Rita Banerji: How India’s Leading Wildlife and Environment Filmmaker Became a Catalyst for Change.

Heart of Conservation Podcast Episode #17 Show Notes (Edited) Read or listen in.

Lalitha Krishnan: Hi. I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to episode 17 of Heart of Conservation podcast. I bring you stories that keep you connected to our natural world. Today, I’m speaking to India’s acclaimed wildlife/environment film make, Rita Banerjee. She heads Dusty Foot Productions and in In 2015 she founded The Green Hub a ‘youth and community-based fellowship and video-for-change program’ based out of northeast India.

Dr.  Schaller renowned biologist, conservationist, and author has actually visited Green HUB. He was so impressed by what Green Hub is doing and wanted to know what they are doing and how they are doing it. Rita and her team of The Green Hub Fellows have interacted with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who has watched their films. 

Rita has recently been selected as an Ashoka Fellow which is a lifelong fellowship for the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. Check out www.ashoka.org. In 2017 she was awarded the National Geographic – CMS Prithvi Ratna Award, and in 2018 the RBS Earth Hero Award for contribution to the environment through films. Rita, welcome to Heart of Conservation Podcast, and thank you so much for speaking with us.

Rita Banerji: It’s great to be here on the call with you.

Lalitha Krishnan: It’s great to finally connect with you. So, to start with you made some incredibly powerful films, you’ve been filming in the Northeast since 2002 starting with the film on orphaned bear cubs. Your film on the wild meat trail won the Green Oscar. Now that it’s confirmed that the Coronavirus is zoonotic and there’s a link to wildlife trade and the interface between human, animal, and environment, your films seem particularly relevant. So, would you like to briefly tell us about the makings of these films?

Rita Banerji: This was right at the beginning of when we were starting our own production house Dusty Foot Productions, before that, I had worked with Riverbanks Studios for almost 10 years and most of my films were around human and wildlife issues so we heard about this project which was about rehabilitating of re-introduction of orphan bear cubs into the wild and that was supposed to be in Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal and that was the first time they were trying something like that in India. Wildlife Trust of India was trying this, so we thought it would be something very important to record, and also, I do feel connected to the northeast because my mother is from Assam. But I have never lived here or never worked here so that’s how we decided to, me and Shilpi who started Dusty Foot with me, we both decided to start documenting the story. During this period, I think we covered it over five years, 2002 we started we kept filming till 2007 actually in between we didn’t have any savings. Whatever other projects we were doing we were putting in our savings into this project but while we were documenting the story of the orphaned bear cubs, one thing became very clear that… and curiosity about it that it was clear that it’s because of hunting that there were so many orphaned cubs so that’s why there was a need to re-introduce them into the wild because you can’t keep them in zoos. So our question was that is there, you know, is there hunting which is related to illegal wildlife poaching which happens or is it also to do with just consumption of wild meat and this is a question we wanted to explore further so that we didn’t want to make a film which was just based on our notions that traditional hunting is fine, it’s for sustenance and illegal poaching is bad we really needed to understand whether wild meat you know hunting for wild meat had any impact on the status of wildlife in the northeast and that’s how we kept you know… it was linked to the bear story so we kept exploring you know this whole question kept filming and finally in 2006, I think both Shilpi & I took off for at the end of 2006 beginning of 2007 we saved up some money and just traveled around the northeast of 4 months to different parts, to Arunachal, Nagaland, Mizoram, parts of Assam and that’s where we came across wild meat markets and we realized that you know it was quite extensive and it wasn’t just to do with traditional hunting that was different I mean I think earlier the hunting was like that the hunters had a lot of prestige in the village, very few hunters were there but over time with guns coming in and then a lot of the people moving from the villages to the towns the demand for wild meat in towns increased and suddenly for something which was food for the village became a commercial commodity you know and that’s what kind of changed the whole balance. In a way, anything you saw was hunted and I think so that’s what the film explored – how do you strike the balance between traditional indigenous knowledge as well as adapt to changes, which are better for the environment and the people actually. So yeah that’s how this film happened and I think it was a big learning for us and I think it also laid the foundation for it was a turning point for us because this film made us realize that film is not enough. One has to work on the ground get connected to the community work with the community learn from them as well as then come with you know, our own perceptions, or our own ideas of conservation.

Lalitha Krishnan: I also wanted to ask you, did you have a hard time filming all of this you know seeing wildlife meat being sold and talking to locals, or were there any uncomfortable moments?

Rita Banerji: It is an interesting question but you but as a filmmaker, actually because the film is such a visual medium, you know, unless you really get the content it will not have the kind of impact you want to have. Right, you can keep talking about the wild meat market but unless I see it myself and film it myself, the film or the story kind of does not come across. So for us, it was really, really about exploring the facts and trying to really understand the issue in a deeper way. So yes, when you went to the market and you know you saw these hundreds of birds, bunches of birds, civets in the market it was a numbing experience. It was a numbing experience but at the same time, I think if your idea of a film is that you’re doing it to understand something deeper for making a difference then I think that objectivity comes as a filmmaker. So I won’t say there were challenges as such because for us it was something you know, every step was an exploration, every step we learned so many things about not northeast, about the forests, about the people, even the market. I mean it wasn’t just seeing wild meat and getting numbed by it but trying to understand the extent of it, you know, and talking to those people so I think for us it was more a learning journey and not really, what can I say, I think in some ways very difficult to say that it was challenging because it’s something which kind of we really felt was important in terms of doing and I think we really enjoyed the journey in terms of filming it because we spent so much time in the villages, we spent so much time traveling across the northeast. 

Lalitha Krishnan: I wonder if you have a similar response to my next question. You worked with Mike Pandey on his film ‘Shores of Silence- Whale Sharks’ in India which also won the Green Oscar in Wildscreen 2000. It’s one thing for me, watching it on my phone but I can’t imagine you actually being there watching a huge whale shark being hunted and dragged half alive and then watch it being gutted into small basket sized portions. I guess that also might have been quite a learning experience and an unforgettable experience for you.

Rita Banerji: ‘Shores of Silence’ and filming that, being part of that film and filming those moments I think those are times which are just frozen in your memory, you know. I think what was important to, I think, for Mike, me and Shibani, we were there when we got the first shot of the whale shark it was on the, I still remember, it was on the Veeraval port. We were filming and we were asking about this whale shark which is called the beral in the local language because of the barrel which is used to capture it and so in the local language they call it a beral. We saw this huge fish we had never seen it earlier at least me and Shibani hadn’t, Mike had seen it in his childhood and we saw this huge fish being tied between boats and trawlers and being cut open. It was a very shocking kind of a moment but at the same time you know in India I think what happens is that anything you’re doing with wildlife is linked to people’s livelihood also and you cannot isolate your work only with wildlife or only with people it’s very difficult because every way you’re seeing communities which are vulnerable at the same time you’re seeing wildlife which is vulnerable. So when we saw that, I think all of us were very clear that one we have to see what the, we were sure that the whale shark has to be protected that was a clear thing at the same time we were sure that we did not want to make it a sensational kind of a clip. It could have been that the first shot you get you just release it in the news and it becomes big news and that’s the end of it may be or it just leads to a debate, right, so we really wanted to make a film where we understood it well and this is the same thing about getting facts right and I think we spent two years going back to the place. We didn’t get any shots there I think for 2 years we just spoke to a lot of people and then one of the days we were walking on the beach and we found this small village and suddenly we saw these 3-4 whale sharks on the beach being cut up and I think it’s the same thing as a filmmaker you always if you have to protect something I think you have to also be able to record it and you should have to tell that story in a way with which leads to much larger protection of a species. Sometimes it’s a difficult thing to do but I think as filmmakers or as a camera person specially, you end up shooting so many things that somewhere you keep your vision in mind, why you’re making the film and I think if that clarity is there then it helps you. So yes it was not easy to see that it was not easy to see a whale shark being killed, it wasn’t easy for us to see the fins being cut and right in front of you but what happened after that was quite amazing; how people got together it wasn’t us the film just came out but other people took it up and it became a, you know, it got put under the wildlife protection act and I think that’s where… then you say, OK! you know, the film was worth it. I mean there are so many people involved with it I think everybody who was part of it I think at the end of it felt that the whale shark was protected.

Lalitha Krishnan:  Thanks for explaining that. That sounds like every conservationist’s environment/wildlife filmmaker’s dream come true.

In your recent Mangabay interview on Green Hub the first thing that stood out for me when you talk about the diversity of the fauna and flora you also speak about the diversity of communities. Often, not always, conservationists/policymakers tend to separate wildlife from the human as two different entities rather than ones that coexist. But your films, I feel, are the opposite. They are all made working with communities to save wildlife and preserve the people’s way of life simultaneously. Could you tell us about your journey with the filming alongside communities? 

Rita Banerji: I started my journey as a filmmaker in ‘90 what, we joined Riverbanks in ‘91, I think, and over the next 20 years I think as part of Riverbanks as well as part of Dusty Foot I think we traveled a lot across India and all the films which we did a lot of them were on wildlife like we did this whole film called the ‘Turtle Diaries’ or another film called ‘Right to survive’ which was on the Olive Ridley turtles conservation as well as the likelihood of traditional fish workers and many other stories like this. In no situation was any issue related to wildlife isolated from issues of people but the key thing which we saw in all these while filming all this was that solutions always there, you know. Even with the traditional fishing community, the scientists working there, the Oliver Ridleys coming to the beach, you know, the combination of the science, community and the wildlife, if one went into the facts, if you really got into the technicalities of what was required for conservation, everything was there. The solution was there but it comes down to the intention or the governance you know? Do you want to really be driven by that idea of coexistence, you know? And when the solutions are right there, will you work towards doing that, or are there larger interests?  And that situation one has seen replicated in many of the situations when you’re talking about human-wildlife interactions across India so in the northeast also. The northeast is an amazing place because here the forests are primarily community forest, especially in the Hill states, in Arunachal, in   Nagaland, and so community plays a big role in how do natural resources will be protected and because they’ve lived with those resources the kind of knowledge people have is incredible. They may have been hunters but those hunters, when they walk into a forest, know where the squirrel is going to eat, where the wild boar is going to cross the path, where the deer is going to be trapped… It’s the kind of knowledge which needs to be respected also. So, when we talk of conservation if we don’t use this knowledge or we don’t respect their relationship with the landscape, their relationship with the forests and rivers, how are we going to talk about conservation. So, I think, that has always been the, what you say, the trigger for our films that one has to, has to be inclusive and I am very happy to also say that the if you talk to the uh the narrative even amongst the wildlife conservationist, amongst the young filmmakers, amongst the people now working with conservation I think the narrative has moved to that. Most of the people today like, you know, and so many people like you have Aparajita, you have so many other scientists with all these people working on the ground but everybody is working with community and conservation. So, I think, that whole narrative has shifted and people are much more sensitive to the idea that conservation cannot happen without involving the community, so yes.   

Lalitha Krishnan:  Rita, you’re so right. Ok So now, I’m quoting you here, “We have this false notion that traditional hunting is fine and illegal wildlife trade is the problem…” What do you mean exactly?

Rita Banerji: I can only talk from my own experience. So when we are filming the ‘Wild Meat Trail’ we had long conversations with people we were filming with, as well as, we also saw a lot of the wild meat markets and the way the amount of wild meat which was being sold; we attended a lot of festivals, the indigenous festivals, which also involved hunting to some extent. Now some of the observations which were there were very interesting. One was that earlier, for example, if there was a traditional festival which involved hunting, for example, macaques or something in their community forest, if you speak to the older hunters, you know, they would tell you that it was right near the village like we just walked across and spent some time in the forest, got back what we wanted but now it’s not that easy because now for the younger hunters or the younger people in the community they really have to walk deep into the forests, sometimes come back with nothing, you know, so when we’re talking about sustainable hunting, if there is anything like that, then this would not have happened, right? And so, many of the forests… it was so difficult to see any wildlife not because they were dense, they were dense, but at the same time you did not see much and this we saw across different festivals… it wasn’t just one community and one festival. We saw this in different places then also during some of the interviews, say, for example, we interviewed the oldest hunter in the village and we were at that time developing our eco-club ‘Under The Canopy’ manual and we wanted to know the local names of animals and it was such a fantastic session, 2 hours we sat with this person and he told us about the behavior of each and every animal, he would identify them on the photograph, he would tell about their behavior, he would tell us where that animal was found and he would give the local name. It was like it a 2-hour lecture on wildlife and it was just stunning, you know. Then, over the next two days we met another hunter who was maybe our age that time, mid-40s mid-30s or whatever, and we were asking about bears actually and we said that you know, what about if there was a mother bear would you kill it and it was a very straightforward answer that, ”Yeah I mean we won’t have any problems killing it”, and also his knowledge about wildlife wasn’t as deep as, he hadn’t seen so many animals. Then there was this young boy who was a teenager, I think, who made lovely sounds of birds, that’s how we came across him. He would also go hunting and make these amazing sounds of birds, mimic birds and all, but he had not seen any of the mammals for example which we were showing in the book. So you can see that overtime so much has gone and these are all indigenous communities we are talking about and I think what has tipped the balance is not the… maybe earlier the difference was that you had few hunters in the village, you know, they were highly respected because of their knowledge they would have even customs before they went into the forest for hunting, come back with something and when they came back with the deer or something, the whole village shared it or at least 5-6 families shared it. Overtime the wild meat started having a commercial aspect to it because people started moving to the small towns and when you move to a small town the circle officer or the person working in the town is also part of that community and it has been a big jump. It’s not like our parents or grandparents or, you know, generations back when they were farmers or something but it’s like my father maybe somebody who’s never even stepped out of the village and I’m working in a town. So the fact is if you’re eating wild meat you’ll also want to eat wild meat if you’re in the town and that demand, I think, kind of tipped the balance because then wild meat started coming into towns or quantity increased, it had a cash component, it’s almost like an ATM that you have a bird you can sell it, you get cash and I think that has increased the extent of hunting and that’s what I meant by you know from where maybe years back when it was sustainable, we cannot say it is sustainable anymore in some ways.  

Lalitha Krishnan: Yes, thanks for explaining that. Alongside your filming, you also started a wildlife education programme which you just mentioned: ‘Under The Canopy’ and the Hoolock Gibbon Eco Club in Nagaland. Could you tell us about that?

Rita Banerji: When we were making the ‘Wild Meat Trail’, one of the key things about the film was that…see with the Whale Shark film, it was a highly impactful film. Sometimes a film alone can make a difference. You make a film, the visuals are strong and you know that you make that film and it’ll make an impact. The whale shark film is like that. You can also see the clips of, in recent times the Amur Falcon clips which were shot by Ramki, Shashank, and Bano. They made a huge impact and, you know, the Amur Falcon got protected. But ‘Wild Meat Trail’ was a film which showed a certain thing which was happening for many years and it was many communities involved, it was the wild meat market, it was a way of life, it’s not something which can just change by making a film, you know. It was a very important moment for us when we realized that the film is important, yes, and it has been viewed and people appreciate the fact that this thing was brought out but then what? And I think that is what was pushing us to think, how can we work with the community? How can we actually go back …show the film? Talk to people? Then we were fortunate to get a grant from IUCN to make an extension plan with the ‘Wild Meat Trail’ which involved education and that is something which we could do. We also had to see what is it that we could do in the community because we did not have any experience. So that’s how we got together and as an extension of the ‘Wild Meat Trail’ we created this education module called ‘Under The Canopy’ which was along with a friend of mine Payal Maloor and she has something called ‘Grow Wild’ and we worked on the manual and the idea was to have a Training the Trainers programme and so our budget allowed us to have kind of two Training the Trainers workshops. So, our idea was that we’ll do it in the village where we had shot the ‘Wild Meat Trail’ and we will do it with North East Network which is an NGO which is working in Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya. The main thing was that we wanted to do the workshop in a way where it continued beyond just doing the workshop and we didn’t know at that time whether we’ll manage, but that was one of the ideas we had. That we should partner with people who have been working here for many years. So that’s how our journey started with North East Network and us kind of had the first Training the Trainers programme with local teachers who were invited from different villages including Khonoma, Chizami. This was in Chizami, North East Network has a centre in Chizami, Nagaland and that’s where we had the first Training the Trainers programme and it was really interesting because many of the teachers were into hunting, so this whole idea of not hunting, the whole idea of looking at wildlife differently and also understanding, you know, the ecosystem through the eyes of a frog, a bird, and everything. It was a very interesting workshop and the idea was that these trainers would then take it up with children in their schools where they were teaching, it could be a Sunday school, it could be a regular school and we also showed the film. So, the good thing was that ‘Under The Canopy’, that workshop became like a catalyst and everybody really enjoyed the workshop and they said can we make it a slightly longer programme. In fact, North East Network, the NGO I work with, said “can we make it a longer programme” and that’s when we designed this whole eco-club for kids. And the idea was that we’ll take 20 kids every year and they’ll be with us for three years and different resource people would come and just make them fall in love with wildlife. That was the main idea. So yeah, that model worked really well, the wonderful resource people, Sanjay Sondhi was part of it, Payal was part of it, Maya, one of our birders, was part of it. So we kept training the local trainers also and so this eco-club programme kind of then got adopted by other groups and they took it up in other villages and yeah that’s how ‘Under The Canopy’ happened and it is still running in 1 or 2 places including the Amur Falcon village Wokha, where the Amur Falcon project is ongoing.  

Lalitha Krishnan: Rita I am so much in awe,this makes you a very unusual filmmaker, one who goes way beyond the call of just filmmaking. We haven’t even started talking about The Green Hub.  I’d love to know about this project and how a partnership between a women’s rights organisation and wildlife documentary filmmaker is empowering youth and community in the northeast states.  

Rita Banerji: Yes, Green Hub is a different project altogether. I think the interesting part is that all these have been kind of you know you move towards a certain idea and all these kind of strengthen that work on the ground. So Green Hub was an idea which I had a long time back while I was making my films, I think, one of the things I felt was that if somebody young wants to get into conservation films, it’s not an easy thing, there’s no platform in India such, unless you work with another filmmaker, right, and at the same time, I felt that the video documentation which we do is so valuable for, at multiple levels. We make, say the wild Meat Trail is just a 25 minutes film but the amount of recording we have is like hundreds of tapes. Now out of those tapes if I actually go into it and really dig out all the materials that can be useful for, at multiple levels, for researchers, for educators, for trainers. So, these are the two thoughts that would keep running in my head that how do you get youth involved with conservation films or conservation, and at the same time how do you make video documentation a more valuable asset for people working on the ground. But finally, I was able to like, I think, from the seeding of the idea till when we started, it almost took me almost 15 years when we actually ended up starting Green Hub. One of the things, when we were doing Under The Canopy, was that we felt it’s a fantastic programme we saw children’s eyes lighting up when they look through the binoculars and, you know, we saw these kids who used to hunt take a pledge of not hunting, we saw them getting influenced, influencing their parents. So it was a very interesting project but at the end of it, you felt how do you really scale up conservation. What we’re trying to do, all the groups working in conservation put us all together, the scale of what is happening against it is so large that we have to have to work together and figure out how do you scale the idea of conservation? How do you scale up the idea of protecting all whatever we have? And that’s where, I think, the Green Hub model kind of fitted in and when I wanted to start it, I wanted to start it in the northeast because I spent so much time here and I also felt that North East Network was an organization I’d worked with earlier and they work with women and they had been working for more than 20 years that time when I started working with them, you know, I felt it such a strong kind of collaboration because women are so connected to natural resources, they are core to – whether you are looking at farming, whether you’re looking at the forest, whether you’re looking at NTFPs, whether you’re looking at the wellbeing of our community- and so I felt like when we are talking about conservation, when we are talking about environment collaboration between these two thought processes would be so strong which are somewhere both grounded on compassion in some way. That’s how I spoke to Dr. Monisha Behal the founder of North East Network and I told her about this idea and I think we both connected very strongly with the vision of involving youth and conservation and women and youth would be like the strongest combination. So that’s how we started Green Hub.

Lalitha Krishnan: This is excellent!! Tell us more and also, I’d like to know how your green hub fellows and the communities are coping with COVID-19

Rita Banerji: So, what the Green Hub is, is actually a fellowship programme and it’s based in the northeast, our hub is in Tezpur, Assam and every year what we do is we select 20 fellows from across the northeast states, all the states including Sikkim. It is quite a rigorous application process, we receive applications, we go through a phone interview, then there’s a face to face interview and our primary target group is the youth from remote areas belonging to indigenous communities or marginalized communities as well as their youth from urban centers also but somewhere we’re looking at that commitment to conservation and social change in some way and we started this in 2015 and this is the 5th year now we have 88 fellows including the drop-outs and what we do is then when they join us there with us for one year and then one year the first three months is intense training and video, and photography documentation, storytelling and there are different resource people who come from across the country for teaching and while there’s a lot of attention on the technical aspect of it they also get exposure on what’s happening on the ground. So for that what do we do is we partner with several organizations working in the northeast, as well as outside and the fellows have to make a work plan with the organisations and through the year make films along with these organizations. So, what happens is that they actually, if they’re making a film on human-elephant conflict, they have to actually go on the field and see what is happening, and record it. So, the understanding somewhere through the video documentation seeps in, you know, then there is the whole process of watching the footage, editing the footage, so the whole process of making the film is what we use for them to learn about the environment and conservation. The idea is that at the end of it, either they can take this field on but also the prime idea is that can they form a network of change-makers on the ground. Many of them, many of the Green Hub fellows have gone back, they are working with the communities, on restoration, on livelihoods on making youth collectives as well as documenting a lot of things happening in the northeast. So, it’s the network of youth across which we are hoping will kind of become a changemaker kind of a movement, you can say, which helps to protect the biodiversity here. In this COVID situation, the interesting thing has been, you asked me about COVID, the interesting thing has been that after the lockdown we couldn’t continue with our fellowship for two months because it starts in May but the immediate thing was that we had to get down to relief work because they’re a lot of daily wage workers and the lockdown kind of impacted a huge amount of community. So while we were doing our relief work here with food rations, the network of fellows helped a lot because – there was Johen who works in Karbi Anglong, there is  Salibon who works in Karbi Anglong, there is another Amen who works in the Silchar district, there is Rehan who works near Guwahati. So, what happened was that the alumni, many of the alumni called us that we need to help people in and we are doing relief work. So, it became an amazing network, thanks to the fellows, where we could reach out to various parts of Assam and Arunanchal for that matter. So, if we didn’t have the network fellows, we may not have been able to reach out to so many places. So you know, COVID time, somehow, for the first time one felt less……………. All these young youth fellows are there who are actually concerned about what is happening and are there to help their community during this time. I think that was nice, what do you say, a revelation. 

Lalitha Krishnan: That’s such a positive story. And it’s so nice that they thought for themselves that they wanted to do something for their community. Ok Rita, a few more questions.  How do you to ideate? If someone were to make a wildlife film, where you ask them to start.

Rita Banerji: I think, the way we approach a story…the first thing is that there are stories all around you.  Through making an environment film or wildlife film… earlier you know, this whole thing of resources was there; cameras were expensive now all that is reduced, technology is better, so one thing is stories are all around us so one is to really observe what is happening around you. That is one but the other thing is if you want to make any stories, our approach is really to get down to researching and finding the facts and really going on the ground to understand the issues before you start making the film. I think, for anybody, it’s very important especially anybody getting into this field, it is very important because every issue is so complex, there are so many layers to it. It’s never black and white. You may see a wild meat market but it’s not just a black-and-white story of hunting and wildlife getting killed there are so many layers to it. So I think, for a good filmmaker it’s very important to really spend time learning, travelling, researching, talking to multiple people, getting their perspectives right and then getting down to making their film and pushing it to the way they feel what they link up with the most. Like, I may link up with the community and wildlife situation, somebody else may be very closely linked to telling the wildlife story, the Natural History part of it, that is also very beautiful. As long as your facts are correct, as long as you’ve researched it, I think you’ll come out with a good story. And to also work on your technical, like, when we talk about a film, this would be the first way to, the more you explore the more ideas come that is one thing, also watching a lot of other people’s films helps a lot. Even today I do that, I watch other people’s work, your mind opens up to that and the third thing is not to compromise on your technical, not the camera but the way you film, the way you edit, the way you use sound. You have to work on each aspect of the film, not just one aspect like just shooting something well it does not make a good film, or just using good sound does not make a good film. Each aspect of it has to be worked out, including the voice over, the words you use. I think it’s a very intense process but it’s a combination of all this which makes a good film. Working hard at it.

Lalitha Krishnan: What I actually mean is, youhave this idea, you have the story in your head, you desperately want to make a film but you don’t have the technical skills is it still possible to direct that movie without the skills?

Rita Banerji: Yes, absolutely! You can be a director and really get a good camera person to work with you, you have editors, you have musicians, you have freelancers all over. It’s a market where a lot of people are there and you can do that. What happens with wildlife films and environment films is that, what helped us because we ourselves were camera people and editors, you know budgets are so low with films, right. Any film, whether it is a documentary, whether it is a wildlife film, with wildlife what happens is you need to spend a lot of time in the field, so that’s why you will see most of the wildlife filmmakers are the directors themselves and are doing multiple things themselves. It’s not like, because you are so passionate about that subject, the subject needs passion, you have to be mad enough to be in this field also. So you know, where you enjoy being in the field you don’t mind spending hours and hours walking the beach or sitting in the forest getting bitten by insects… So it’s that passion also which drives a lot of wildlife filmmakers to just get that one shot and be happy with it. So that’s the only difference, I would say,  that’s why you see that you know, a lot of wildlife filmmakers, environments filmmakers are directors, camerapersons themselves but at the same time, if you’re not a technical person but you are passionate about that story, it’s absolutely possible to make it because you have people to do that for you, as long as you have the vision and the idea but you need to be with people who really relate with you, sync with you, understand what you’re saying, you know, but it is absolutely possible for a person who wants to do a story even without the technical skills.     

Lalitha Krishnan: That’s so encouraging Rita, I’m going to go and write that storyboard right away. I request all my guests to share a conservation/wildlife related word or term that means something to them. Do you have one?

Rita Banerji: I think the word which comes to mind, there are many words actually, I guess, you know one of the things is interdependence, right, what we see in nature, right, I mean, why interdependence? Because there’s something in nature that lets (one) survive based on each other’s qualities, right?  If there is respect for each other’s way of being, nature is the best teacher in that sense, right? How to survive how different… like there will a canopy, there will be a fern, there will be a leaf, there will be a frog, probably but everybody is dependent on each other strengths for survival. I think if, we can learn that, even in the way we are with the way a way of being you know where we understand that we cannot operate alone as a single person. We are interdependent on each other for so many aspects of our being and if we respect that interdependence, I think, it can solve a lot of issues of protecting it. Whether it’s to do with protecting our forests, whether it’s to do with respecting human rights, whether it’s to do with the egos for example. So, I think, that respecting interdependence and learning from nature I mean that’s the best teacher I would say.

Rita Banerji: Thanks.

Lalitha Krishnan: That’s a good one. A good many.Thank you, Rita. It’s been wonderful speaking with you and so inspiring. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Heart of Conservation podcast. You can listen to previous episodes on Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple podcasts, or several other platforms. If you know somebody who’s doing interesting work or whose story should be shared, do write to me at earthymatters013@gmail.com. Stay home, stay safe, and keep listening.

Photo courtesy Rita Banerji. Podcast interview and Artwork: Lalitha Krishnan. Special thanks to Akshay Shah who helped transcribe the show notes. Birdsong by hillside residents.

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Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guests featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organisation, committee or other group or individual.

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