New book leads to greater impact in Conservation Filmmaking

ConservationFilmmakingCoverThe 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.


If Not Us, Then Who?

The Question, is at the back of our minds,

as we waltz into an era of global struggle. As the music speeds up to a frantic pace, however, we continue to dance, ignoring the warning signs just to enjoy our evening of overindulgence on this planet, a little bit more.

 We know our overconsumption, thirst for fossil fuels, deforestation, and the toxic effects of our resource lust will be a real pain to clean up in the morning, but we hold out, collectively thinking, “someone really should do something about the state of our Earth.”

Sadly, not everyone has been invited to the party. Peoples all over the world who live closely to the land, who depend on a healthy environment for their livelihoods, and who suffer through the damaging consequences of natural exploitation have been fighting to survive through the night.

As the victims of environmental injustice often live in remote environments, filmmakers play a critical role in amplifying their voices. Paul Redman, of Handcrafted Films, has been traveling throughout Central America, Peru, Brazil, and Indonesia to unify defiance against ecological abuses as part of the “If Not Us, Then Who?” campaign. Redman and his team work with indigenous communities to listen to their stories, help them document their troubles, and use the rapidly-produced yet emotive, beautiful, and effective short films to build support towards a solution.

“The aim of the project is to promote indigenous people as the most viable solution to the long term protection of forests.” Redman writes FFC. “We are also developing various events in partnership with international and national NGOs and have so far launched in New York, Lima and Indonesia.”

One “If Not Us, Then Who?” story is about the murder of an indigenous Peruvian activist named Edwin Chota, who fought against illegal logging in his Asheninka community:



“I filmed the widows of the four murdered Ashanenka leaders at the end of last year and we promoted the film in partnership wth Global Witness & Rainforest Foundation US in Lima,” Redman writes.


After showing the photos and film at the Lima Itinerant Film Festival in November of 2014, and bringing in Ashanenka leaders, the Peruvian government finally listened.

“The villagers of Saweto have since been granted land title to over 80,000 hectares of their traditional forests, which is a real success story for everyone involved.” Redman writes. “But we are still working to ensure more land titles are granted to other Ashanenka communities and we are exploring ways to do that later this year.”

Since screening the film in Peru, Redman left the materials with local NGOs and he and his team moved on to Indonesia to fight monoculture eucalyptus plantations:

The campaign is fully funded by the Ford Foundation and the Climate & Land Use Alliance (CLUA), and is aiming to bring these voices to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“We have further promotional events in Germany and Paris later this year to build awareness before the UNFCCC meeting in Paris,” Redman writes.

Now that the music sounds a bit slurred, and we realize that our waltz cannot last forever, what can we do? To help right these injustices,

  1. Don’t buy products that use tropical hardwoods, as many logging operations forge the documents to export their wood as though it came from legal concessions – with up to 80% of wood being fraudulently claimed as legal, according to Greenpeace Brazil
  2. Don’t buy products that use palm oil, as palm oil plantations contribute to the deforestation of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the forests of many other peoples
  3. Sign petitions to protect indigenous people and rainforests here, at


And thank Paul Redman and his team, for answering the question “If Not Us, Then Who?” with resounding action!



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.”

Shekar Dattatri

Shekar DattatriBiography:

An avid naturalist since the age of ten, 47-year old Shekar Dattatri is one of India’s leading wildlife filmmakers. An internationally respected and frequently awarded producer/director/cameraman of blue chip natural history films, he consciously turned his back on television at the height of his professional career in 2000, to work with conservation NGOs in India.

Armed with a Canon XL-1, the determination to make a difference, and a nuanced understanding of India’s conservation problems, he embarked on a series of hard-hitting films that were edited on a PC at home. Some of these films, such as ‘Mindless Mining – The Tragedy of Kudremukh’ and ‘The Ridleys Last Stand’ bolstered the efforts of conservation advocacy groups and helped bring about change. ‘Mindless Mining’, in particular, played a pivotal role in bringing to an end a government run iron ore mining operation in the heart of a rainforest ecosystem in south India’s Western Ghats mountain range.

His other significant conservation films in the last decade include ‘SOS – Save our Sholas’, about the vital need to protect the ‘shola’ forests of south India’s Western Ghats, and ‘The Truth about Tigers’, a revelatory 40 minute pro bono film that illustrates the problems and solutions in conserving India’s dwindling tiger population. Thanks to contributions from well-wishers, he has been able translate his films into several Indian languages and distribute thousands of DVDs of his films free of cost to educational institutions, NGOs and conservationists across the country. While continuing to make conservation films, he now also mentors aspiring wildlife and conservation filmmakers in India, besides giving dozens of talks on nature and conservation to varied audiences.

In 2004 he received a Rolex Award for Enterprise for his work, becoming the first conservation filmmaker to win this coveted recognition. In 2008, he received the Edberg Award from the Rolf Edberg Foundation in Sweden. The award’s citation reads: “The Edberg Foundation has decided to award its annual Edberg Award to filmmaker Shekar Dattatri, for his important work with conservation and environmental awareness in India. The Edberg Foundation notices how a world-class filmmaker has decided to forego international fame and well funded film projects for broadcasters worldwide, to pursue national, regional and local projects in India. In due time his efforts will reach a wider audience outside India, but its immediate effect on local conservation initiatives creates an example which the Edberg Foundation wants to acknowledge and praise as a model for other regions of the world. With his camera, his deep knowledge of Indian wildlife, and his great enthusiasm and belief in local action to solve environmental issues, Shekar Dattatri has set an example for the world to follow.”

Telephone: +91 44 244 15744

By Jason Peters

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David AttenboroughBiography:

David Attenborough is Britain’s best-known natural history film-maker. His career as a naturalist and broadcaster has spanned five decades and there are very few places on the globe that he has not visited.

Sir David joined the BBC in 1952, as a trainee producer, and it was while working on the Zoo Quest series (1954-64) that he had his first opportunity to undertake expeditions to remote parts of the globe to capture intimate footage of rare wildlife in its natural habitat.

He was Controller of BBC2 (1965-68), during which time he introduced colour television to Britain, then Director of Programmes for the BBC (1969-1972). However in 1973 he abandoned administration altogether to return to documentary-making and writing.

He has established himself as the world’s leading natural history programme maker with several landmark BBC series, including Life on Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984), The Trials of Life (1990), Life in the Freezer (1993), The Private Life of Plants (1995), The Life of Birds (1998), The Life of Mammals (2002), Life in the Undergrowth (2005) and Life in Cold Blood (2008).

Alongside the “Life” series, David narrated every episode of Wildlife on One, a BBC One wildlife series which ran for nearly more than 250 episodes between 1977 and 2005. At its peak, it drew a weekly audience of eight to ten million, and the 1987 episode “Meerkats United” was voted the best wildlife documentary of all time by BBC viewers. He has also narrated over 50 episodes of Natural World, BBC Two’s flagship wildlife series. (Its forerunner, The World About Us, was created by Attenborough in 1969, as a vehicle for colour television.) In 1997, he narrated the BBC Wildlife Specials, each focussing on a charismatic species, and screened to mark the Natural History Unit’s 40th anniversary.

As a writer and narrator, he has continued to collaborate with the BBC Natural History Unit into the new millennium. He narrated The Blue Planet (2001), the Unit’s first comprehensive series on marine life. The same team reunited for Planet Earth (2006), the biggest nature documentary ever made for television, and the first BBC wildlife series to be shot in high definition. In 2009, Attenborough wrote and narrated Life, a ten-part series focussing on extraordinary animal behaviour, and narrated Nature’s Great Events, which showed how seasonal changes trigger major natural spectacles.

By the turn of the millennium, Attenborough’s authored documentaries were adopting a more overtly environmentalist stance. In State of the Planet (2000), he used the latest scientific evidence and interviews with leading scientists and conservationists to assess the impact of man’s activities on the natural world. He later turned to the issues of global warming (The Truth about Climate Change, 2006) and human population growth (How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?, 2009). He also contributed a programme which highlighted the plight of endangered species to the BBC’s Saving Planet Earth project in 2007, the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Unit.

Attenborough continues to work into his ninth decade, and is currently involved in a number of projects: He wrote and presented Frozen Planet, a major series for BBC One which examines the impact of a warming climate on the people and wildlife of the polar regions. He has also recently completed two projects for BBC Two. Madagascar (which first aired weekly between the 9th to 23rd February 2011) a three-part series giving an overview of Madagascar’s unique wildlife. The accompanying documentary Attenborough and the Giant Egg (which aired on the 2nd of March 2011) features the elephant bird egg which Attenborough discovered on his first filming expedition to the island in the 1960s.

The importance of Sir David Attenborough’s contribution to wildlife film making is beyond doubt as his huge catalogue of programmes have been seen by millions of people worldwide and stirred up massive interest in the natural world. His contribution to conservation film is widely regarded as one of the best due to his authoritative presence and well-respected command of the issues pertaining to important environmental concerns… His long-time commitment to wildlife film and commentary on environmental issues have proven him to be a filmmaker that truly has made a very significant difference!

Other Achievements:

From 1983, Attenborough worked on two environmentally themed musicals with the WWF and writers Peter Rose and Anne Conlon. Yanomamo was the first, about the Amazon rainforest, and the second, Ocean World, premiered at the Royal Festival Hall in 1991.

They were both narrated by Attenborough on their national tour, and recorded on to audio cassette. Ocean World was also filmed for Channel 4 and later released.
In 1982, he received the Panda Award for Outstanding Achievement at Wildscreen.

He serves on the advisory board of BBC Wildlife magazine; is Wildscreen Patron; a Trustee of the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; an Honorary Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge; a Fellow of the Royal Society and was knighted in 1985.

By Jason Peters

Korup – An African Rainforest

Korup – An African Rainforest


In the 1970’s the world was slowly waking up to the devastating levels of tropical deforestation. At that time, international wildlife conservation was focussed almost entirely on the protection of single species. Little attention was being paid to the larger picture of the total ecosystem and the importance of these natural places to the people who depend on them.

In 1977, Phil Agland travelled to Cameroon with the intention of helping to create a programme of conservation that would try to address the central challenge of making rainforest conservation relevant to the lives of local people. An essential prerequisite was to be the making of a film that would focus international attention on the extraordinary biodiversity of tropical forests. Its purpose was to focus attention on one forest in particular – Korup. An ancient ‘refuge’ forest reserve on the border with Nigeria, known at that time to local people and a handful of research scientists, lead by Dr. J. Stephen Gartlan.

Working in Korup was to prove a challenge. Not only had Agland not shot a film before, but Korup proved to be one of the wettest forests in the world, with almost continuous rain for 8 months. Filming entirely alone, Agland combined Korup with a summer job painting houses to pay for the film stock. The next five years was to be a process of painstaking accumulation of behavioural and ecological sequences, often filmed high in the canopy, pioneering such novel techniques as Image Intensified filming at night. The work led ultimately to the finished film, Korup: An African Rainforest that was to become Channel 4’s first natural history film, broadcast in November 1982.

Positive results

The film was chosen to spearhead WWF’s 1982 Campaign to ‘Save the World’s Rainforests’ and the Earthlife Foundation’s Campaign to support the designation of Korup as a National Park, supported by a programme of sustainable development in the designated buffer zone adjacent to the Park.

An official showing of the film to the British Government in 1986, in the presence of Sir Crispin Tickell, head of the ODA, led directly to a grant of £440,000 to the Korup project – the first such Government grant to rainforest conservation.

This grant was followed by grants from the United States, the European Union, and the Dutch and German Governments and a multi-million dollar programme administered by WWF.

Korup was officially declared Cameroun’s first Rainforest National Park in November 1986.

As of 2012, Korup continues to receive significant international funding and remains the focus of a multi-national sustainable development programme.

Subsequent films:

Fragile Earth: A series of six programmes including the award winning Siarau and Selva Verde.
Fragile Earth Retrospective
Baka: People of the Rainforest
Baka: Komba’s Forest
Baka: Growing Up
Follow-up film: Baka: A Cry from the Rainforest
Beyond the Clouds
Spirits, Ghosts and Demons
Shanghai Vice
A French Affair
Love and Death in Shanghai


Director: Phil Agland
Producers: Phil Agland and Michael Rosenberg
Partridge Films Limited

By Jason Peters

Code of Best Practices in Sustainable Filmmaking

In 2008 FFC worked with the American University in Washington DC to develop the Code of Best Practice in Sustainable Filmmaking. While there were already ‘green’ filmmaking guides available, few, maybe none, were developed through detailed research or submitted to peer review. Thanks to support from The Ford Foundation and WWF UK, authors Larry Engel and Andrew Buchanan, both FFC members, were able to research and write the Code and put it through the review process. The principles in the Code are the basis on which checklists and carbon trackers were developed to help filmmakers reduce their carbon emissions and their damage to the environment.

It can get crowded out there!

It can get crowded out there!