We won a Panda!
[Picture from Wildlife-Film.com]
Every two years the international wildlife film community, about 1000 strong from IMAX producers to interactive storytellers, gathers for a week by the harbour-side in Bristol for Wildscreen Festival. I first went as a 23 year old runner paying the discounted youngster rate as a birthday present to myself.
I saw the the people whose names had previously zoomed up my television at the end of the films that had entranced me, in all their shapes and sizes, and saw the beauty of the films projected into cinemas, immersed in their sounds and music, and hoped one day I’d be back.
This year was pretty special, I went to present our film – Natural World: The Bat Man of Mexico. We were excited, but we weren’t prepared for what an extraordinary week it would be…
We kicked off on Sunday lunchtime with the Inside Story panel, a showcase of the other films in the competition for Best People and Nature award with us and a chance to get grilled by the audience of our peers. Many of the questions were along the lines of ‘how did you get that shot’, though many of mine were about how horrific it is to shoot in guano filled caves!
I was horrified to find from the clips that our competition was extremely strong, especially Leopards: 21st Century Cats, a film looking at man-eating leopards in India. It was beautifully shot, and followed various people and their responses to the man-eaters in their areas. I learnt that in the city of Mumbai – home to more leopards than anywhere in India (!), they don’t hunt or transport the occasional man-eater because they’ve learnt that this only means more human deaths. It was a fascinating and impressively open-ended film. I felt worried…
Later in the day I bumped into David Attenborough, who kindly leant his voice to our tale, he was thrilled to see we were in competition and wished us good luck.
The next morning, I turned up at the cinema early. Our film was screening that night and was nearly fully booked, a couple of hours later we fully sold out. So many people were getting turned away that they tried to shift us at the last minute to a bigger cinema. Phew! My nightmare had been that we’d be doing a Q+A to an empty room!
An hour before the screening Rodrigo The Bat Man himself arrived, fresh from Mexico with a posse of bat researchers from Bristol University, and a load of people from the Bat Conservation Trust and the local Avon Bat Group even brought some live bats. The thrill of watching our movie, forged by our tiny team over so many hard months in Mexico, on a giant screen and to hear the gasps and laughs of the audience was unforgettable, and addictive. It was fantastic to see Rodrigo again. Afterwards he, David Dugan (our exec from Windfall Films) and I took questions from the audience ranging from pet cockroaches to favourite tequila brands, the feeling in the room was so warm and celebratory that I forgot about the competition to come. Afterwards we went with Rodrigo and the Bristol bat posse to a tapas restaurant to feast, plot future expeditions and toast the film.
And then, four days of pitching and watching films and learning about new gadgets (50mph all terrain RED Dragon mounted remote controlled camera vehicles!) it was time for the awards. Sabrina our editor, Pete the producer, George our cameraman, Amy our stills and assistant camera and Michael our composer packed the Windfall Films table. Dinner whizzed by, and then, very quickly it seemed, up on the screen was a clip from our film and the others in our category. Every award ceremony I’d been to before I’ve managed to not win, so I tried hard to think of what I’d say if we won, while not committing to that feeling too much in case we didn’t.
But we did win and our team was carried through the tables on a wave of cheers and back-slaps and whoops and up we were on the stage and I warbled a thank you and introduced our team and explained what a world this was away from this time last year when we’d been knee deep in bat crap in the chamber of hell, gurned and then we were by the side of the stage clutching a rather lovely trophy and grinning for pictures, including the one snapped at the top of this article by our excellent friend Jason from Wildlife-Film.com. The rest of the evening shot by in a haze of the delicious tequila Rodrigo had kindly left us followed by champagne from David (who won two further Panda Awards for Windfall for his astonishing series ‘Your Inner Fish’), a mixture that the following day was distinctly special. As I write this I’m still buzzing, and next week, it’s time to start on our next adventure….