Oct 5

Rodents of Unusual Size has been nominated for the Wildscreen People and Nature Panda Award. This documentary explores the relationship with the people of Louisiana and the nutria, large South American rodents, which are decimating the landscape. 

We spoke with directors Chris Metzler, Quinn Costello & Jeff Springer about making this film.

When did you start making films and where did your interest in the industry stem from?

Chris and Jeff met at film school at the University of Southern California (USC). For Quinn, it was all about being high school and re-creating scenes from his favorite films to crack his friends up. There wasn’t much else to do in his little town in Idaho.  It started becoming a challenge of always wanting to raise the stakes and see where he and his friends could go next. Once he was hooked he couldn’t stop and now here we are.  All of us love to travel and meeting interesting people, so making documentaries helps us do both.

 

What made you decide to make a film about rodents considering your background of making country and rock and roll music videos?

A lot of life is serendipity and we’re ever curious, so we have pursued unique opportunities wherever we go.

The three of us are big fans of quirky documentaries with interesting characters trying to overcome the odds. Even though this movie is about giant swamp rats (and what’s not to love about that?), we hope the broader environmental themes resonate beyond the animals.

Many years ago, when we were on tour with a previous film, “Plagues & Pleasures On The Salton Sea,” we became friends with a theater programmer who was from a generations-old Cajun family in the southeast part of the state of Louisiana and she introduced me to the subject matter of nutria: A Rodent Of Unusual Size. However, we were involved in the making of another film at that time, so we filed the story idea away. We kept kicking around ideas about how best to approach the story, and at one point we just decided that we needed to jump on an airplane and head to Louisiana. Once we got down there, you get taken in by beauty of the area, the sheer number of nutria that were destroying the wetlands and the unbelievable dedication and joy of the people who were tackling the issue. We think this movie resonates best with those who have a taste for the offbeat. It’s part horror story, part environmental love affair and a biopic of a giant invasive rat. What’s not to like?

 

Rodents of Unusual Size directors; Jeff Springer, Chris Metzler & Quinn Costello

 

Did you take any different approaches when filming animals compared to your previous experience making films? Did you have to contend with any interesting situations or unexpected curveballs? 

It was definitely a new experience, as none of us are wildlife photographers or hunters.  But with that said, putting ourselves in new situations is one of things we really enjoy about making documentaries.  So at first we were just really curious and keeping an open mind.

It probably was tougher for Jeff because as being both a director and cinematographer he had put his face up close and personal with all of those nutria. But he always felt that looking through the lens or at the viewfinder kind of creates a barrier to all of this action you are witnessing and so you feel a bit detached. But as the bodies pile up (any given hunt could yield a body count as high as 300 nutrias) and you look up from the camera it quickly brings you back to reality.

And then after a while when you see the destruction they cause and consider how many other animals are going to suffer because of that, we started to understand and accept that hunting is just part of what’s necessary and controlling their numbers. Also, hunting is not just about collecting food. It’s really an activity that bonds families together.

© Gabrielle Savoy

“Hard headed Louisiana fisherman Thomas Gonzales doesn’t know what will hit him next. After decades of hurricanes and oil spills he faces a new threat – hordes of monstrous 20 pound swamp rats. Known as “nutria”, these invasive South American rodents breed faster than the roving squads of hunters can control them. And with their orange teeth and voracious appetite they are eating up the coastal wetlands that protects Thomas and his town of Delacroix Island from hurricanes.”

 

The human stories are really what make this film shine, do you think this is a more successful route in engaging the public with conservation issues?

It is a tricky one to answer as we aren’t advocacy minded filmmakers.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have strong personal opinions when it comes to the environment, but it’s not what motivates us to tell the stories we do.  We always go into a film to explore the nuances about the difficult decisions in life and we hope in sharing these human centered stories (with humor) the audience will empathize with their way of life and at least be curious to dig deeper and learn more.  That’s a long way of say, “yes.”

The film tackles the issue of nutria with a level of humour, despite it being a very serious issue regarding the loss of wetland and elemental protection for the residents. What is the overall feeling of Louisiana residents toward their future in this environment and its sustainability?

Louisianans live life one day at a time and do it with a sense of joy.  They’re practical and know that things are always changing, so they accept their fate that everyone will have to continue to adapt.

 

Has the wetland started to show signs of recovery with any increase in biodiversity?

The nutria control program is making enormous strides in controlling their numbers. Over the course of the program they’ve gone from more than 20 million down to about 5 million. So we would say that there has been a lot of success, although as Thomas says, “as long as there are two left there’s going to be millions more.”  There is no way getting around it, nutria like to breed and have lots of babies.

Because of this success, PETA has kind of been silent on the issue as many see it as the lesser of two evils.

 

Has the nutria catching been met with any resistance? Trap tampering, protests etc.

In the rural areas not so much, but in urban areas more wealthy people have a fondness for the nutria and feed them, so they often tamper with traps.

 

California is now facing a nutria invasion, do you think the people of California will be as understanding to a cull, or even to the utilisation of any catches for products such as fur and meat?

We promise we didn’t introduce them as a street level marketing opportunity for the film.  :)  I think Californians in general will be more resistant to culling the animals as it is such a new and unusual issue to many of us.

 

Many thanks to Chris, Jeff & Quinn for talking to us, and for making such a fantastic and engaging documentary telling the story of a new and unusual environmental issue.

The trailer is available to watch below, and the whole documentary will be available for public viewing at the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol on Tuesday 16 October 2018, at the Arnolfini.

Visit the Wildscreen Festival website for more information and our full list of Festival speakers and screenings!

RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE  from Tilapia Film

…They DO exsist! 😱

 

Sep 11

Lindsey Paretti’s debut film Blood Island has been nominated for two Wildscreen Panda Awards: Emerging Talent and Shorts. This 12-minute film tells the story of chimpanzees in Liberia which were infected with hepatitis and underwent testing in order to ‘unlock the mysteries of human diseases’. The experiments lasted for three decades before ending in 2007, however the remaining chimps – raised in captivity and still infected – were transported to remote islands in the West African country. Blood Island tells the powerful story of the chimpanzees, their captors and the people still fighting to save them.

We spoke to Lindsey about how she found making her first film and the recognition it has received.

Blood Island is your first production as a filmmaker but you have previously worked for almost 10 years as a journalist. What made you decide to put down a pen and pick up a camera?!

I picked up a camera, an iPhone actually, while I was living and reporting in Cairo during the Egyptian revolution. There were days when thousands of people were out protesting but state TV channels were broadcasting footage of empty streets. A lot of times you could only find out what was really going on by being physically present at any event, and even then it was chaotic with so many conflicting agendas and narratives. I realised that I had to go back to the basics of a journalist as a witness. Video evidence seemed both the most accessible and least controvertible way to show what was happening. It’s still why I love film; films have the power to reach everyone regardless of language or background.

The story behind the chimps and their banishment to remote islands is shocking, how did you first hear about it and come up with the idea for the film?

Actually it was right here in Bristol. I was looking for an idea for my master’s film when I attended a conservation talk at Bristol Zoo. The topic of the talk had nothing to do with the chimps, but I just heard someone say “blood chimps” and “Liberia” toward the end and it immediately piqued my interest. When I got home and started researching the story I just kept unearthing more and more surprising layers.

Image result for blood island film

We heard you only had 2 and a half days to film in Liberia! How did you find filming in the country and did you have to contend with any interesting situations or unexpected curveballs?

I was actually terrified during the entire planning and filming process that it might not come together. Working to tight deadlines as a journalist definitely helped me to get what I needed on location, but the humidity did play with the cameras and mics. The drone stopped working (we ended up just using it handheld for some of the shots). It certainly wasn’t ideal but in other ways I was really lucky, especially with how strong the human and chimp characters turned out to be.

How does it feel to not only have won a BAFTA for your debut film, but also have two nominations for the ‘Green Oscars’ of natural world storytelling?

Pretty surreal. I was a volunteer at the last Wildscreen when I was just starting my MA in Wildlife Filmmaking in Bristol. I absolutely loved it and it was amazing hearing from the best people in this craft about their work, but I had no idea then I’d be returning as a nominee. It’s wonderful being embraced by BAFTA and the wildlife film industry here in Bristol. I’m just taking it as a sign we should keep pushing for more environmental impact stories on screen.

We are running an environmental film competition with Earthwatch Europe for 14-17 year olds; what advice would you give to a budding wildlife filmmaker just starting out?

Judging by the work of the young natural history photographers I’ve seen I don’t think they need my advice! I guess I’d say everyone has a different path to follow so use your own strengths to pursue your passion. Be generous, share your skills and don’t be afraid to reach out to people for help. I think we could take inspiration from young people – at that age you think you can change the world. We’re all going to need some of that passion and conviction if we hope to make a difference.

You can find out more about this incredible story by watching the entire film below:

Lindsey Parietti will be speaking at Wildscreen Festival 2018, held in Bristol later this year: join host, Emanuelle Biggi, as he meets Lindsey and other emerging storytellers to discover what drives them to use their work to inspire stewardship of our wild things and wild places.

Visit the Wildscreen Festival website for more information and our full list of speakers!

Sep 4

Rise Of The Warrior Apes is the award-winning wildlife documentary and a Panda Award nominee at this year’s Wildscreen Festival. The film, by James Reed, tells the twenty-year story of the largest and most powerful chimpanzee society ever known. Through the extraordinary lives of four unique chimps we experience an intense political drama and bloody conflict in the African jungle. Using previously unseen footage, and witness testimony from the scientists who have observed and filmed them since 1993, the film reveals a story of unbreakable friendship, fierce rivalry and unparalleled ambition that gave rise to the warrior apes of Ngogo.

John Mitani, a primate behaviourist and university professor, is one of the scientists featured in Rise of the Warrior Apes. John has studied the chimpanzees of Ngogo for over 20 years, after his first visit in 1995, and shares with us some of his experience.

John Mitani, University of Michigan Professor, in the Ugandan forest, home to the Ngogo chimpanzee community

During your years studying primate behaviour, what separates the chimpanzees from the other primates groups you have studied?

I started my career 40 years ago studying the two Asian apes, gibbons and orangutans. Gibbons live in small, socially monogamous groups, and orangutans often roam the forest by themselves. This limits the number and types of social relationships they can form.

Chimpanzees are quite different as they live in relatively large groups, ranging anywhere from 20 to 200 individuals, called “communities.” Male chimpanzees live in their natal communities their entire lives and form strong long-lasting social bonds with each other reinforced through a variety of behaviors, including grooming, helping each other in fights, and sharing scarce and valuable resources such as meat obtained in hunts.

Beyond this chimps also display a suite of unusual behaviors not often found in other primates. These include the previously mentioned hunting vertebrate prey, tool-making and use, and quite shockingly, killing other chimpanzees.

What were you looking for when you first followed the Ngogo community?

I had been conducting fieldwork with chimpanzees at the Mahale Mountains National Park for several years prior to visiting Ngogo in 1995. I was working with one of the pioneers in the study of wild chimpanzees, the late Toshisada Nishida.

I had every intention of continuing to work with Nishida, as he was a mentor, colleague, and dear friend, who taught me the ways of wild chimpanzees. I wanted to come to Ngogo because it was in Kibale National Park, one of the world’s legendary primate field sites, established by another friend, Tom Struhsaker. I just wanted to see the place. But after only a few weeks at Ngogo, I realized that there was something very strange there. There were a lot of chimpanzees, and they were everywhere! As things turn out, there were well over 100 chimpanzees in the Ngogo community. This was an order of magnitude larger than any other chimpanzee community that had been described before.

So the first question to address was how did so many chimpanzees manage to live together? And by doing so, would they reveal secrets of their lives that had not been documented elsewhere?

The initial challenge of studying the Ngogo chimpanzees was that they were not used to human presence. They would run away every time we would encounter them, it took considerable time to habituate them so that we could follow and observe their behavior. In those early days there were times I wondered if habituating them was the best use of my time. In retrospect, though, it was fun, stimulating, and ultimately rewarding.

What is your favourite aspect of your research?
Behavioral research on chimpanzees has been, and always will be, an observational science. So I enjoy spending long periods following chimpanzees and watching what they do. Occasionally, patience pays off with an “aha” moment that leads to a new discovery.

But now, having studied wild chimpanzees for nearly 30 years, I relish some magical, almost spiritual-like moments that are hard to describe. Imagine this: I am out alone with a large party of chimpanzees. There is an abundance of food, and there are perhaps 40, 50, maybe even 60 chimpanzees together. And it’s a glorious, dry, sunlit day. The chimpanzees have settled down to rest and socialize. Everywhere I look, there are chimpanzees on the ground. A few adult males groom. Moms relax and begin to doze off as their kids start to play. Some of the youngsters wrestle, laughing noisily in the process. Others chase each other in small saplings and then drop to the ground with a thud. I have experienced countless times like this, and as I survey the scene, I am overcome with utter joy.

I am astonished that the chimps permit me to be a part of their world, and I feel that I am the luckiest person on Earth. Moments like these may be the most important reason I continue to study chimpanzees at the ripe old age of 64!

“I am astonished that the chimps permit me to be a part of their world”

What has been your most surprising observation?
We have been able to document many surprising findings based on our study of the Ngogo chimpanzees, and it’s hard, if not impossible, to decide which observation has been the most astonishing. One obvious candidate is the split that has recently occurred.

 Toward the end of Rise of the Warrior Apes we allude to the fact that the Ngogo chimpanzee community had grown to an astronomical size, with over 200 individuals. Since 2015, and during 2016 while James Reed filmed part of the documentary, males from two subgroups started to fight with each other in the same way members from different communities do. Like many other animals, chimpanzees are territorial. For three years as this was happening, some males would continue to move back and forth between the two subgroups. This stopped earlier this year; males from both sides now show a clear allegiance to one group or the other.

The defining moment that signalled a split in the Ngogo chimpanzee community occurred earlier this year in January 2018 when males from one group killed a young adult male from the other group. Because chimps are territorial, intergroup encounters are hostile, but sometimes hostilities escalate to the point where someone falls victim.

Why did the initial split occur? That’s an issue we are currently grappling with now. It’s complicated as it involves, ecological, demographic, social, and genetic factors. It’s also a story that deserves a follow-up documentary! Stay tuned.

Why is your research important and what are the applications to what you have found?

Chimpanzees fascinate scientists and non-scientists alike, in part due to their evolutionary relationship with us. Along with their sister species, the bonobo, chimpanzees are humankind’s closest living relatives. We shared a common ancestor with them sometime between 6 to 8 million years ago. Because of this evolutionary relationship, we share many features in common with them, anatomically, genetically, and as I’ve alluded to before, even behaviorally. Our research on the Ngogo chimpanzees continues to shed new light on wild chimpanzee behavior, often in surprising ways that reduce the gap between them and us.

Chimpanzees are endangered everywhere they are found across the African continent. Sadly, research on them continues to show, time in and time out, that they are extremely vulnerable and at risk, with populations declining. Happily, the story from Ngogo is different and indicates that when living in specific ecological conditions, chimpanzees can live a very long time, thrive, and actually increase in numbers. We will have to identify areas similar to Ngogo and work hard to protect them and chimpanzees so that our children, our children’s children, and generations into the future continue to share this planet with these fascinating creatures.

“An increased understanding of chimpanzees is likely lead to more interest in protecting and conserving them”

What impact to do you hope Rise of the Warrior Apes has upon the field of primate studies?

Primate field research is a small and esoteric discipline. Not many are lucky to be able to do what I do. If the discipline is to grow and thrive, we must educate the public about what we do, why we do it, and why it’s important. Knowledge is power, and an increased understanding of chimpanzees is likely lead to more interest in protecting and conserving them.

There are multiple ways to engage the person on the street to learn about chimpanzees and other primates. Films like Rise of the Warrior Apes are perhaps the best way to teach the public about these animals because wildlife documentaries attract broad attention from people worldwide. So my first hope is that the film will translate in greater understanding of chimpanzees. This is bound to help the study of primates for the reason mentioned above.

Rise of the Warrior Apes was made by James Reed, a brilliant young filmmaker and master storyteller. All the credit for the film goes to him and to the Ngogo chimps. The film has already received some critical acclaim, and my second hope is that this will provide more opportunities for James to do what he does best, namely make and direct extraordinary wildlife films that educate the public. In doing so, he will be able to contribute to primate and animal behavior studies and conservation in a significant way.

This sounds incredibly exciting, we look forward to seeing what is released next – thank you John for your time!

John Mitani, alongside James Reed, will speaking at Wildscreen Festival 2018, held in Bristol later this year. You’ll be able to hear more of his work with The Ngogo Chimpanzee Project and James’  experience filming this amazing community.

Visit the Wildscreen Festival website for more information and our full list of speakers!

 

Jul 10

Wildscreen is the team behind Arkive! We’re also behind the world’s biggest festival of natural history storytelling. And we’ve now announced the nominees for the 2018 edition of international wildlife film, TV and content industry’s highest honour – the Wildscreen Panda Awards!

The ocean epic, BLUE PLANET II, leads the nominations picking up seven nods for the world-renowned BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, in recognition of its stunning cinematography and never-before-seen animal behaviour. Keo Films’ RISE OF THE WARRIOR APES, which brings a gripping investigative approach to natural history documentary, follows closely with five nominations, topping the craft categories for its technical excellence.

Intimate personal stories and the use of authentic voices, with them being integral to the over-arching narratives of a production, is a standout theme across the 17 categories. The expert testimony and passion of scientists is central to many productions including JANE and ONE STRANGE ROCK.


“Humanity’s relationships and interactions with the natural world is what truly stood out amongst the nominees this year”, said Lucie Muir, Wildscreen CEO.  “We’re at a point in our history where we either choose to protect nature or we all suffer the consequences. Storytelling is a powerful tool for positive change and it was so encouraging to see a particularly strong field in the Impact award category in 2018. It was so strong in fact, that we took the decision to double the number of nominees, creating two sub-categories – small and large budget – recognising that big impacts and change is possible on any budget. These stories share hope and optimism for the future of our natural world and our place within it.”

The 2018 line-up also sees the first ever VR contender in the Awards’ 36 year history, with THE PROTECTORS receiving a nomination for the Innovation Award.

Oscar-winning Dame Judi Dench’s, MY PASSION FOR TREES, sees her nominated for the Presenter Award alongside Chris Packham and BBC wildlife cameraman, Vianet Djenguet.

The shortlist features productions from 12 countries, including Qatar for the first time, with each of the 37 nominees standing out amongst nearly 800 entries to Wildscreen’s international jury of more than 40 world-leading producers, broadcasters and craft professionals. But it’s not just the industry that decides the outstanding productions of the past two years. The Children’s Panda Award nominees were chosen by a 30-strong jury of 8-12 years olds from Easton in Bristol and a school in León, Mexico.

The winners will be revealed at the Panda Awards Ceremony which will take place on 19 October at The Passenger Shed, Brunel’s Old Station, in Bristol. The gala is the climax to the Wildscreen Festival, the biggest global gathering of natural world storytellers, which sees over 900 of the world’s leading filmmakers, photographers, broadcasters and content creators convene in Bristol for a week of business, film premieres and an unrivalled programme of 120+ hours of content from more than 150 speakers from across the globe.

If you love the sound of the Wildscreen Festival 2018 and want to keep up to date with the latest news, why not visit wildscreen.org/festival to find out more!

May 30

Wildscreen is partnering with the International League of Conservation Photographers at Wildscreen Festival 2018 where many of it’s fellows and associates will be speaking at the festival this October. We spoke with Susan Norton, iLCP’s Executive Director, about the organisation and their role supporting conservation photographers.

Tell us a little more about iLCP, your mission and your work.

iLCP was founded in 2005 by professional photographers who devote their lives to conservation photography.  Our mission is to promote environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography and filmmaking.  We have 107 Fellows and Emerging League Photographers based in 26 countries, working in more than 100 countries.

 

Can you tell us more about iLCPs Emerging Talent league and why it’s important to you to encourage early career photographers?

iLCP has an Emerging League Photography (ELP) program that selects up to three photographers each year who are just starting out as professional photographers. The ELP term is three years and each one has an iLCP Senior Fellow as a mentor.  This program is very important as we encourage and inspire early career photographers to join us in the effort to use their images to support conservation efforts.  As an ELP, they join a global community of like-minded individuals who use their work for the greater good.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a professional photographer?

Perseverance, passion and patience are key traits of successful professional photographers.  It is very important to understand the business side of photography and wonderful when someone decides to devote their lives to photography for a cause.  It is also very important to practice good ethics in dealing with any subject – whether human, wildlife or environmental.  Professional photographers should always stress the value of their work, and anyone wanting to use their images should appreciate the experience and professionalism that went into creating such compelling images and be willing to pay fair market value to use these.

What projects are coming up for iLCP and its Fellows?

We are excited to be working with a number of iLCP Fellows, Emerging League Photographers, Affiliates and Partners on eight different expeditions to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  These begin at the end of May and last until September.  The expeditions will involve photographers, filmmakers, artists, writers and members of the Gwich’in community.  The resulting images and text will be used to promote awareness of and appreciation for this important biodiversity and culturally rich area in the wake of plans to allow oil and gas drilling. #arcticrefugestories

A post shared by iLCP (@ilcp_photographers) on


We’re thrilled that iLCP is partnering with us on creating content for some of the photography content at the Wildscreen Festival 2018. Why is it important that Wildscreen and iLCP are working together in this way? 

Wildscreen has long supported and celebrated the very best wildlife and natural history filmmaking through the Wildscreen Festival and the PANDA Awards.  iLCP is delighted to be the conservation photography partner for the Wildscreen Festival 2018 with its new two-day focus on photography and the inaugural PANDA Photography Award.  It is more important than ever to educate the world about the value of ethical photography taken by dedicated professionals.  We welcome the opportunity to have our Fellows share their images and conservation projects with the Wildscreen audience and look forward to growing our partnership.

______________

You can follow iLCP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or visit their website conservationphotographers.org

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