conservation

Awards Season, and My First Award

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As the traditional awards season draws to a close with the Oscars this Sunday, for me it seems like awards season has only just begun. I’m lucky enough to have had my film The Drills of Afi Mountain nominated for four festivals this year, the first of which occurred over the weekend. Wild Film Fest is a festival run by students from the University of Exeter, and in it’s second year of running it has a very professional small festival feel; speakers from the wildlife filmmaking industry, screenings and an exhibition of photographs spread across three days made for an altogether well organised event, culminating in a showcase of films and the presentation of awards on Saturday night.

The standard of films was very high, with films coming from both UWE and Salford wildlife filmmaking courses as well as from Exeter students, which is especially impressive when I remember how little I knew about filmmaking when I was studying there for my undergraduate degree. I particularly enjoyed the winner of the cinematography category, Medieval Monsters (produced by Oliver Mueller of the Salford course), which had some stunning macro shots and really did justice to the beauty of it’s insect characters, making me feel quite inadequate in my own camera operating skills!

I’m very flattered to have been awarded the best film for both the conservation category, and as the overall festival winner, receiving a new trail camera and a GoPro Hero 4 Session camera as prizes, both of which I’m hugely grateful for. It’s really nice to know that people like the film, and considering that it was while studying at Exeter that I realised this was what I wanted to do, I’m thrilled that it was Exeter students that presented me with my first ever award for a film I’ve produced.

In the mean time, here are the other festivals I’ve been nominated for, watch this space for news of how I do:

Animal Film Festival (27th February), California

International Wildlife Film Festival (16-24th April), Montana

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (17-23rd October), New York

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Wildlife Telly Over the Christmas Period

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Christmas. A time for some of the worst television of the year – endless nostalgia programmes, repeats of Christmas specials and a whole channel dedicated to watching Jamie Oliver cook Christmas dinner for his family. A time when the potential to broadcast to a large viewing audience is at it’s peak, and yet for some reason commissioners decide that what everyone really wants to see is what was on last Christmas, and the Christmas before that, oh and then let’s just listen to the Queen answer the world’s problems with a Christmas tree anecdote and a quote from the bible. And so, like last year, we sit through our yearly dose of Christmas specials and a particularly ridiculous episode of Eastenders.

While there probably wasn’t anything in the natural history genre this year to rival the Queen’s speech or Eastenders for viewing figures, if you did manage to sort through the usual festive rubbish there was actually some good wildlife TV to choose from. The most obvious attempt from the genre to bring in a large Christmas audience was Snow Chick, the latest from John Downer Productions in filming a species’ most intimate moments. The camera work was fantastic as can be expected from JDP, and there were some touching scenes like the one where a chick finds its way into a huddle for the first time and is embraced by the huddle of other chicks rotating to keep warm. The show had a good balance of humour and “aw” factor, and while it was a bit mushy for me (made worse by Kate Winslet’s narration), it was entertaining and well suited to a BBC One Christmas audience.

The rest of the natural history output throughout the festive period however, seemed to be dominated by something new for Christmas television: conservation. I had heard some big words about more conservation on the BBC from commissioning editor Lucinda Axelsson at Jackson Hole in October, but while I was pleased to hear the BBC talking the talk I didn’t expect to see them walking the walk so soon. The conservation/climate change episode at the end of The Hunt was much more than the usually quite weak message buried under stunning BBC blue chip images; this time an entire epsiode was focused on discussing the issues and showing the people working to conserve our natural world. And that was just the beginning – the successful Gordon Buchanan “Family & Me” format continued this year with Gorilla Family & Me, and the second of this 2-part series was about the different ways that the rangers and other staff at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park are conserving Grauer’s gorillas and their forest home. Gorilla Family for me was a landmark for the BBC in it’s balance between an emotional story, investigative science, and a proper discussion on conservation. The viewer is introduced to the gorillas through Buchanan in the first episode, and by the end of the hour is drawn into the incredible experience it must have been to meet Chimanuka and his family. Thermal imaging cameras bring the scientific element – we haven’t seen gorillas at night before – and then by the second episode the audience is primed for a discussion on the conservation of these magnificent beasts. Buchanan talks to the rangers about the dangerous work they do fighting poachers, and we hear about their hope for ecotourism in the future – something Buchanan even gets involved in directly as he helps them to habituate a new gorilla family to a white face. The engaging plot and structure of the series are clever but also work to prove that there are stories in conservation that translate well onto the screen; hopefully this will be something that we now see more of. Continuing on the subject of gorillas was ITV’s John Bishop’s Gorilla Adventure, where the comedian went to meet the Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda who provide veterinary help to wild gorillas. Interesting that even ITV is showing a conservation story, and the programme managed to  not only highlight the plight of mountain gorillas but also discuss the region’s change from being one of volatility to one of peace and stability, with a strong sense of community. Quite heavy stuff for ITV, but an important story and again hopefully a sign of more like this to come for broadcast television.

It may be that it’s the 30th anniversary of the death of gorilla conservationist Dian Fossey that we’re suddenly seeing gorillas on TV this Christmas, or it could even be just that gorillas are on trend this year after Virunga. But hopefully, for whatever reason, conservation on TV is here to stay. I imagine Dian Fossey would have particularly enjoyed the new TV trend this Christmas. Let’s hope it’s one that continues into the new year.

The Drills of Afi Mountain

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On Tuesday I finished my Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking, and so from here I take the plunge into the big wild world of trying to get a job. Although that’s actually not really the case, as I’ll be travelling to America on Thursday to volunteer at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, but after THAT I’ll be trying to get a job…

Anyway, while I’ll be doing that I’ll also be submitting my film to film festivals, so wish me luck! Here’s the final film, and I’ll be posting more details on festivals as I hear back from them.

Editing, Editing, Editing…

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So I’ve just finished a (very) rough cut of my film, and I’m looking forward to finishing the next stage, which will be finessing what I’ve got and cutting it down from 15 minutes to 10. The editing process has been both fun and extremely tedious at the same time, but hopefully I’m past most of the tedious part as I’ve gone through the 300gb (around 30 hours I think) of footage and collateed all the best bits. The weird thing for me at the moment is the experience of watching my own film. If I watch it after a day of editing I hate it and see loads of mistakes, and I can’t see it linking together at all; if I watch it after a couple of days of not seeing it I don’t think it’s too bad and it seems to flow better… Maybe I’ll leave it a couple of weeks and I’ll think it’s really good!

Anyway, it’s an interesting learning experience and I’m enjoying the creative process. And, on top of that, hopefully it won’t be too long until I have a finished film that I can show people. In the meantime, here’s a photo of a strange insect that hopped into our camp one day on location. It’s a species of plant hopper, but I have no idea which particular species so if anyone knows, comment below!

Planthopper nymph

New Opportunities…

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The last couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of opportunities pop up for me to do things that could contribute to me beginning my career, and its fast becoming quite an exciting year! I recently (after having done a few office-based temp jobs) decided it was time to start doing a job that was giving me experience at least in some way related to what I want to do, so I decided that I would start doing some freelance photography taking photos of people’s dogs. My Mum told me she paid £60 a couple of years ago for a fairly inexperienced guy to take photos of our dogs in the park for an hour, so I thought why not me? Make my own money, on my own time, being outdoors in the park, and practicing photography as well. So I made a new website and designed some flyers, and this week they finally arrived. Response from dog walkers in the park was good, so hopefully I should start getting some calls any time soon… In the meantime, you can have a look at my other website here.

I also recently saw an advert for a job working for Surrey Wildlife Trust selling membership to people at events, which although nothing to do with film-making I thought could be good presenting practice – both are about talking animatedly and charismatically about wildlife, selling how cool it is to people… The only difference is the lack of a camera! When I saw the vacancy I’d missed the deadline, but I contacted them anyway and they said they were extending the deadline so I’ve sent them an application.

By far the most exciting opportunity this week however, has been one courtesy of my Dad while he was in South Africa for a conference. One of his colleagues working in Malawi is involved in elephant conservation, particularly anti-poaching in the Kasungu National Park. She has put me in touch with Matthieu Destremau, who is in charge of the security in the park and develops anti-poaching strategies with the local scouts, and there is talk of me getting a crew together to go down and make a film about the great work they are doing down there. It could be a bit dangerous, but it would also be an amazing opportunity to get involved and do something that might actually make a difference and raise some awareness about how bad the situation is in Kasungu – reading on the website of the Lifupa Conservation Lodge based in the park it says that Elephant numbers have declined from 2000+ to around 100 since the 80s, which is a devastating statistic. Anyway, I still need to speak to Matthieu and discuss it properly but its exciting thinking that this could be the start of me developing my first film…