The second Ireland Wildlife Film Festival was held virtually, due to COVID-19, from the 10-24th of September 2020. Sixty two submissions came in from all around the globe, resulting in a great collection of films in three categories, Feature Film, Short Film and Student Short Film, and I was asked to be a judge for a second year running!
The Ireland Wildlife Film Festival was the first of its kind in Ireland and seeks to bring stories of conservation and species preservation to the big screen while also striving to create a community of filmmakers and audience members who care deeply about environmental issues.
The best Feature Film will receive 500 Euro and laurels.
The best Short Film will receive 300 Euro and Laurels.
The best Student Film will receive 200 Euro and laurels.
Winner: Sockeye Salmon Red Fish SHPILENOK FILM, Russian Federation
Dmitriy Shpilenok, Vladislav Grishin
Sockeye, a species of wild salmon, is born in Kamchatkan waters and spends its entire life in the Pacific Ocean. Only once does it return to fresh waters - to give offspring, start the circle of life, and die. It is an inexhaustible resource that feeds billions of people on the planet, restored every year! But soon, we may find ourselves facing the unimaginable: humans will exhaust the inexhaustible!
"Sockeye Salmon. Red Fish” is finished thirteen years after I first had the idea to tell the story of Kamchatka’s wild salmon. Wild salmon are a perpetual engine, feeding billions of people on this planet.
In 2007, I arrived in the Kamchatkan wildlife sanctuary, with plans to shoot the film. I soon learned that shooting in those conditions was impossible. The scale of the poaching on Kurile Lake shocked me. Every night, poaching groups poached over 700 kilos of sockeye caviar! It was dangerous to be near the significant areas. With this new knowledge, the idea to film a movie about salmon, right next to those who were illegally eradicating seemed overly bold. I had to put away the camera for a couple of years, and join the task force that fought poaching.
But poaching is not the only thing that threatens the consistent return of wild salmon. The fish are threatened by construction of gas pipelines, dams, and mines, as well as biased overestimation of the region’s safe fishing capacity. In Kamchatka and other regions relying on fish, fish is the basis of all commerce, an inexhaustible source of income and great temptation! These sorts of places attract people and fuel their greed. The great risk is that in their pursuit of profit everything will be irrevocably lost: fish and hundreds of other animals, in addition to the utopian corners of our planet that they live in. The film “Sockeye Salmon. Red Fish” is about the wild salmon of Kamchatka - but it’s only one illustration of a worldwide problem. In the USA and Japan, schools of wild salmon are also under threat. Experience of restoring wild salmon in American, Japanese and Canadian rivers, has shown that expenses greatly outreach their results. The only way to save wild salmon is to stop it’s natural numbers from dwindling.
It is imperative that the movie “Sockeye Salmon. Red fish” is seen by as many people as possible, especially those that are able to influence the decisions made about the extraction of natural resources. This movie has the ability to attract the attention of the public to places that are too tempting for industry, businesses, and poaching. We need to speak about these places as much as possible, spread their beauty, so that society itself stands as defense against businessmen who aren’t interested in our future, only profit." Dmitriy Shpilenok, the director and main camera operator
The Edge of Existence is a long-format documentary, set in the Western Corridor of the Serengeti, that sets out to uncover and document the untold story of human-wildlife conflict in Africa. Human-wildlife conflict is a global issue that has reached crisis levels, threatening the survival of both humans and wild animals. There are communities living alongside wildlife in some of the last remaining wilderness areas on earth. These wilderness areas have started disappearing because of expanding human development, deforestation, and depletion of natural resources, which has left humans and wildlife living in closer proximity than ever before. The conflict arises as a result of the competition for limited space and resources between communities and wildlife. The situation is dire, and if it is not addressed urgently, it will have a catastrophic effect on the environment and on communities that live alongside wild animals daily.
Off the coast of Central Africa lies an isolated island, covered by primeval rainforest and surrounded by dark ocean waters, inhabited by a greater variety of species than nearly any other place on Earth this terra incognita is called BIOKO. The ruler of this realm is one of the world's least known primate species, the drill. Historically revered, indigenous folklore tells us of a drill king who ruled the island’s forests, a place where drills still play a critical role in the health of an ecosystem known to scientists as a biodiversity hotspot. Bordering this kingdom is the black sand coastline, an ancient nesting ground for giant sea turtles and home to natural wonders. This film explores the secret lives of drills and their mysterious island home as we follow a family group and a newborn who discovers this tropical paradise with all its challenges for the first time.
Growing up in rural South Africa means being born in a country so rich in wildlife that foreigners can only dream of, and yet never being given the chance to fully experience the beauty of it for yourself. But Queen, Rifumo and Wisani have set out the change this. Armed with a camera, the trio aim to rise above their difficult pasts and “reframe” the narrative of wildlife conservation, which has long since had a reputation for being white dominated. Queen becomes one of the only black female field guides in South Africa while Rifumo and Wisani start a business together. The trio have one goal - to inspire the youth from their community to become the next generation of eco-warriors.
Queen, Rifumo and Wisani are all graduates of the Wild Shots Outreach program - an organisation founded by British conservationist, Mike Kendrick. Mike believes that exposure to wildlife is the key to inspiring children from disadvantaged communities to become involved in conservation, and that this exposure needs to be paired with opportunity. The trio have each embraced this movement with overwhelming dedication, and are taking wildlife conservation to new heights. Beyond The Fence looks at the inspiring stories of each of our characters, from their challenging pasts to their inspiring outlooks on life and how photography has changed their lives.
With an aim to shift perspectives, the audience is probed to revisit their own ideas of what it means to do conservation in this day and age. The real question is, how can people care for nature when they don’t even have access to it? And how can they not have access to it when they live right on the park’s doorstep? This is the story of what happens when you give someone a chance.
"Having my directing debut on a film so close to my heart has truly been a dream come true.
It was at a highly prestigious Natural History Awards Night in the UK last year where a friend of mine said to me, "So I take it you're more into conservation than Blue Chip?" And it was at that moment when it all made sense to me - the answer had always been clear in my mind. That there is in fact a difference between the two, and if we continue to show Blue Chip series on television while ignoring human-interest stories of conservation, then we stand at risk of losing all our wild spaces altogether. If we don't tell stories that make an impact, then soon we will no longer have a subject to film for our Blue Chip series.
I grew up watching the likes National Geographic and Discovery Channel at home. I have always had an ineffable passion for nature and wildlife. I have always had the privilege of visiting the Kruger National Park and other private game reserves with my family. When I realised that it was my privilege that afforded me these opportunities, and that the majority of South Africans may live their entire lives without ever getting to see even a zebra, I knew something had to change, and that I had to be the one to help drive this change.
My hope for Beyond The Fence is to touch audiences on a deeply emotive level, of course. But more than that, I'd like to help start conversations. We are at an absolutely critical point in history. We are the only generation to have so much scientific knowledge about our natural world, and we are the last generation to be able to save it from a total, irreversible collapse. Our conservation methods are exclusive and outdated, and if we are to turn this ship around, we need all hands on board. I think it's clear that what we need now more than ever is to reconnect to our natural heritage and to the one and only planet we call home." Tessa Barlin, Director
Those In Grass Houses
Student film-maker, United Kingdom
Directed by Christian Lawes
Sociable Weavers engineer the biggest nest built by any bird. Within these enormous structures they live a fascinating social life, but can their family bonds protect them from the dangers of life in the savannah..
Every year off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, a spectacular event brings together two of the pacific's most tenacious predators. Powerful and agile, Striped Marlins and Californian Sea Lions take advantage of the sardine and mackerel migratory passage to gorge themselves on this abundant prey. Their quarry's only chance of survival: to stick together.
Filmed on a single breathold.
Disconnect to reconnect! Our world is dominated by technology and noise. It's easy to get lost sometimes and people struggle more and more to find true happieness. Thiago Mendonca, a passionate diver and divemaster has one very simple advice to find meaning in life. Follow him on his unique journey and let him tell you what it takes to really re-connect with nature.
Winner: A Walk Through The Land of A Thousand Hills Student film-maker, USA
Directed by Chema Domenech
Claver Ntoyinkima, a native park ranger, shares the secrets of Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda as he guides us through the forest. With almost 300 bird species, over 1,000 plant species, and dozens of large and small mammals, Nyungwe is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Twenty-five years after the devastation of the Rwandan Civil War, the park is now one of the best-conserved montane rainforests in Central Africa. As Claver walks through the forest we uncover the origins of his conservation values and the history of an ecosystem that survived one of Rwanda's darkest periods.
"I am an MFA student at Montana State University. I specialize in wildlife and nature cinematography but enjoy working on a variety of projects and in different capacities. The collaborative nature of filmmaking is what drew me to the medium and I have developed collaborative skills with all facets of production, pre to post. I have been fortunate to work on some cool projects while in school, my credits include work for BBC, CBC, National Geographic, Smithsonian Channel, PBS, and Rwanda Development Board.
I live in Bozeman, Montana where I am finishing my MFA but work all over the world. My mission is to convey the transformative power of the wilderness to create emotional connections between people and the natural world.
Despite the globalized nature of society today, many people do not have the opportunity to personally experience the transformative power of the wilderness they impact. Visual storytelling is a powerful tool that creates emotional connections between people and the natural world and thus facilitates the protection of our planet’s wild places. My goal is to tell these stories." Chema Domenech, director, producer
An intimate portrait of a family of capuchin monkeys living in the semi-arid forest of north-eastern Brazil. This film tells the story of mothers and babies, showing how they learn to survive in this harsh environment. Sandstone ridges and pinnacles shape the habitat which is characterised by a dry season with temperatures higher than forty degrees and almost no rain. It is not easy to find water and fresh fruit and these monkeys must rely on all their ingenuity and remarkable skills to survive here. If they want to become independent, youngsters must learn the strategies of their group: hunting, finding water, digging the ground to extract roots and eventually using stone tools to crack open the palm nuts, their favourite food. Capuchins' success is the result of their intelligence, high adaptability and their effective survival strategies. These techniques and behaviours are transmitted to the offspring and represent their own culture, traditions passed across the generations to face the challenges of the Brazilian wilderness.
"“Capuchin Culture” is a student film based on the latest discoveries on capuchin monkeys’ behavioural traditions and it tackles the emerging debate of preserving animal culture. Traditions can have important consequences for the survival of animal populations and this has implications for global conservation.
I made this production as a filmmaker and as a biologist with expertise on the behaviour of capuchin monkeys. In 2014, for my Master's thesis in biology, I spent three months in the field site of Fazenda Boa Vista (Piauí, Brazil) to investigate the foraging strategies of a population of wild capuchins. These monkeys learn to crack open very hard palm nuts using stone tools and this strategy is one of the most complex forms of tool use in nature, putting capuchins on a par with chimpanzees and humans.
Fazenda Boa Vista is one of the few locations in which capuchin monkeys use tools to crack palm nuts. This behaviour is passed across the generations and it is one of the cultural traits of this population. The researchers of the EthoCebus Project have investigated the social influences on the acquisition of stone tool use and the threat to capuchins’ culture due to human impact. Recently, it has been argued that the presence of humans has eroded the diversity of chimpanzee culture and that conservation needs to preserve animal traditions as well as bodies and genes. Other species, such as capuchins, are also likely losing their ancestral knowledge at our hands.
Therefore, in 2019, I decided to come back to Brazil to film capuchins’ most intimate and outstanding behaviours, showing how youngsters learn the survival strategies thanks to their group members. Although the film was “very low budget” production, I still managed to succeed in carrying out all its phases and getting the results I wanted. I aimed to make an accurate and entertaining documentary and raise people awareness on the importance of protecting this population of monkeys and its invaluable cultural heritage. " Luca Antonio Marino, director, producer
It is a brilliant film, a heady mix of human/wildlife conflict of an unexpected kind, pest control on a grand scale, unlikely pets, bounty hunting, rodent cuisine and climate change. A story expertly woven in that quirky style beloved from earlier Tilapia Film productions like the fabulous Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea!
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. But the people who have lived here for generations are not the type of folks who will give up without a fight. Thomas and a pack of lively bounty hunters are hellbent on saving Louisiana before it dissolves beneath their feet. It is man vs. rodent. May the best mammal win.
In the Scottish Highlands, charity Trees for Life is trialling an innovative study to try and curb deer overgrazing the regenerating Caledonian Forest. Hoping to discover what potential impacts the reintroduction of missing predators might have, they took inspiration from an icon of the rewilding movement.
They named the experiment Project Wolf.
By using its very own ‘human wolf pack’, the charity hopes to discover what impact the presence of pursuit predators may have on the deer population and, in turn, the landscape.
This short documentary joins the human wolf pack on their patrol, and explores how rewilding is not just about reintroducing large predators, but also changing whole landscapes and reconnecting ourselves with nature.
"Originally from Aberdeenshire Scotland, I was brought up with a love for wildlife. When studying MA Anthropology joint with Film and Visual Culture at the Unviersity of Aberdeen, I started to think more about how our worlds overlap and wanted nothing more than to make films about it.
I relocated to Bristol to do a postgraduate in Documentary at UWE and started doing just that. I self-shot my first short film, 'Red Sky on the Black Isle', that went on to show around the world in film festivals and scientific conferences, win an award and be translated into 3 different languages. Since then I have started working full time as a videographer and crowdfunded my latest half hour documentary film, 'Project Wolf', a half hour documentary on rewilding which is available to watch online for free in full.
I researched, developed, filmed and edited both of these films along with many more.
Based in Bristol, I hope to continue making films about our relationship with the natural world." Lisa Marley, director
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