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.
As I walked up the stairs in Jackson Lake Lodge to the lobby for the first time, my breath was taken away by the incredible view of the Teton mountain range through the 60-foot windows before me. And as if that wasn’t already enough, the murmurs from hotel guests about a grizzly bear outside eating an elk carcass confirmed to me that this was a place well suited to hosting America’s best known wildlife film festival.
This year’s festival was preceded by a conservation summit discussing elephant conservation, which featured awe-inspiring talks from speakers such as Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole and Iain Douglas-Hamilton on their experiences with elephants, and their respective projects working to protect them. The “UWE 5” (Alice Marlow, Ida May Jones, Ben Morris-French, Nick Poole, Tom Richards) were tasked mostly with filming these keynote speeches, and so we were lucky enough to listen as these giants of the conservation world warned us of what needs to be done, not just in conservation but in filmmaking as well.
As the week progressed it was hard to distinguish between conservation summit and film festival, not least because so many of the big films had a conservation message. Racing Extinction was one in particular that I was excited about, and it didn’t disappoint – I don’t think there was anyone in the screening who wasn’t visibly moved by the film, and it deservedly won the Best Theatrical award at the Teton Awards Gala. The winner of the coveted Grand Teton was former Silverback Films producer James Reed with his film about the life of a Bajau hunter, and it didn’t disappoint: a compelling tale of a man’s relationship with the ocean with stunning underwater cinematography, Jago: A Life Underwater is truly an enchanting film.
After a week of filming, driving, setting things up, taking them down, meeting people and watching great films, the “UWE 5” were suitably shattered. But after being in such an inspirational place among so many passionate filmmakers, we’ll all go back to work with much renewed vigour and aspirations to make films like the ones we’ve seen in Jackson.
Video Posted on Updated on
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.
Video Posted on Updated on
So after nearly nine months of work, I’ve very nearly finished off my Masters film, which is now called The Drills of Afi Mountain. The film will be ready in the next few days (so watch this space!), but in the meantime here is my trailer. Remember to watch in HD, and enjoy!
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!
Well, I’m back in Lagos after a 15 day shoot at Pandrillus Drill Ranch up at Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Cross River state, Nigeria, and I’m proud to say I think I’ve got the rushes to potentially make a pretty good film! After changing my story a bit from being more about the importance of engaging local communities in conservation (it turns out that’s quite a difficult subject to really do justice in 10 minutes) to being more about the attempted release of 200 endangered drill monkeys back into the wild, we managed to get some great footage that I hope shows what an incredible experience it was being at Drill Ranch for such an important event. We also had the pleasure of sharing our location with the guys from Red Rock Films – watch out for what I’m sure will be an awesome film on Animal Planet around September/October time – so even if my film doesn’t turn out that well we’ve made some great contacts and friends in the industry and had a great time. If you haven’t been doing so already, follow my Twitter feed for tweets and photos showing what an amazing time we had (on the right hand side) or equally on Instagram at tomrichardswildlife. Thanks very much Jason Mulvaney and Aditi Rajagopal for helping me film – I’m very grateful!
I’ll be posting more as I start to edit the film and go through all the stills I have, but in the mean time here’s a photo of a handsome young drill…