Local films for local people: conservation project trains up film-makers in Africa

Posted by mjs76 at Nov 02, 2010 01:58 PM |
Film is a great way to engage people in conservation matters but usually those films and TV programmes are made by professional wildlife film-makers. Which is fine for global audiences, but if a film with a conservation message is aimed at a community, wouldn’t it be better if it was made by someone in that community?

This is the premise behind Local action for global impact - community-based biodiversity conservation films, a Leicester-led project which finished last month but will continue in a new form. To date, more than 80 young people in East Africa have been trained up in filming and editing techniques and between them they have produced about 200 short films on environmental themes.

Dr David Harper from our Department of Biology has been instrumental in the project which was established in 2008 with funding from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative. The initial idea came from Richard Brock, who before becoming a freelancer, produced the first two of David Attenborough’s amazing series Life on Earth and The Living Planet.

After a decade of freelance film-making, Richard retired and resolved to give something back to the communities which he had visited on his travels. David Harper had known Richard since they met in Kenya in 2002 and together they applied for a grant with the aim of bringing film-making expertise and technology to areas which are “biodiversity rich but resources poor.”

Aspiring film-makers are identified through existing ecological organisations and then given a few weeks’ intensive training in all aspects of the process, both technical and logistical. They learn how to use a Panasonic or Canon digital video camera and how to edit on an Apple laptop in Final Cut Pro. They also learn sound recording techniques, good interviewing techniques and all the other skills required to create a short film which is good enough to show to an audience.

The resulting films - usually in English but occasionally in Swahili, and subtitled in either – are shown by local educational officers from the Government, NGOs and charities and have also been shown on Kenyan and Tanzanian TV. A ten-minute film that looks at a situation from the same point of view as its audience will always have much more effect than an hour of David Attenborough-narrated footage, however magnificently shot.

There is no point in explaining the marvels of flamingos or monkeys to people who see such animals every day so the subjects covered are those which matter to local communities. The perils of erosion through over-grazing, for example, or the ecological benefits of bee-keeping.

Although the funding ended in October 2010, the project continues as a not-for-profit company with the same name. Already it has become to some extent self-perpetuating as nearly half the trainees have actually been trained up by their peers.

The only problem, David Harper notes, is that some of the equipment which was still under guarantee has been returned to the UK for repair. One of the perils of shooting in Africa: on removing the casing it was discovered that the laptops were full of insects and sand...