Turning a lens on community-based conservation

Photo by Leah Glass

By |2020-04-02T10:07:25+00:00March 4th, 2020|Asian Species, Conservation, Films, Interviews, People and Wildlife, Photography, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa|Comments Off on Turning a lens on community-based conservation

Chris Scarffe is an environmental filmmaker who has been lucky enough to work in some of Earth’s most unique and diverse locations, both on land and underwater. In 2019, Synchronicity Earth worked with Chris to produce a film to celebrate our tenth anniversary and showcase the brilliant work being done by some of the partners we support through our conservation Programmes. Chris visited four of our partners, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Vietnam and the Philippines.

We spoke to Chris about what he found most challenging and most rewarding when making this film. And we asked him about conservation, particularly in his adopted home country of Madagascar, a hotspot for biodiversity, but also one of the poorest countries on Earth where species and ecosystems face extraordinary threats.

What were some of the challenges when shooting this film?

Photo by Leah Glass

Wilderness areas are disappearing globally, which typically means that you now have to travel further and further to reach these remote areas.

One of my trips for Synchronicity Earth included filming and photographing in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This involved a lot of travel across this vast country: two days in a small wooden boat up the Congo River; hiking through thick forest with heavy camera gear to film bonobos; and flying in a cramped 8-seater plane where my fellow passengers included 6 juvenile crocodiles unfortunately destined for the pot in Kinshasa. For the last leg of the journey, we careered along sodden mud tracks on the back of antiquated and heavily laden motorbikes. Our destination was a remote Pygmy community, but the torrential rain storm made what was already a difficult journey especially tricky. Despite several falls from our bikes in the rain, I will never forget the genuine heartfelt gratitude and warm welcome we received on arrival as the entire village serenaded us with songs and welcomed us to their remote home.

Drone videography is one way I eased some of the challenges associated with travelling through dense forest. It really is a game-changer, as it removes the need to travel on foot to film large areas and aerial imagery offers such a different perspective. It provides breathtaking views of the natural beauty of an area, but also of the threats facing it and the difficulties in implementing the solutions to protect it.

Drone videography can open up new perspectives on nature and our place in it.

What were some of the key things you took away from shooting this film?

Well, despite the differences in the four conservation partners I visited, I uncovered one unfortunate similarity between them: the desperate need for the conservation work that they are doing. Even more so as the organisations are working with animal species and communities that are often overlooked by funders and the mainstream media. The overarching narrative that we wanted to get across with the film was that globally we are facing a multitude of environmental issues, but that these are not insurmountable.

Through hard work, education, patience and the right support, there are communities and organisations who are making a huge difference, and if we can help to provide them with the resources and tools to do this work, we can have a genuinely positive impact for biodiversity and also for the communities themselves.

I found the positivity and belief within these communities that they could make a difference truly inspirational.

Patrick Saidi, National Coordinator, Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones, DRC

If you were to focus in on any one of the interviewees in the film and construct a piece around them, who would it be?

I met a host of fascinating people in Asia and Africa, all of whom gave incredible insights and welcomed me so warmly into their community. So it’s very hard to focus on any one individual person. But if I had to pick one, I would choose Mrs. Bolinga. She is a farmer and the local midwife in the village of Ndombe in the DRC. Initially she was quite shy, but when the camera came on she came alive and spoke passionately about a host of topics, including losing traditional lands to logging companies, the discrimination and violence her community faces and the high mortality rates due to a lack of basic medical care in the area. Despite these hardships, she was very resolute that she could make a difference to her community and their lands. Her pride in the opening of a new hospital in her village was obvious, and she was relishing the opportunity to receive further training and have proper facilities and medication to fulfil her job as a midwife.

Mrs Bolinga, Mai Ndombe province, Democratic Republic of Congo

Are there any stories that there was not space for that you wish you could have included or expanded upon?

The problem with any short film is that there is always so much else you wish you could have included. This was especially true of this short film for Synchronicity Earth as we decided that I would film a lot more content than was necessary for just the film. This was so that the film and photographic media gathered could be used in future content such as education, awareness