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! 😱

 

Aug 28

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

 

Aug 16

This summer, environmental charities Earthwatch Europe and Wildscreen are looking for the UK’s best young environmental filmmakers. For the first time, the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition invites teens to create inspiring and informative conservation media to be shown at the world’s leading international festival celebrating natural history filmmaking – the Wildscreen Festival.

Open to UK residents aged 14 to 17, the competition calls for short, creative films highlighting any environmental issue and presenting a solution or action people can take to help meet the challenge. Steve Gray, Chief Executive of Earthwatch Europe, said: “Young people today will inherit a world shaped by our actions over the next decade, so engaging young citizens in environmental issues is key to a sustainable future for all. We hope the competition encourages young people to explore the natural world around them and inspire each other to find innovative solutions to pressing challenges.”

Through the process of making their film, participants will not only benefit from connecting with nature, getting creative and developing their communication skills, but will also play a valuable role in motivating their peers – the next generation of Earthwatchers.

“At Wildscreen we are passionate about nurturing the next generation of natural world storytellers and we are particularly eager to encourage a greater diversity of voices,” said Lucie Muir, Wildscreen Director. “The Young Earthwatcher Film Competition is part of this: a way for young people to explore and report on the environmental issues that concern them, inviting fresh ideas and new perspectives.”

The winner of the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition will walk away with a prestigious Panda Award – the ‘Green Oscar’ of the wildlife filmmaking world – and receive a Lumix DC-FT7 waterproof camera, courtesy of Wildscreen Festival sponsor Panasonic UK. Each of the runners-up will receive a Lumix DMC-FT30 waterproof camera. All competition finalists will receive an invitation to the Earthwatch event for the premiere of their films during the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol in October.

What are we looking for?

The film must:

  • – Introduce an environmental issue
  • – Present a solution or action that people can take
  • – Be no more than two minutes long

Further details, rules and registration can be found at www.earthwatch.org.uk/filmcompetition.

Dates for the diary:

  • – Competition deadline: 19 September 2018
  • – Finalists announced: 24 September 2018
  • – Earthwatch event at Wildscreen Festival: 17 October 2018
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 16

Arkive would like to introduce The Wait, a short film from production company Contra, which follows the journey of a wildlife photographer on a hunt to document the elusive European bison in its natural habitat of the Romanian mountains. The story details how it can take weeks to capture a shot, and the patience required to wait for this moment.

We have been speaking with Michel d’Oultremont, wildlife photographer and subject of the film, to learn about his motivations for wildlife photography.

Who are you and what is your profession?

Hello, my name is Michel d’Oultremont, I’m 25 years old and I have been a wildlife photographer since the age of 10 – I have had the great fortune of starting very young with an unconditional love for wildlife!

Michel d’Oultremont

Michel d’Oultremont

 

We found The Wait to be very emotive. Can you tell us more about your relationship with the natural world and why you wanted to photograph the European bison?

My relationship with nature is very special – I spend hours and hours in the wild trying to find and observe wildlife. It’s a way of life for me! Since the WWF (Worldwide Wildlife Fund) has started to reintroduce wild bison into the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, it has been a dream of mine to explore this region and to see these spectacular beasts. I’ve always been quite drawn to big animals like bears and muskox, so the bison is the next logical progression of that passion!

European bison © John Ford

Your creativity with the landscape shows through your work, do you have a specific image or style in mind before you begin shooting?

It all depends – I like to capture the animal in its natural habitat, so often I have to relocate to find the best light and environment. Once I’m set up, I wait for an animal to pay me a visit: a nature photo is a meeting – you just have to wait for it to happen. Although sometimes I do think more about the image and I try to realise it in any way I can.

What do you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?

It may sound stupid, but I try to capture beauty in my photographs, to show the beauty of wildlife. So I try to take photographs that highlight this beauty and make for aesthetically pleasing pictures. When I manage this it is a real pleasure, but it doesn’t happen very often – maybe four or five times in a year.

Short-eared owl fight over a mouse during winter in France, no bait used © Michel d’Oultremont

Is focusing on a reintroduced species of particular importance to you? Do you feel any extra pressure when capturing images of a rare creature?

This type of project is very important because it allows wildlife to come back to its stomping ground. The work of the WWF is very important – they make the reintroduction of wildlife into the mountains possible! I don’t seek out rare animals especially, I photograph everything that happens to pass in front of my lens so it’s more that I am opportunistic.

This picture was taken in Belgium right next to my house, this nice owl decided to nest in a tree that I know very well, a real treat to be able to observe them naturally  © Michel d’Oultremont

Which animals and landscapes would you most like to photograph if you had no constraints?

That’s a really difficult question, there are many species I dream of photographing, like the Persian panther or the Siberian tiger. I would also love to go to the Canadian Arctic to see Polar Bears! There is still a lot to see, and that’s what’s great!

The Wait conveys a sense of solitude and at times loneliness, what is the longest and hardest time you have spent waiting for a subject?

I have had to wait several weeks before finding the subject and light I’ve been hoping for! But this isn’t restrictive because there are always things happening. The most difficult conditions I’ve experienced are without a doubt winter in Norway, where I was caught in a huge snow storm, but I love that these difficult conditions bring a sense of poetry to the images.

“I stayed at a location in Sweden for a week waiting for the singing black grouse. One morning the whole area was frosted, the sun was reflected on a cloud and in the drops of water, which gives these incredibly magical colours!” © Michel d’Oultremont

What is one thing you may recommend in wildlife photography?

The best advice, I think, is to know and research the species well, and do everything you can not to disturb the wildlife.

Top three items you never travel without?

The three things I always travel with – apart from my photographic equipment, of course – are my binoculars that I always take with me, my knife for quickly making a natural shade, and my notebook to try and write down everything I experience in the field.

Romanian Mountains © Michel d’Oultremont

Romanian mountains © John Ford

We’d like to thank Michel for speaking with us. If you’d like to see more of Michel’s work you can visit his website, or find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also visit The Wait website to watch the film and read more about the team behind it.

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