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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wildscreen’s mission is to convene the best filmmakers and photographers with the most committed conservationists to create compelling stories about the natural world; that inspire the wider public to experience it, feel part of it and protect it.
Films and photographs have an amazing power – they are able to transcend boundaries of language and knowledge – and are one of the most important tools that conservation organisations have to communicate with the public. This is why we are creating our own films and photographs, working with the best filmmakers and photographers to tell the amazing stories of the world’s conservation organisations and the species they work with.
Our most recent film was made with award-winning production company Five Films and kindly narrated by stand-up comedian Sarah Millican. It tells the story of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, an amazing conservation organisation who rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. In the film, a group of pangolins that have been rescued from wildlife traffickers are cared for by the SVT staff, before being taken back to the forest to be released. Watch it here:
Pangolins are in trouble. They are the world’s most trafficked mammal, and are also an animal that most people haven’t heard of. If people don’t know about an issue, they are won’t care about it, so sharing this film and your knowledge of these amazing animals is one of the best things you can do to help save them.
Earlier in the year we worked with wildlife photographer Sam Hobson to tell the story of the gannet nesting colony on Grassholm Island. Due to the position of the island and the currents surrounding it, the island has become extremely polluted with washed-up plastic. Gannets are frequently caught in the fishing line, packaging and other plastic items that they nest on, often leading to their demise. Due to gannets having nest fidelity, clearing the litter is not an option as this would disturb the breeding habits of the colony, which could affect the entire population.
Fortunately, the gannets have some superheroes in the shape of a team of RSPB volunteers who visit the island during the breeding season and attempt to cut as many individuals free as they can. Risking life and limb, the dedication of these volunteers is extremely admirable and the telling of their story generated conversation and raised awareness throughout the UK, hopefully leading to people thinking twice before disposing of their plastic litter irresponsibly.
We would love to help even more conservation organisations and endangered species get their stories heard by creating more films and photographs that reach as many people as possible. Please help us to do this by donating to Wildscreen this #GivingTuesday.