Eshika Fyzee’s love for wildlife started as a young girl, and evolved into a keen interest in wildlife filmmaking. Currently enrolled at the University of West England in Bristol for a Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking, Eshika has worked as a Field Assistant to National Geographic Emerging Explorer Sandesh Kadur, and has just completed an editorial internship with Sanctuary Asia.
Here, she lists the five documentaries that she feels every young (or old!) nature enthusiast should watch this year.
Directed and produced by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
It’s incredibly sad that the most difficult and disturbing films to watch are sometimes the only films that make a difference. In an alternate reality we’d be inspired enough by watching an eagle in flight or a moth emerge from a cocoon to recognise the sheer importance of animals owning their freedom. But as humans, the truth doesn’t move us until it hits us in the face. And Blackfish does just that.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish traces the harsh reality that killer whales in captivity have been facing ever since the first capture in 1961, with a special emphasis on the marine life themed amusement park, SeaWorld. Through a series of interviews with former killer whale trainers, the film gives us heart-wrenching accounts of the whales’ treatment at the park. Archival footage along with professional scientific reasoning not only grants the film its credibility, but also gives questioning audiences a factual view point to the matter.
Despite sleek advertisements and continual claims of the whales being “a part of their family”, Blackfish exhibits in 83 minutes what SeaWorld has been trying to sweep under the carpet for decades. Having caused an 84 per cent drop in SeaWorld’s profits, Blackfish emerges as not only a film but a movement to discontinue the practice of humans intervening with wildlife for recreation.
Difficult to watch, but incredibly important, Cowperthwaite’s documentary not only opens our eyes to an issue that demands immediate action, but also makes us reflect on the very meaning of entertainment in itself.
THE SALT OF THE EARTH (2014)
Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders
It’s easy to marvel at the spectacle of nature through photographs and films on natural history. But it’s not too often that we think about what goes into documenting the phenomena that nature chooses to show us. There are few who are lucky enough to entrench themselves with the natural world, and from then on it truly is survival of the fittest.
Oscillating between the past and the present, the film serves as both a biography and a documentation of Sebastiao Saldago’s thought provoking work on humanity, culture, and the environment.
“Using his camera as his weapon, he (Saldago) returns the shot”, and hence breaks the fourth wall of film by facing the camera and taking a picture. What’s fascinating about The Salt of the Earth is that the director focuses on Saldago’s struggles to film in the wild, and large sections of the film translate to an intriguing ‘behind the scenes’ narrative of one photographer’s journey.
With one of his most challenging projects that traced the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, Saldago expressively talks about the struggles of the human race and the self-destruction that we’ve imposed on ourselves and on the environment. In his words, we as a species “did not deserve to live anymore.”
The film also portrays Saldago embarking on an incredible mission to replant the forest that once thrived on the hills in which he grew up. From land that was too barren to allow the survival of plant life, to creating a flourishing forest of over 100 tree species, a single photographer has done for the environment what most of us would deem impossible.
Gaining inspiration through the success of his afforestation project, the film finally follows Sabastiao through his incredible new photographic venture that he terms a “tribute to the planet”.
Through his trademark monochrome photography, Saldago remarkably makes black and white work for a subject as vibrant as wildlife. Incredible imagery along with an important message about conservation, makes The Salt of the Earth an absolute must watch.
SNOW MONKEYS (2014) (PBS Nature series)
Written by Joe Pontecorvo
What is perhaps most striking about the episode Snow Monkeys of the PBS Nature series, is the constant reminder of how similar human beings are to our primate cousins.
The uncanny resemblance between our own species and the Japanese macaques of Japan’s Shiga Highlands, is undeniably what makes Snow Monkeys a nominee for the ‘Outstanding Nature Programming’ award at the 2015 Emmys.
Anthropomorphic in its approach, Snow Monkeys gives each individual macaque his or her own character, and in turn manifests a sense of identification and association between human and animal. With snow clinging on to bare branches while also blanketing the entire forest floor, the film adopts a near ethereal affect with its spectacular visual imagery. Following a troop of monkeys that observe an intricate social structure of rank and hierarchy, Snow Monkeys emerges as yet another film that opens our eyes to the wondrous interaction between animals.
Centering the narrative on a very young, male macaque called Hero, the 60-minute episode portrays the heartwarming bond between Hero and the socially inept troop leader Kuro-San. As stalactites become puddles and cherry blossoms replace snow, the film induces an entirely different visual experience with the portrayal of changing seasons. Undoubtedly a ‘feel-good’ film, Snow Monkeys leaves you with a strange sense of kinship between primate and man, and consequently induces a feeling of respect and admiration for the natural world within the viewer.
FIRST STEPS (2014) BBC Life Story
Executive producer – Mike Gunton
It could be the groundbreaking cinematography, or maybe it’s just David Attenborough, but BBC’s Life Story 2014 is unmatchable. An entire series can’t possibly be condensed into a couple of short paragraphs, which is why this review is based on the opening episode First Steps.
As baby meerkats emerge from their burrows paying no heed to David Attenborough sitting barely an arms length away, we are again reminded why we adore him as a presenter, a conservationist, and as a person. First Steps takes us through the intimate and incredible moments of various young animals’ first glimpses of the wild and the world. What is possibly most remarkable about this episode is the breathtaking portrayal of new born and juvenile animals fending for themselves from the moment they’re born. From the incredibly high cliffs of eastern Greenland, to the depths of the ocean in Hawaii, First Steps covers natural environments that are not only extremely hostile, but also exceptionally challenging to film in. The spectacular imagery of the series makes the transition from featuring one species to another seem seamless, as Attenborough’s narration stitches each life story together to truly depict the challenges of surviving in the wild.
Although the BBC Natural History Unit doesn’t usually delve into exposing the countless ways in which we wound the Earth on a daily basis, it does do one extremely important thing - it has the power to make a person who is indifferent to the natural world, fall in love with it.
BROKEN TAIL – A TIGER’S LAST JOURNEY (2011) (PBS Nature)
Directed by John Murray and Colin Stafford-Johnson
Broken Tail – A Tiger’s Last Journey has undeniably earned ‘wildlife classic’ status, and still stands as a landmark tiger film even five years on. Son to one of the world’s most well known tigresses; Machli, Broken tail and his tragic story continues to echo through the walls of Ranthambore’s timeworn forts.
The film follows cameraman Colin Johnson and his filming partner Salim Ali on their own incredible mission to document one unique tiger’s journey through his life. Christened for the distinctive crook in his tail, Broken Tail was a young cub when Johnson and Ali first started documenting his story. Youthful and spirited, the pair knew Broken Tail was going to grow up to be a special tiger from the moment they started spending time in his company. In an almost ‘coming of age’ fashion, Colin Johnson’s narrative on this unique tiger’s story not only brings to the audience a compelling account of one tiger’s tale, but more importantly sheds light on the pressing issue of tiger conservation and their plight in the wild.
Although beautifully pieced together, Broken Tail leaves you with a necessary bitter taste in your mouth that gnaws at you for days after. Stunning and relevant, Broken Tail is the type of film that needs to have a permanent seat in your hard drive.