Thursday, February 17, 2011

Filmmaker Q&A: Elizabeth White, "The Coral Gardner"

Coral reefs are one of the world’s most diverse and fascinating habitats and it is no secret that many human activities have devastated these marine ecosystems. Coral itself, a symbiotic animal, is extremely fragile and slow growing. But dedicated ‘coral gardeners’ are making a difference by nurturing corals to maturity. BBC filmmaker Elizabeth White shares her thoughts about her award-winning film “The Coral Gardener.”

Don't miss "The Coral Gardener," included in the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival's Family Program at 10am on Sunday, March 13th. Click here to purchase tickets.

What is your overall summary for the film?

“The Coral Gardener” is the inspirational story of one man's passion for the world in which he lives. Austin Bowden-Kerby is a coral gardener. He has brought together his love of gardening, and passion for the underwater world, to do something very special for the coral reefs, and communities, of Fiji.

What was your inspiration for creating the film?

Emma was working with Corals for Conservation and came to visit with footage she'd been shooting of the community coral project in Fiji. Watching it, we all fell in love with Austin - his passion for the people and environment was obvious, and we felt his personal story would be really engaging to people who may know nothing about these issues or ocean conservation in general. Emma went back to Fiji and shot the footage and interviews with Austin, and I edited and produced the film back here in the UK for the channel BBC TWO. It was a finalist at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 2009 and won the award for Best Short film at Wildscreen in 2010.

What was the most challenging part of creating the film?

It's always tricky making a film for television that tells a conservation-based story but is still an attractive and enjoyable watch for people simply flicking through the stations. By approaching this story through Austin’s eyes, and using his very positive outlook, we tried to make a film which is moving and inspiring while still conveying information about the problems many coral reefs are facing.

What do you want to impart on your film’s viewers?

Inspiration - that individual people really can make a difference. It's a positive, uplifting story of hope for the future.

What was the most enjoyable part of creating the film?

Hearing Austin's interview pieces - he has a great character with an unconventional approach which is very engaging.

How or why did you begin creating ocean-focused films?

I learned to SCUBA-dive at university while studying zoology, and that led me to do a PhD on colour vision in fish - working with specialized cameras to understand their physiology and visual behaviour. Since moving into filmmaking I find myself coming back to underwater topics - I worked a lot with freediver/presenter, Tanya Streeter, with Bajau sea gypsy tribes in Sulawesi and, most recently, have spent time in the Canadian and Russian Arctic filming ice whales, under-ice marine life and sea ice stories for the series Frozen Planet.

Why did you choose to submit your film to the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival?

The Coral Gardener felt the perfect film to submit to an Oceans festival - it felt like an audience who would identify with Austin’s passion for the underwater world.

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