coal company – Massey Energy – for putting his granddaughter and his community at risk.
Along the way, Ed is supported by his neighbors Bo and Judy, who are locked in their own battle with Massey Energy over their practice of “mountaintop removal” – blowing up mountains to extract coal. Together, Bo and Judy help Ed bring attention to the dangers at Marsh Fork Elementary, hoping that if they save the school, they can save the valley.
ON COAL RIVER is proud to have contributed to greater public awareness and policy maker scrutiny on the issues of mountaintop removal and coal slurry injection. The film screened in the US Capitol June 24 2010, sponsored by two members of Congress. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) personnel with authority over mountaintop removal were in the audience and said afterwards they were quite impacted by the film. One mining regulator commented that the film “hit him in the gut.”
ON COAL RIVER elicited public statements about mountaintop removal from celebrities Josh Lucas, Gloria Reuben, Woody Harrelson, and Hugh Jackman. Gloria Reuben personally gave her copy of ON COAL RIVER to Lisa Jackson, head of the US EPA. Shortly after our AFI/Discovery Channel – SILVERDOCS premiere, we helped facilitate an ongoing collaboration between Coal River Valley schools and the prestigious Sidwell School of Washington, DC, where President Obama’s daughters attend school.
In addition to the film, many non-profit organizations and individual activists have done a tremendous amount of work on the issue in the last few years. Although mountaintop removal has not yet been outlawed, the EPA is regulating the practice more closely, and a West Virginia state ban on the practice of underground slurry injection will soon be up for a vote.
This multi award-winning tale tells the extraordinary story of how a population of wild New Zealand falcons have managed to survive in the face of fierce commercial forestry logging practices. It also tells the story of two friends – conservationist and director Sandy Crichton, and 88-year-old wildlife photographer George Chance.
Bound by their mutual love and admiration for the falcons, Chance’s failing health and eyesight inspires the young Crichton to capture footage of the falcons as a tribute to the latter’s body of work from the 1970’s. What begins as an empathetic response to fulfil a friend’s final wish to see the magnificent birds on film ends up becoming the chance of a lifetime. When Crichton begins filming the falcons, he inadvertently becomes witness to new falcon behaviour, capturing a turning point in the ecological evolution of the wild birds.
During the making of “Karearea: the pine falcon” filmmaker Sandy Crichton spent three breeding seasons in commercial pine plantations filming wild New Zealand falcons. He also took on the voluntary role of falcon consultant with Wenita Forest Products, the owners of commercial forests throughout the South Island of New Zealand. The role involved locating New Zealand falcon (karearea) nest sites within the plantations, whilst liaising with neighbouring landowners and forestry workers to monitor falcon activity.
This was essential for filming purposes but it also served as an early warning system for contractors working in the same areas as nesting falcons. During the course of filming, the filmmaker visited forestry workers during their breaks and provided training and support in karearea identification and behaviour. Nestcams were used to illustrate the disturbance caused by forestry activities close to nests. Not only did the film reveal completely new falcon behavioural adaptations in response to life in commercial pine plantations, but it also led to positive change. As a direct result of filming, many karearea nests were located and consequently protected. The filmmaker co-wrote a ‘best practice’ work strategy for Wenita Forest Products, which is still helping to protect karearea nests throughout the region of Otago to this day.
Elsewhere in Africa elephants are in decline, but Botswana has an overpopulation problem with over 150,000. A pre-emptive cull of over 60,000 has been suggested. Dr. Mike Chase’s research finds real and meaningful solutions to Botswana’s problem. Chase is discovering their ancient migration routes, now blocked by expanding human settlement, and is lobbying the governments of neighboring counties to open gaps for safe passage.
Previously unrecorded annual gatherings, numbering over 5000 elephants, suggests an elephant intellect far more complex than previously imagined. Dr Chase believes that these clan gatherings reinforce bonds between family groups and that survival strategies are shared.
The film reveals new science about elephant movements and home range sizes. Chase tracks a bull elephant with an astounding home range of 35,000 sq kilometres – the largest ever recorded for an African elephant. Female home range sizes are discovered to be nearly five times the previously accepted average of 3000 square kilometres.
Bull elephants living in the Makgadigadi salt pans are filmed for the first time as Mike discovers how they survive in the hostile desert.
In the end the film reveals the solution: Chase has identified corridors that will allow Angola’s refugee elephants to return home after 30 years of civil war.
As documented by Dr. Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders Organisation (“EWB”):
The film helped open dialogue between five African countries and has had a direct impact on elephant conservation in Botswana and beyond. The film has:
Provided EWB with an audience with the Botswana Government, who then provided EWB with funding to conduct the first independent aerial survey of elephants (and other wildlife) in the Botswana.
Boosted the profile of elephant conservation in KAZA (Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier), the world’s largest conservation area straddling Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The film has been viewed by the Government Departments in the five countries charged with formalising KAZA.
Aided EWB in securing funding from Conservation Agencies in the amount of US$50 000.00, all of which has been ploughed back into elephant conservation and the KAZA Transfronteir Conservation area.
Helped secure funding for EWB’s conservation farming project, in which EWB are researching techniques to keep elephants out of farmlands and thus reduce human elephant conflict.
Brought awareness which helped prioritise conservation corridors and areas to initially de-mine in South-eastern Angola in collaboration with the Angolan government and MgM demining company.
Created dialogue amongst decision makers on the decommissioning and re-alignment of Botswana’s Vet Fences.
Increased awareness amongst the youth about elephant conservation in Botswana.