Wildscreen Festival, Bristol, United Kingdom,
October 10-14th 2016.
Wildscreen: The Mecca of wildlife filmmaking! Ever since I was 10 years old, I have looked up to the festival of Wildscreen with starry eye’s for being the highest celebration of wildlife documentaries. To me, it has always represented the magic of natural history storytelling, and stood out for advancing stories that help conserve the natural world.
The Bristol harbour – home to Wildscreen.
So this year, when they announced the ROAR Talent bursary scheme, to enable young filmmakers to attend Wildscreen – I immediately applied. This is a part of Wildscreen’s continuous efforts to encourage the next generation of filmmakers, and an incredible opportunity for 3 young people to attend this festival. A rigorous application and Skype call later, I could barely contain my anticipation.
And then I received the incredibly exciting news! I was the recipient of the National Geographic ROAR Talent bursary, and I was going to attend Wildscreen!! This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse myself in the industry: learning about wildlife storytelling, being mentored by the best filmmakers and hearing the stories of wildlife documentaries and photographs that have made an impact globally.
As soon as I arrived in Bristol, I got a taste of the excitement that is Wildscreen with the European Premiere of the Ivory Game, an amazing event to kickstart the festival. In this expose documentary, a team of frontline rangers and undercover agents embark on a treacherous journey to expose the brutality of the Ivory trafficking trade. This film is a strong compelling message to protect Africa’s last remaining elephants. I have never seen such an immersive and innovative film that documents the wildlife trade in Ivory, and hearing the gripping story of the making of the film from the crew was a definite highlight for me!
The sessions and masterclasses at Wildscreen were beyond inspiring, and explored new frontiers of wildlife filmmaking. With a focus on exploring effective and innovative methods of communicating stories from the natural world, the sessions focused on revolutionary ways of filming, adaptive narratives of wildlife storytelling, and reaching out to diverse audiences.
On the technological front – the newest technologies like virtual reality were unveiled, underwater cinematography was demystified in a masterclass and the best cinematographers, editors and sound technicians doled out advice and the oldest tricks of the trade! Some of the most interesting sessions involved hearing from commissioners like Tom McDonald, Fred Kauffman and Walter Koehler on the couch, speaking about what it was that they looked for in potential winning stories.
One of my favorite sessions was The ‘C’ word talk, which focused on the return of the ‘Conservation’ word in the business of wildlife filmmaking- and how conservation films can be made relevant to larger, and more diverse audiences. With films like Racing Extinction, the Cove and Blackfish highlighted – it gave me a more nuanced understanding of how conservation films can reach more than just the converted minority, and create tangible impact. There has never been a time when humanity has needed to focus more on urging the conservation of our last wild spaces and their inhabitants than now. Learning about how these stories can be made compelling, relevant and accessible was an important experience for me during Wildscreen.
For the first time this year, the festival dedicated a day to celebrating the role of photography in urging the conservation of wildlife and its habitat, and focusing on the reach that photography has. From an awe-inspiring public photo exhibition, to masterclasses and talks by the most accomplished photographers, there was a huge focus on recognising the vital importance of photography in conservation storytelling.
For me, the highlight of the photography day at Wildscreen was definitely hearing National Geographic photographer and ILCP Fellow Tim Laman talk about photographing endangered orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo and of the hunting and logging of forest wood that has pushed them to the brink now. His intimate recounting of the orangutan’s tale really touched me, and left me thinking about the power of photography.
For anyone remotely inspired by, and connected to the natural word, Sir David Attenborough is a figure of adulation. As a little girl, watching his documentaries and listening to him talk about the natural world inspired and encouraged me to get started in this field. He embodies all the progress we have made as humanity towards understanding, appreciating and in attempting to conserve our tremendous natural heritage. I have always been awestruck by his passion for conservation and capacity to create impact.
So it was both a privilege and the experience of a lifetime, to attend a talk by the legend himself. In a packed hall at the Bristol Student’s Union, Sir David enjoyed an amazing rapport with the exceptionally witty and talented Chris Packham and spoke about his outlook on the challenges and future of conservation.
“The air we breathe and the food we eat all depend on the natural world, so if it is in trouble, so are we.” Hearing Sir David Attenborough speak about what really mattered with such passion, was nothing short of a transformational experience for me, reaffirming my own dedication to create films that inspire conservation.
As my dream is to be a wildlife presenter, the most remarkable part of Wildscreen was meeting the best presenters who have been telling compelling stories of the natural world throughout their careers. Spending time with my personal inspirations Liz Bonnin, Steve Backshall and Gordon Buchanan and hearing their stories of starting out really inspired me. As I get started in this field, the advice and encouragement that I received from them is incredibly invaluable.
One of my favorite wildlife documentaries of all time is ‘Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey’, an account of a tiger’s life and his death – making him a beacon for his enigmatic species in India. This story is told by wildlife filmmaker and presenter Colin Stafford-Johnson through a horseback odyssey across Rajasthan, in one of the most intimate and touching films about the fate of tigers across the subcontinent. During my internship with Felis Creations, I was out on the field filming tigers with my teammate Nitye for a human-tiger conflict documentary and realised how Colin’s story had influenced me so deeply. His nuanced and passionate storytelling inspired me to bring my personal story to our film in a small way. Meeting Colin and hearing his stories and encouraging feedback on our film was one of the definite highlights of my time at Wildscreen.
The concluding highlight of the festival was the Panda awards, a glitzy soiree at the core of the biennial Wildscreen festival presented by the charismatic Liz Bonnin and effervescent Steve Backshall. The Panda awards saw the Ivory Game, a Netflix original film produced by Terra Matter Studio’s win the Golden Panda award. The Panda award for Outstanding achievement was given to Chris Packham – a real legend in the field of wildlife storytelling. 21 other awards were given out, honouring a wide range of talent from investigative journalism, cinematographic prowess, editing, sound mixing, presenting, technological innovation, children’s cinema and a whole lot more.
Sir David Attenborough opening the Wildscreen Panda awards ceremony.
The Panda awards of 2016 are representative of the new face of Wildscreen: focusing on new and innovative ways of natural history storytelling, as well as new platforms and diverse audiences. Seeing the best experienced and upcoming filmmakers tell revolutionary stories from the wildlife industry with conviction, passion and technique and be honoured with the coveted award was an amazing experience for me.
Wildscreen was an incredible learning experience for me, and my first exposure to the world of wildlife filmmaking. Attending the Wildscreen festival gave me my first taste of the industry and incredible inspiration as I start my journey as a wildlife presenter and filmmaker. Being at this landmark festival reaffirmed my passion for natural history storytelling and I am confident that I want to dive deep into this incredible field and tell stories that inspire and create an impact. I have so much gratitude for National Geographic and Lucie Muir and the Wildscreen team for giving me this opportunity to attend Wildscreen through the ROAR Talent bursary, it means the world to me as a young filmmaker. Coming back from Wildscreen, I am humbled and inspired – and so excited to begin my career telling compelling stories about our planet’s wildlife and wild spaces!