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!

Jan 23

Patrick Rouxel is an environmental filmmaker and conservationist whose films include the multi award-winning Green and Alma. Patrick’s most recent film, Life Is One, was nominated for a 2016 Wildscreen Panda Award in the Creative Innovation category and has recently won the Best Wildlife Film Award at the New York Wild Film Festival.  It is the story of a return to life in the wild for three sun bear cubs in Indonesia. Patrick’s encounter with these three cubs has changed his life and he now focuses on improving the welfare of captive sun bears in Indonesia and raising awareness on their plight through his charity Sun Bear Outreach. This is his story.

Patrick Rouxel

I’ve been making films on conservation and animal welfare since 2014, specializing on the Indonesian rainforest, the Congo Basin and the Amazon. In my travels I would often come across animals kept in very bad conditions, I would usually film them and then move on. With the footage I helped raise awareness about animal suffering, but this did not change anything for those animals I had filmed. I had not altered their misery in any way.

In 2010, as I was making fundraising films for a small orangutan rescue centre based in Borneo, Indonesia, we received a small sun bear cub in a wooden box that villagers had brought in from their village. The mother bear must have been shot, but luckily the cub was brought to the rescue centre rather than sold as a pet to some private owner. She was a female that I named Bunbun and I took care of her for the several weeks. I grew very fond of her and I didn’t want her to spend the rest of her life in a cage, so this time, rather than move on, I decided to stay and give her back her freedom.

Sun bear in small cage

It took about nine months before I was actually able to bring Bunbun to the forest. The reintroduction took place in a national park with a remote camp serving as base. It was a progressive adaptation to life in the wild. I was going to stay in the forest with Bunbun until she grew fully independent. Every morning at dawn, I would let her out of her night cage and we would spend the whole day in the forest to play, explore and search for food. But she couldn’t find enough food to satisfy her appetite, and in the late afternoon, she would gladly go back to her night cage close to camp where food awaited her. She made no fuss at being locked in for the night as she knew that she would spend the whole next day in the forest again.

Bunbun

Unfortunately, after just 3 months in the forest, Bunbun disappeared, never to be seen again. She was not yet fully autonomous, so I fear for the worse. I then encountered another 2 sun bear cubs, Bernie and Wawang, in another rescue centre and decided to try another reintroduction with them. This time I had the cubs equipped with implant emitters to be able to track them down. All went very well at first and the cubs learnt a lot from one another, but after just 6 weeks, the male cub, Wawang, was killed in a fight with another wild bear. Luckily, Bernie had been spared. Wawang’s death was a blow but Bernie and I had no choice but to overcome his loss and pursued together her path to adulthood. We spent about a year together in the forest before Bernie was able to find enough food to sustain herself and gradually went off into the forest for longer and longer periods before not coming back to camp anymore.

Bernie and Wawang in the forest

From having spent so much time in the forest with the bears, I have learnt to appreciate how they belong to the tropical rainforest, how energetic and inquisitive they are and how they love to play. There was never a dull moment with the bears in the forest, they were active and on the move from dawn to dusk, and their favourite activity besides eating was playing. Besides a few dogs I know who are always happy, I had never seen an animal express so much joy at the simple fact of being alive. Through Bunbun, Bernie and Wawang, I discovered a magnificent expression of life on earth.

Bernie climbing a tree

There is something wrong about depriving any living creature of its freedom, but keeping a sun bear in a cage is something particularly cruel. I am sure that the degree of joy a sun bear feels when living a free life in the forest matches the extent of pain he feels when locked in a cage. Sun bears hate to be locked up, they’ll go crazy from not being able to express their energy. And in Indonesia there are many sun bears locked in cages. These bears have lost their mothers, their freedom and their habitat. They’ve been so deprived of everything that they wouldn’t even be able to survive in the wild if they were given the opportunity.

Bernie with her friend Bagor, a Bornean orangutan

Strangely, sun bears are mostly unheard of by the international public and there is not a single local or international organisation in Indonesia dedicated to rescuing sun bears and caring for them. So I founded my own charity called Sun Bear Outreach, and through this charity I raise funds that I use to improve the welfare of the bears I encounter, individual by individual. I go to the places where sun bears are kept in poor conditions and I construct bigger cages and large forest enclosures, so that the bears can at least feel the earth under their paws, dig, run and climb trees.

The Life is One film documents these early reintroductions and the trials and tribulations that Patrick endures to save these endangered bears.

Find out more about Patrick Rouxel and watch his films on his website.

Explore the Arkive sun bear species profile and learn more about these beautiful animals.

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