Oct 5
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Wildscreen With: Rodents of Unusual Size

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! 😱

 

Aug 28
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How to..? All you need to know about making a film

So you’ve watched all the BBC natural history & David Attenborough TV shows, you’ve been inspired by our filmmaker blogs and you have a fantastic film idea for Earthwatch’s Young Earthwatch Film Competition… but how to actually go about and make a film?!

With some help from the BBC and the educational charity IntoFilm, let us take you through some of the important aspects of filmmaking!

 

#1 – Storyboard

Story-what?! Storyboarding is an incredibly important aspect of filmmaking, it ensures your film has structure, no one wants to watch a bunch of random clips in no order!

 

#2 – Structure

The structure is similar to storyboarding, but goes a little deeper. We’ve established you need to have a beginning, middle and end, but why?

What is your story about?! What happens.. and to who? And how will it end?! SO MANY QUESTIONS!

 

 

#4 Lighting

Before you put all that effort into filming a magical moment.. make sure the audience will see it as clearly as you can. Lighting can really bring out the detail in a scene and make the viewer go WOW!

Equally, poor lighting can have your audience squinting at the screen wondering what they’re looking at..

 

 

#5 Sound

It may seem obvious, but making sure you’ve got clear audio is simply a must!

 

 

#6 Editing

You’re nearly there! Editing is all about choosing the best of what you’ve captured, and putting it all together in order.

Make sure it’s not too long, not too short, it’s your chance to add that extra polish to your scene: whether it’s a sound effect, cropping a scene, adding slo-mo or a even a time-lapse.

 

Hopefully these pointers will help you form a plan that finds you thoroughly enjoying the filmmaking process and not left scratching your head!

Entry for the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition is already open, and the submissions deadline is the 19th of September 2018, so if you’re feeling creative, then get to work planning that storyboard.

Remember, the winner of the film comp’ receives a prestigious Panda Award as well as a Panasonic Lumix DC-FT7  waterproof camera, and the two runners up grab a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT30!

ENTER NOW!

www.earthwatch.org.uk/get-involved/young-earthwatcher-film-competition

 

May 30
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Wildscreen with the International League of Conservation Photographers

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

May 25
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Wildscreen with Photo Story Panda Award judge, Britta Jaschinski

To celebrate the launch of the inaugural Wildscreen Photo Story Panda Award at this year’s Wildscreen Festival, Arkive is getting to know the award’s amazing jury, who are themselves international photography professionals. Here we meet Britta Jaschinski.

Award Winning Photographer Britta Jaschinski

For over 20 years, Britta Jaschinski has been devoted to documenting the fractured existence of wildlife, which suffers in the name of entertainment, status, greed and superstition. Britta was born and raised in Bremen, Germany but is now based in London. Her passion to protect wildlife, takes her across the globe to investigate the relationship we have with animals and to highlight what we risk losing. Britta is the winner of numerous awards, including GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year twice, and several times finalist and a winner of the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year. She is a sought-after speaker at photography festivals and her work has been published and exhibited worldwide, with more than 25 solo shows so far.

Smuggeld Across The Globe ; Confiscated At Borders And Airports. © Britta Jaschinski

Britta is the co-founder of Photographers Against Wildlife Crime™ – an international group of award-winning photographers who have joined forces to use their powerful and iconic images to help bring an end to the illegal wildlife trade.

What was your exposure to photography growing up?

I was more influenced by fine art. Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of the Rhinoceros and his drawings of plants and bird wings fascinated me and I reckon you can actually see that in my work. Later, during my BA in Photography, I studied photo journalist like Don Mccullin and James Nachtway. My first hero in wildlife photography was  Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols.

What in your opinion makes a good photo story?

Firstly you should ask yourself if you actually have something to say. Something you feel passionate about. A situation you like to change or improve or just simply share with the world. If you know what you are talking about, you are halfway there with your story. Make sure you have researched into what you like to document – become an expert in it (at least for the duration of the project). Then think about your approach and the style you like to apply. Look at good photographers and how they have achieved telling a powerful story. Each photo should be strong enough as a stand-alone shot but they all need to work together and compliment each other.

Seized Wildlife Products, Fish & Wildlife Service, Denver, Colorado, USA, 2016. Wildlife Or Commodity? © Britta Jaschinski

You’re co-founder of Photographers Against Wildlife Crime™, what events prompted you to begin this campaign?

We are loosing wildlife at an alarming rate. Scientist believe we are living through the sixth extinction – only this time, we can blame ourselves for it. I felt frustrated, angry and scared what the future holds. Photography is a powerful tool. Looking at history, even one photo can bring change.

Smuggeld Across The Globe ; Confiscated At Borders And Airports 2016/17, Rhino feet, 2 adults and one baby. © Britta Jaschinski

How would you like the stories told in Photographers Against Wildlife Crime™ to be perceived and how will this book help to bring an end to illegal wildlife trade?

I have had the honour to work with some of world’s best photographers, authors and journalists. Together we can tell the world how it is and give a voice to the voiceless. With our iconic photos we show what we stand to loose. But we also want to celebrate the heroes who protect our wildlife and fight for our wild spaces.  Our work is proof that photography matters and without photographers, filmmakers and journalists the word’s conscience will wither. We will get our message where it needs to be heard – the consumer of wildlife products. We have connected with opinion sharpers who are spreading the message and we will also reach out to politicians responsible for the environmental and wildlife policies. Together we can change consumer behaviour to end the demand in our lifetime.

© Britta Jaschinski

You are on the jury for Wildscreen’s inaugural Photo Story Panda Award. Why do you feel it’s important that Wildscreen is including stills photography within the Panda Awards and the Wildscreen Festival?

There are not many photo competitions that cover conservation and environmental photography, but it is so important right now. If we cannot shed light on what is going and send strong messages across the globe, we will loose much wildlife forever. This is a real tragedy and any small wheel can make a difference in raising awareness and to bring change.

Pangolins are thought to be the most trafficked animal in the world, and face extinction as a result. Their scales here were smuggled under the disguise of fish scales. © Britta Jaschinski

If you could give 18 year old you one piece of advice for building a career in photography, what would it be?

Find your own style, your own niche and become an expert in it. Don’t take photos you have seen before – find new ways and different approaches – be inventive and daring. Surprise people. Teach your audience new things and never give up. Stick to what you believe. Don’t whine – pull up your sleeves and crack on!

______________

Thanks to Britta for taking the time to share her thoughts. We’re really excited to see her and all the incredible photo stories at the Wildscreen Festival 2018!

You can visit Britta’s website brittaphotography.com

May 21
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It’s Arkive’s birthday!

It’s our birthday!

Arkive is 15 years old!

We’re thrilled to be able to celebrate and share the incredible diversity of life on Earth. However our planet is currently under a crisis, our planet’s ecosystems are under threat like never before, and the world is watching as more and more species fall victim to habitat loss or wildlife crime. It’s easy to get lost in the science, but it does not lessen the urgency needed in combating these extinctions.

Here, as a stark reminder, we see 15 species which have become extinct, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, over the 15 years Arkive has been running.

Alaotra grebe

Declared extinct in 2010

Baiji – Yangtze river dolphin

Presumed extinct since 2006

West African black rhino

Southwestern black rhinoceros male charging

Diceros bicornis longipes, the Western black rhino, a subspecies of the black rhino Diceros bicornis, was declared extinct in 2011

Golden toad

Male golden toad

Declared extinct in 2007

Hawaiian crow

Hawaiian crow perched on branch

Declared extinct in the wild in 2004

Madeiran large white

Female Madeiran large white

Presumed extinct since 2007

Po’ouli (Black-faced honeycreeper)

Po'ouli in tree

Presumed extinct since 2004

Eastern cougar

Side view of a Patagonian puma

Puma concolor couguar, the Eastern cougar, a subspecies of Puma concolor was declared extinct in 2018, it’s cousin the Western cougar may now be expanding it’s range

Rabbs’ fringed-limbed treefrog

Captive Rabb's fringe-limbed treefrog

Declared extinct in 2016, the species has not been observed in the wild since 2007

Spix’s macaw

Spix's macaw

Presumed extinct in the wild since 2000

St Helena redwood

St Helena redwood with immature and pollinated flowers

Extinct in the wild since 2003

Pinta Island tortoise

Volcan Alcedo tortoise in habitat

Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise died in 2012

Bramble cay melomys

Declared extinct in 2016

Japanese river otter

Close-up of common otter head among seaweed

Lutra lutra whiteleyi a subspecies of the common otter, Lutra lutra as seen above, and was declared extinct in 2012

Pyrenean ibex

Male Pyrenean ibex standing on rock

Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica is a subspecies of the Iberian ibex Capra pyrenaica, was declared extinct in 2000, but was one of the first species to be briefly made de-extinct in 2003

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