Over the past week I have managed to catch a glimpse into the highly elusive industry otherwise known as wildlife documentation. Wildscreen Film Festival is held in Bristol every other year, and its attendees range from the biggest names in the business to budding superstars. I had never known of its existence until this past January, and there’s many Bristolians who still don’t know what it is. Because of its specialised content (and the associated price tag) it doesn’t on the outset appeal to your average Joe, but this year they made a big push in raising public awareness by organising film screenings of all 60 nominated films over a period of 2 weeks around the festival free of charge. And to everyone’s delight, several were completely sold out!
During the day there are sessions open to all delegates of the festival, on topics such as funding, editing, international markets and scriptwriting. There are also talks by living legends (this year Jane Goodall and Ranulph Fiennes) and specialist workshops that, for an extra fee, give you hands-on practice with a tutor (underwater filming, how to do 3D, marketing yourself, you name it!). The evenings too are action-packed, with exclusive film screenings, party nights and on the final night the Panda Awards ceremony. All have free-flowing alcohol, enabling networking even more, and the whole week will leave you feeling exhausted, elated and mind-boggled with new names, friends and opportunities. All in all, a pretty damn good week, pardon my French. Interested in the gossip? Read on…
Even though the festival runs Sunday to Friday, most events happen until Thursday. This year we had to have colour-coded wrist bands for security reasons, which most people were ok with (some were more reluctant). This year’s wonderful colours: ORANGE! Us volunteers in bright orange t-shirts, with orange week wristbands to match and the goodie bag also had some orange on it. I was hanging around behind the information desk for most days – a bit hectic but it was a great way to do some people-spotting, you get to know people’s faces when handing out badges, and standing on your feet all day means you are busy busy busy (you might get some complaints from your back though). The venue (the Watershed) had 3 cinema rooms where most of the talks took place and some workshops. A lovely café-bar, albeit a little pricey, and on the other side of the building we had a ‘videotheque’ with computers where delegates could watch all films at their own leisure (a brilliant system this year, and as this is an online feature for the month following the festival delegates still have access to all videos!). There was also a tradeshow with the latest cameras and gadgets to play with. The other main venue was the Arnolfini, an art museum just across from the watershed. Seeing pros greet old friends in the business was lovely, and you felt the creative buzz in the air as people were sharing ideas and experiences, as well as making new (and hopefully future) business connections.
The first evening event was at Cinema de Lux, and was a showing of Disneynature’s Chimpanzee film (see review) sponsored by Panasonic (whose cameras were used in the film), with an introduction by the head of Disneynature as well as Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. First bits of networking took place here, I was still a little timid but there was plenty of time to let this develop.
Monday was equally busy as more people arrived who had bought week passes. Some generalist sessions (music, producing with Asia) and some brilliant workshops (the survival guide to a successful shoot and marketing yourself for newcomers), my trusty registration desk job kept me on my feet. The occasional heavy lifting and helping people identify others kept the job interesting indeed. That evening the event was a quiz night (sponsored by BBC Earth called You’re Having a Giraffe) hosted by Natalie Humphreys and seeing Doug Allan, Monty Halls, Steve Leonard, James Logan and more put their species knowledge to the test, and some blind-folded feeling up of people!
Tuesday was a little bit quieter, and I got to enjoy my morning off as well as help out at a scriptwriting workshop. This was really interesting (and I got it for free instead of 50 pounds), as we learnt about the do’s and don’ts of writing a script along to edited film footage and then the attendees had to do it themselves and present it. It’s really tough – to use the right amount of pauses, the right complexity of language (what would you say to your friends in the pub?) but not to describe what you see on screen. I dare you to try it – watch a short clip, on mute, and try to come up with a suitable script. Much to my personal disappointment, the ‘bluchip’-style narration is starting to get phased out to something that is becoming more action-packed.
On Tuesday evening there was first a champagne event to celebrate 30 years of Wildscreen, followed by a party at Oceana – yes that’s correct, Oceana. Luckily the rooms that had been hired were nice ones, there was food served and the company was of err, a much higher calibre than their usual patrons.
Wednesday was another hectic day purely because of the wonderful presence of Jane Goodall, who came to give a lunchtime talk. The organisers were very aware of the popularity of this event, and provided the public with an overflow theatre and screen in the Arnolfini. I was not fortunate enough to see her talk as I was working but the aura she exuded was one of humility and inspiration. What a woman.
The evening event was more exclusive than any of the others – a sneak preview of pieces of Discovery’s up-and-coming show called North America. So exclusive that the narration was done live and various bits and pieces were edited together rather than a complete episode. The panel of people involved, discussing the making of, included cameramen Gavin Thurston, Sophie Darlington, and producer Keith Scholey. I can’t wait to see it when it comes out, it’s looking mightily impressive, but apparently the release date keeps getting pushed back.
On the final big day at Wildscreen I sat in on a workshop on dSLR shooting with Sandesh Kadur, which I found extremely useful! Especially in terms of what settings you should be using to make your stills camera into a video camera (go in ISO jumps of 160, or always use a shutter speed of 1/50). The lunchtime talk was with Arctic super-explorer, world record breaker Ranulph Fiennes who has very dry humour, but he is one of the funniest speakers I’ve seen in a while. Shortly after was ‘Wildscreen’s Got Talent’, which saw the future telly presenters show their magic in an improvisation battle, judged by Tigress productions, Jo Sarsby management and National Geographic representatives.
Just after 17:00, we headed off to the Passenger Shed, the location of this year’s award ceremony, and I donned a Panda costume (they were the panda awards after all) rented from the WWF to greet attendees. It was so much fun strutting it around, unidentified, being able to hug some of the pros in the business without a care in the world!! Very sweaty in the head compartment though.
The awards ceremony was preceded by a lovely meal, and this year’s hosts were Liz Bonnin and Richard Terry. At the beginning a short film was shown of David Attenborough giving a speech, saying that he was out filming and could, sadly, not make it. A few awards down and they revealed that they had made a ‘serious error’ at the start. People whispered ‘David Attenborough?’ and everyone waited tensely only to indeed see Sir David Attenborough, having taken everyone by surprise, walk on stage to present the award for outstanding achievement to Alastair Fothergill. This was a very big honour as, at the tender age of 52, this amazing man has accomplished more than most would in a lifetime (the man was head of the BBC NHU at 31!).
A live band serenaded the after party at the passenger shed, and after many who were not ready to hit the hay yet ventured over to Java’s for the unofficial afterparty, dancing this year’s Wildscreen Film Festival to a close. The videotheque was still open on the Friday, but no organised events really took place.
And so it was sad to leave the new family behind, all my new volunteer friends who I look forward to working with someday in the future, the organisers of Wildscreen Film Festival, who did a fantastic job, and the professionals that may someday make the silly mistake of hiring me, if I’m lucky.
It is a must for anyone wanting to get into the industry, and it’s a lot of fun anyway. If you get the opportunity, please, volunteer in 2014, and have an experience of a lifetime.
The full awards (highly deserved) are as follows:
Animal Behaviour Award
Jungle Book Bear
Films @ 59 Sound Award
Frozen Planet – To the Ends of the Earth
Earth Sciences Award
How to Grow a Planet – Life from Light
Panasonic Cinematography Award
Frozen Planet – Winter
Short Film Award
Secret Life of Plankton
How to Boil a Frog
Disneynature Innovation Award
Hippo: Nature’s Wild Feast
BBC Newcomer Award
Water Brothers – Valley of the Damned
The Nature Conservancy Environment & Conservation Award
Saving Rhino Phila
The Green Universe
Discovery People and Nature Award
My Life as a Turkey
How to Grow a Planet: Life from Light
Award to promote filmmakers from developing countries
Ganga – Ribbon of Life
UWE Popular Broadcast Award
Meet the Sloths
Joint winners – Frozen Planet & Human Planet
Jury’s Special Prize
Hummingbirds: Jewelled Messengers
New Media Award
Kinect Nat Geo TV – America the Wild
Children’s Choice Award
Super Smart Animals: Episode 1
WWF Golden Panda Award
My Life as a Turkey
Outstanding Achievement Award