‘To film wildlife one needs to be ready for the un­ex­pected’

Award-win­ning wildlife film­maker, Mike Pandey speaks to Bhu­mika Popli about his past work, his fu­ture projects, the cri­sis of wildlife film­mak­ing in In­dia, and the threat mankind poses to na­ture.

The Sunday Guardian - - Profile -

brought about leg­isla­tive changes for the whale shark not only in In­dia but also in­ter­na­tion­ally. Other films, such as Van­ish­ing Giants and Van­ish­ing Vul­tures also taught peo­ple the im­por­tance of wildlife. Many of our films have won a lot of awards. I use film as a tool to bring se­ri­ous con­cerns to the fore­front. I think films, if well made, can be ef­fec­tive tools for global change.

Q. Do you think the wildlife film­mak­ing seg­ment in In­dia is flour­ish­ing? A.

I am deeply dis­ap­pointed, and it’s tragic to a cer­tain ex­tent that the en­vi­ron­ment, wildlife are at the bot­tom rung of our pri­or­i­ties and not much is done for them. There is not much scope for these films as dis­tri­bu­tion is not strong enough. Due to the lim­ited num­ber of plat­forms to show­case the films, the devel­op­ment is stag­nant. There are few wildlife film­mak­ers who have emerged but they are funded from overseas. In the cur­rent sce­nario, where the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance of na­ture is dis­turbed, we need more films. But I think the chal­lenges have to be ad­dressed by us. One needs a spark to start a fire. For­tu­nately or un­for­tu­nately, I am a science stu­dent. And I know what’s hap­pen­ing. There is now a con­cern. When I started in 1994, no­body was mak­ing con­ser­va­tion films in In­dia. We still do, whether it gives us the money or not. Some­body has to speak out the truth. I can’t turn my back on cer­tain is­sues I know about. I can’t have a burn­ing house and walk away from it.

Q. When and how did you dis­cover wildlife film­mak­ing? A.

I was born in East Africa in Kenya. I got a cam­era at a very young age. My fa­ther was in British Po­lice. Nairobi Na­tional Park was lit­er­ally our back­yard. I was sur­rounded by wilder­ness. There were all sorts of jun­gle noises. Lions grum­bling, hunters pass­ing by with their ze­bra herds. There was no fear. To­day, the same wilder­ness I grew up with is in cri­sis. And in­stinc­tively I feel that I should speak out. So maybe I am just a voice for the voice­less. We have to be re­al­is­tic and see our­selves as tran­sit pas- sen­gers on this planet. We don’t have to be ter­mites and eat the earth away. I would say em­pa­thy and f ond­ness t owards t he wildlife got me here.

Q. What are the pri­mary tools a wildlife film­maker should be equipped with? A.

To film wildlife one needs to be ready for the un­ex­pected. One should have the pa­tience of a vul­ture, the re­silience of a bull and the strength of a tiger, to sus­tain and live even with­out food for 2-3 days.

Q. Many times wildlife film­mak­ers are ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing the eth­i­cal code of film­ing in na­ture, pos­ing a threat to an­i­mals. What are your views on this? A.

You see, a real wildlife film­maker will work around the an­i­mals. He or she will re­spect the dis­tance. Also, you can’t record the nat­u­ral be­hav­iour of an­i­mals if you are too close to them. There are r ules and norms which ought to be fol­lowed prop­erly.

Q. Could you talk about the Earth Mat­ters Foun­da­tion? A.

Earth Mat­ters Foun­da­tion is based on a pro­gramme on Do­or­dar­shan which went by the same name. It was watched by 800 mil­lion peo­ple across In­dia. It was an in­ter­ac­tive pro­gram and be­cause it trans­mit­ted in ver­nac­u­lar lan­guages as well, it was such a huge suc­cess.The pro­gramme ex­plained to the com­mon man the link be­tween his life and na­ture. Why it is im­por­tant to save the tiger; why it is im­por­tant to not use plas­tic. And why it is im­por­tant to go min­i­mal. Those were the val­ues mi­nus the jar­gon, reach­ing out to peo­ple to bring about change. And I am glad to say that in 2009, TIME mag­a­zine did a sur­vey and found that 67% peo­ple in In­dia were aware of the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, es­pe­cially in ru­ral In­dia. The pro­gramme in a way be­came the cit­i­zens’ science. And hence Earth Mat­ters be­came a foun­da­tion. I also chair an or­gan­i­sa­tion called Earth­watch In­sti­tute In­dia, which conducts sci­en­tific re­search to con­serve wildlife and en­vi­ron­ment.

Q. What are you work­ing on next? A.

I have a few projects in my mind. I am try­ing to go for a new sea­son of Earth Mat­ters. We need con­tent. We need to ed­u­cate our peo­ple and I am hop­ing that Earth Mat­ters will be re­vived. It can be the same du­ra­tion as be­fore, a small pro­gramme of five min­utes each to in­form peo­ple of var­i­ous species and what con­nec­tions do they have with our lives. An­other thing the coun­try re­ally needs in this age of mad rush for progress and ac­qui­si­tion is to en­cour­age peo­ple on how to change their life­style. Con­sumerism must take a back seat. The other thing in my mind is how to re­store the frag­mented ecosys­tem. We have dam­aged the earth. We need to re­store the jun­gles that have been wiped out and some cru­cial species like the Gangetic dol­phin. Dol­phin is a part of the food chain. As a brand am­bas­sador of Ut­tar Pradesh’s eco-tourism, I have a pro­posal to cre­ate a dol­phin con­ser­va­tion sanc­tu­ary in Katar­ni­aghat Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary in Ut­tar Pradesh. The gov­ern­ment is open to the idea.

I am deeply dis­ap­pointed, and it’s tragic to a cer­tain ex­tent that the en­vi­ron­ment, wildlife are at the bot­tom rung of our pri­or­i­ties and not much is done for them. There is not much scope for these films as dis­tri­bu­tion is not strong enough.

Mike Pandey.

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