Wildlife conservation is hot topic for student documentary



Watch a preview of the Tanzania field trip documentary 

In March 2019, a group of students embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the jungles of Tanzania. Their mission? To take a hands-on, deep dive into the world of wildlife conservation and animal behaviour. This was a chance for Wildlife Conservation and Drone Applications students to learn valuable field skills – including how to collect data on animal behaviour and calculate animal density, mapping threats to various species, and mastering complex drone data collection skills. They spent their time observing animals such as chimpanzees, red-tailed monkeys, yellow baboons, hartebeests, roan antelopes and leopards. Another crucial objective of the trip was to collaborate with the field-site hosts, The Greater Mahale Ecosystem Research and Conservation (GMERC) team, in a demonstration of the global interest that Tanzania wildlife and conservation generates.

The yearly trip, coordinated and led by Dr Alexander Piel and Prof Serge Wich, was not only an amazing opportunity to learn from world conservation and behavioural experts – but also a unique chance to collaborate with students from the Liverpool Screen School (LSS). Along with their MSc peers, Saoirse Crean and James McGregor-Walsh (MA Documentary students at LSS), were specially selected to embark on the conservation trip. They were tasked with documenting the experiences of the student group on their trip and capture some remarkable moments on film along the way. They also got pretty involved in the action too…

Since returning home Saoirse and James have been hard at work cutting a brilliant short film as part of their MA project, the first of a number set to focus on the Tanzania trip – a preview of which you can see above. Their footage includes breathtaking 360 shots, as well as some fascinating UAV/drone scenes capturing the beautiful landscape and important work being carried out by LJMU students and researchers on the ground. We caught up with the pair to hear how their experiences in Tanzania have enhanced their learning, and why the trip was so special.

The brief…

Saoirse and James were tasked with creating a selection of films, one to promote LJMU’s course, another to capture life on camp, and the final one to serve as a research plea to the Tanzanian government, in a bid for the GMERC research camp to secure more funding. They were also tasked with making some additional short promo films aimed at attracting future students to courses within LSS.


Why did you choose to study on the MA Documentary course?

James:
Mainly to hone skills from my previous course in BA Media Production. Particularly technology, storytelling and filmmaking as a whole.

Saoirse:
I wanted to work towards a career that could be both creative and make a difference. To me, that’s what documentary making is all about.

What appealed most to you about the Tanzania trip?

James:
I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and experience a new way of life and climate. I even flew for the very first time! But the best part was the opportunity to make a variety of films in such a beautiful region.

Saoirse:
I also thrive on pushing myself outside my comfort zone – so sleeping in a tent in the jungle sounded like my kind of adventure.

Filming in Tanzania

Did the location pose any challenges for filming?

James:
The landscape of the Issa Valley posed a variety of challenges – from carrying heavy cameras on 12km walks which strained us physically, to adverse weather such as heavy rainfall and 40-degree heat which affected the cameras. Equipment failure due to travel also created a challenge over in Kigoma. It was all worth it though for the work we were carrying out.

Saoirse:
Lots of challenges! Heavy rainfall, equipment overheating and dust. It’s also pretty heavy to be carrying a full kit and my knees buckled a few times when we were climbing up particularly steep rocks! One day we took the 360 camera out to film baboons, got all the way to our destination…and then the camera didn’t work. Oh, and a baboon pooed on Jay.

Why was this project an important one for you and how has it changed your outlook on environmental issues?

James:
I’m all for protecting greenspaces and wildlife, and believe we should be doing everything possible to maintain these areas and the creatures that live in them. My time in Tanzania has definitely boosted my appreciation for nature and our amazing ecosystems. For me, the most important part of the experience was my development as a filmmaker. Wildlife videography is something I’m really passionate about. I shot a film with Chester Zoo on wildlife conservation for my BA, so a trip to Tanzania as an MA student seemed like the next step up for me.

Saoirse
I was pretty eco-conscious already, but it made me particularly assess how much water we waste every day, as we had no flushing toilets or showers and limited amounts of bottled drinking water. In terms of the project itself, I loved that we were given the opportunity to film for our own personal final MA documentaries and meet amazing people along the way. We even got to interview workers from a sustainable palm oil plantation and a fair trade honey processing factory. It was such a unique experience that I won’t forget.

What was the most memorable thing about your trip?

James:
The most memorable thing for me would have to be the stunning views, the vistas and landscapes were just breathtaking along with the diversity in weather that just amplified these views.

Saoirse:
Getting up at 5 am, climbing up steep rocky hills in the dark and through rivers whilst carrying loads of filming equipment, to be met with the most incredible views and the sound of the dawn chorus breaking across the valley and chimpanzees screeching…it was incredible! Also, it was great to get to know people from another department in the University.

How do you think this field trip will help you in your career plans?

James:
I plan to either work for a production company or continue freelance work – but either way this trip will help my career due to its presence on my CV. Overall I feel it’s vastly improved my technical and storytelling skills through new environments and ways of living.

Saoirse
For me, this trip has definitely confirmed in my mind that I’m following the right career path. I loved every aspect, from the planning and interviewing to the filming and editing. It was just an amazing experience all round!

LJMU Natural Sciences professor, Serge Wich, said of the collaborative trip:

“This collaboration between faculties is very exciting because it brings together students from different parts of the University, enables them to learn from each other and shows the breadth of what we can do at LJMU when we work together. LJMU offers amazing opportunities such as these between faculties and I hope we’re able to do many more trips in the future.”


Do you have aspirations to study film? Or perhaps wildlife conservation? Here at LJMU we have a range of enriching courses to help you achieve your ambitions and put you on the path to career success. Take a look at our journalism, media and film courses or visit the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology to discover the brilliant courses currently on offer.



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