Wild to Inspire: On “Smellavision”, Conservation and the People of Tarangire

Although I’ve been shooting an overabundance of wildlife, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about my experience shooting people on this trip. I do love and appreciate nature, but I’ll admit my style of documentary filmmaking predominately comprises of intimate portraits. My work focuses on people with the visuals driven by strong cinema vérité and compelling interviews. It’s been interesting shooting wildlife because you don’t necessary have a human connection. While there’s definitely an energy and rush I get when I film animals, especially during an action scene (I shot vultures devouring a rotting elephant carcass the other day and it was magnificent. If only we had “smellavision”. The stench was beyond pungent!), you can’t interview the animals…

Thus, my solution was to also film as many people as I could on this trip in order to get some sort of background, knowledge, and voice that could guide the superb wildlife visuals. So far, I’ve interviewed the Chief Park Warden, two park rangers, and the Tourism Park Warden of Tarangire National Park. I also interviewed two chief leaders of a local Maasai Tribe near Tarangire. On the AWF side of the spectrum, I’ve interviewed students and teachers from the AWF funded Manyara Ranch Primary School and a guy named Rama, who runs an AWF WMA (Wildlife Management Area) in Burunge. In case you’re wondering, WMAs are community lands operating as a protected area and typically comprised of a collection of villages. These villages agree to follow certain conservation agreements as a means of obtaining wildlife tourism revenues or other benefits that may come about from conservation.

I’ve been learning tremendously about the importance of conservation from these people who make it their life’s work to protect and nurture the wildlife and wild lands of Africa. While everyone has a different take on the various conservation issues within the Maasai Steppe Landscape, the overall consensus is that conservation is absolutely necessary not only for the livelihood of wildlife and the economy, but more importantly, “for the sake of future generations.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line said over and over again.

Although meeting and interviewing this eclectic mix of people has been absolutely rewarding, there have been many challenges throughout the production process. First off, one must understand that filmmaking is a collaborative art. Shooting and even photographing wildlife can easily be managed by one person, but when you’re one-band-manning an interview…it’s quite a hilarious site to see. You’re doing the job of three people: managing sound, while managing the camera, while managing the subject, and asking the questions. It’s especially exciting when the interview is in Swahili. Thank God for my driver/fixer/interview translator, Dickson. I don’t know what I’d do without him. If there’s one talent I gained on this trip, it has definitely been the art of multi-tasking. Never thought I’d play the role of director, producer, sound mixer, and DP.

However, it’s all in a day’s work and what I enjoy most about documentary filmmaking. Not only do I love wearing multiple hats, but also, I take pride in being a voice and platform to people who would otherwise never get the chance to tell their story. Nonfiction is my favorite type of filmmaking because you are confronted with real human emotion and challenges. More to come about my last week here with Bob Poole!

Dan Duran is the winner of the first annual Wild to Inspire short film contest, launched last year in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the Sun Valley Film Festival.  As the winner, he’ll be documenting  Tanzania’s dynamic Manyara–Tarangire ecosystem, which includes Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks and the AWF-managed Manyara Ranch Conservancy. This is the first post in a series where he’ll spotlight Africa’s wild side and share his experiences from the field as a wildlife filmmaker.  

Want to follow in Dan’s footsteps?  Enter the second annual Wild to Inspire short film contest through January 17th – visit natgeowild.com/wildtoinspire for more details.