My Work Today
In 2000, after producing and shooting yet another ‘blue chip’* natural history film for television, I began to question where I was going with my work. I had achieved my ambition of becoming a wildlife filmmaker, and loved every minute of it. But, after 15 years in the business, it was becoming more and more difficult to ignore the fact that, all around me, wild India was wilting under tremendous pressure. Globalization, corruption, ignorance and a lack of political will for conservation are all taking an enormous toll on the country’s last wild spaces. Today, less than 4% of India’s vast landscape is protected as National Parks and Sanctuaries, and even these tiny enclaves are under constant threat. I began to wonder whether, with all the beautifully crafted films I was producing for television, I was doing anything other than documenting disappearing wildlife and landscapes. Sure, some of the films had conservation messages in them, but were they making any impact on a predominantly passive television audience?
So what were the alternatives? Did I want to make gloom and doom films instead? Would anybody watch them? More important, would anybody fund or air them? Television was getting less serious, not more, and with an incredible amount of choice available, the average viewer wasn’t going to sit in front of the TV to be told that the world was going to hell in a basket.
If I wanted to make a difference I had to do something different. I had to stop thinking about ratings and viewership and television audiences, and make films that would strike a chord with those who really wield the power – decision makers. The films would have to be short, hard-hitting and focused. It would mean working with little money or resources, but at least it would stop the feeling of helplessness that I was being overwhelmed by.
|So I bought myself a Canon XL-1 Mini DV camcorder, hooked up with conservation groups that were doing good work on the ground, and began producing 10-20 minute films on pressing conservation issues. It’s turned out to be a very (spiritually and emotionally) rewarding exercise. I produce the films on incredibly low budgets, and conservation groups use them for lobbying. For most policy makers – sitting in air-conditioned offices in far away cities – conservation problems only become real when they can actually see what’s going on. A well-researched short film that graphically portrays a problem and offers practical solutions to a captive audience of decision makers can have a huge impact. A 12-minute film, ‘Mindless Mining – The tragedy of Kudremukh’ that I made on iron ore mining within a rainforest national park helped conservationists convince India’s Supreme Court to close down the operation. Not all problems are as easily solved, but one should never underestimate the power of the moving image.|
|* A ‘Blue Chip’ film is usually a pure natural history film that follows the life of a single species or showcases an ecosystem. People are rarely depicted in these films and conservation problems are not stressed. They are called ‘blue chip’ films because they have a timeless value for the broadcaster, and reap rich dividends year after year, just like blue chip stocks.|