Chris Palmer is a professor, speaker, author, and environmental/wildlife film producer who has swum with dolphins and whales, come face-to-face with sharks and Kodiak bears, camped with wolf packs, and waded hip-deep through the Everglade swamps.
Over the past thirty years, Chris has spearheaded the production of more than 300 hours of original programming for prime time television and the giant screen IMAX film industry. His films have been broadcast on numerous channels, including the Disney Channel, TBS, Animal Planet, and PBS. His IMAX films include Whales, Wolves, Dolphins, Bears, Coral Reef Adventure, and Grand Canyon Adventure. In the course of his career, he has worked with the likes of Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Ted Turner, and Ted Danson.
Chris’s career as a film producer began in 1983 when he founded the nonprofit organization National Audubon Society Productions, where he served as president and CEO for eleven years. In 1994, he founded another nonprofit film production company, National Wildlife Productions (part of the National Wildlife Federation, the largest conservation organization in the United States), which he led as president and CEO for ten years.
Chris serves as president of One World One Ocean Foundation and the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation, which produce and fund IMAX films on conservation issues. MacGillivray Freeman Films is the world’s largest and most successful producer of IMAX films.
Chris also serves on American University’s full-time faculty as Distinguished Film Producer in Residence at the School of Communication. In 2004, he founded AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking, which seeks to inspire a new generation of filmmakers and media experts to produce informative, ethically sound, and entertaining creative work that makes a difference.
His 2010 book, Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom (Sierra Club Books) was described by Jane Goodall as “a very important and much-needed book.” Now in its second printing, Shooting in the Wild (along with a film version produced for PBS with Alexandra Cousteau) pulls back the curtain on the dark side of wildlife filmmaking, revealing an industry undermined by sensationalism, fabrication, and animal abuse.
His new 2015 memoir, Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker: The Challenges of Staying Honest in an Industry Where Ratings Are King (Bluefield Publishing) criticizes mainstream television networks for producing wildlife films which harass animals, deceive audiences, and harm conservation efforts. Jean-Michel Cousteau called Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker “fascinating reading,” and Ted Danson described it as a “must-read for all who care about the natural world.” In the Foreword, Jane Goodall describes the book as “courageous.”
Chris’s forthcoming book, Now What, Grad? Your Path to Success after College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), switches gears from wildlife films to another passion of his: teaching and inspiring young people. The book guides recent graduates who may have learned practical skills in school, but have no idea how to succeed and find fulfilment in the real world. It focuses on the crucial skills that schools don’t teach, including how to organize a job search, how to ace interviews, how to manage time and stress effectively, how to lead, how to run a meeting, how to survive a bad performance review, how to speak powerfully, and how to network.
Profiles about Chris have appeared in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He has been interviewed on the Today Show, ABC Nightline, NPR, the Fox News Channel, and others. He publishes articles regularly (including a bimonthly column on “best practices” for Realscreen Magazine) and serves on the boards of fourteen nonprofits.
Chris is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and film festivals. He regularly gives workshops on a variety of topics, including how to radically improve one’s success and productivity, how to raise money, how to give effective presentations, how to network effectively, and how to motivate and engage students. He recently spoke at TEDxAmericanUniversity. For five years, while teaching at AU, he was a stand-up comedian and performed regularly in DC comedy clubs.
Chris and his colleagues have won numerous awards, including two Emmys and an Oscar nomination. Chris has also been honored with the Frank G. Wells Award from the Environmental Media Association, and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Media at the 2009 International Wildlife Film Festival. In 2010, he was honored at the Green Globe Awards in Los Angeles with the award for Environmental Film Educator of the Decade. In 2011, he received the IWFF Wildlife Hero of the Year Award for his “determined campaign to reform the wildlife filmmaking industry,” and in 2012, he was named the recipient of the Ronald B. Tobias Award for Achievement in Science and Natural History Filmmaking Education. He received the 2014 University Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching at AU, the 2015 University Film and Video Association Teaching Award, and the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Wildlife Film Festival.
In his twenty years before becoming a film producer, Chris was a high school boxing champion, an officer in the Royal Navy, an engineer, a business consultant, an energy analyst, an environmental activist, chief energy advisor to a senior U.S. senator, and a political appointee in the Environmental Protection Agency under President Jimmy Carter. He has jumped out of helicopters and worked on an Israeli kibbutz.
Chris holds a B.S. with First Class Honors in Mechanical Engineering from University College London, an M.S. in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture also from University College London, and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University where he was a Kennedy Scholar and received a Harkness Fellowship.
Born in Hong Kong, Chris grew up in England and immigrated to the United States in 1972. He is married to Gail Shearer and is the father of three grown daughters: Kim, Christina, and Jenny. He is currently writing a book about how to be an effective father. He and Gail have endowed a scholarship for environmental film students at AU to honor Chris’s parents and to encourage the next generation of storytellers to save the planet.
Changing lives. Fostering creativity. Conserving our environment through the power of media.
Our world faces unprecedented environmental challenges, from climate disruption to species extinction. The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the belief that powerful films, images, and stories can play a key role in fostering conservation and bringing about change. We are committed to raising awareness and empowering action through the innovative use of media.
To inspire a new generation of filmmakers and media experts whose commitment to environmental stewardship drives them to produce creative work that is informative, ethically sound, entertaining—and makes a positive difference.
- Create partnerships with established organizations — Maryland Public Television, the National Park Service, the Nature Conservancy, and others—that give students the opportunity to produce professional films.
- Bring world-class filmmakers to American University to talk, teach, and mentor.
- Develop innovative, interdisciplinary, and experiential classes and programs.
- Promote the ethical treatment of wildlife and the environment.
- Award student scholarships and fellowships.
As part of AU’s School of Communication (SOC), the center partners with SOC’s programs in journalism, public communication, film and media arts, and communication studies, drawing on the expertise of the accomplished filmmakers on SOC’s faculty to offer students world-class professional training. We also collaborate with the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of International Service.
Located in Washington, DC, we belong to a broad and vital community that includes the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, Discovery, Animal Planet, and PBS, as well as many nonprofit environmental organizations and government agencies, providing rich opportunities for our students. Each year we participate in the Realscreen Summit, the Environmental Film Festival, and other major film festivals and conferences.
What we do
We and our partners produce films and other media projects in which students and faculty play important roles. Topics have ranged from the effects of tourism in the Galapagos Islands to the impact of private development on forests to the consequences of debris in the oceans. Many of these projects have received honors, including a Student Academy Award for best documentary, five Student Emmys, and several CINE Golden Eagles.
Our many programs and events include:
- a campaign to reform the wildlife filmmaking industry
- course offerings on the art and business of environmental and wildlife filmmaking
- a showcase of new films and celebrated filmmakers
· a film series on sustainable farming
- Eco-Comedy Video Competition
- Oceans for Life (with NOAA)
- Student Short Environmental Film Festival
- Classroom in the Wild (Chesapeake Bay, Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, and Alaska)
- mentorship and career guidance
- Senior Scholars
- Mavis and Sidney John Palmer Scholarship
Download the Center Report for 2017
Director Chris Palmer
Chris Palmer — environmental and wildlife film producer and author of Shooting in the Wild and Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker — founded the Center for Environmental Filmmaking in 2005, a year after joining SOC’s full-time faculty as Distinguished Film Producer in Residence. Over the past three decades, he has spearheaded the production of more than 300 hours of original programming for prime-time television and the giant screen IMAX industry, including the Disney Channel, TBS, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, and PBS. The president of One World One Ocean Foundation and the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation, Palmer and his colleagues have won numerous awards, including two Emmys, an Oscar nomination, and a Lifetime Achievement Award for Media at the International Wildlife Film Festival.