This weekend I was invited with wildlife filmmaker Leanne Gater to attend the Wildlife Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The festival boasted over eighty films, showcasing the best wildlife documentaries from around the world.
The festival took place over four days in the Cinerama in Rotterdam, across six screens. With such a packed programme, it was impossible to watch every film, however watching as many as possible was of course the goal. As you'd expect from a prestigious, international film festival, the standard of the films being shown was very high.
Of the films I managed to see, two in particular stood out to me. My favourite was Running Wild - Scandinavia. It follows wildlife photographer Vincent Munier and his exploits around the far north tundras of Norway: tracking, photographing, filming and living amongst the wildlife. As is almost unavoidable with documentaries such as this, the landscape itself is an integral character and part of the film; seeing Vincent wild camp in the wilderness with the animals in his pursuit of observing the wildlife is inspiring. Reindeer, musk ox, and moose are just some of the stars in this superbly photographed documentary, which I am led to believe was filmed with Nikon DSLRs. Not often seen in the hands of filmmakers (the video DSLR market is dominated by Canon), this is surely a testament to what Nikon technology is capable of - at least in the right hands. What director/cinematographer Laurent Joffrion has achieved is nothing short of spectacular.
For me, the best film however (there's a difference between 'best' and 'favourite'!) was Racing Extinction. Arguably one of the most important documentaries ever made, it chronicles the Earth's fifth mass extinction - the first since the dinosaurs were wiped out - this time not by natural events, but by man. In the last 50 years, world wildlife numbers have dropped by two-thirds. As the documentary details, this is caused by a number of factors, notably climate change and the illegal animal trade. When watched with other compelling documentaries such as Chasing Ice and An Inconvenient Truth, climate change is surely an indisputable fact to those who still have doubts. Racing Extinction will make you feel guilty for simply owning a car, but more importantly will make you consider more carefully your everyday lifestyle choices. The documentary suggests simple ways in which we can all improve the world in which we live in to prevent the impending mass extinction, and this starts with awareness. Simply essential viewing for everyone.
Other notable films include Mystery Monkeys of Shangri-La, Tales of a Lake, The Hunt (which went on to win Best Underwater Film and the public award for Best Professional Film) and David Attenborough's Light On Earth (known as Life That Glows in the UK) which won Best Professional Film from the jury.
Mystery Monkeys of Shangri-La is about the very rare snub nosed monkeys. They're elf like in appearance and only found in one valley in the Himalayas at an altitude of 4000 meters. Tales of a Lake took an incredible 600 days to film and juxtaposes the wildlife in Finland's 190,000 lakes - frozen over for part of the year - and the Finnish mythology surrounding them. Both David Attenborough's Light On Earth and The Hunt (also narrated by Attenborough) were BBC productions and therefore are of the highest standards. I was fortunate enough to catch Light On Earth earlier this year when it was broadcast, so it was nice to see it reach an international audience. The Hunt is a seven part series with many spectacular sequences, one of the most awe-inspiring was of a blue whale - the largest animal to have ever lived - feed on giant colonies of krill - something that has never been filmed before. Truly a spectacular sight, and deserving of the award for Best Film.
The festival also gave the opportunity to meet and chat with many of the other filmmakers; there were Q&A sessions after some of the films and sit down interviews were also held, plus the obligatory drinks after the awards ceremony ensured all had a good time!