Since the last Wildscreen Festival two years ago, natural history filmmakers have taken a beating, suffering the loss of broadcast slots, financing sources and a few key players. But one thing they haven’t lost, as evidenced at this year’s Wildscreen, is the passion for what they do. More than 650 delegates came together for this year’s event – held in Bristol, U.K., from October 13 to 18 – to exchange ideas, screen films, make new contacts and touch base with old ones. While both attendance and mood were lower than last time (the constant, driving rain didn’t help), the general undercurrent was positive, even cautiously hopeful.
Veteran filmmaker Sir David Attenborough delivered the opening-night address, reflecting on a 50-year career that began when he joined the bbc in 1952. He was later recognized with a special presentation at Wildscreen’s Panda Awards, in honor of his half-century in wildlife film production.
A new innovation at the festival was to hold the awards ceremony mid-event (October 15) instead of at the end, a move that guaranteed a full house. British doc-makers emerged as the top award winners, taking 10 of the 17 prizes. Particularly notable were indie filmmaking partners Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, who won two Pandas (Animal Behavior and Camerawork) for their film Mzima: Haunt of the River Horse. The BBC NHU scored the WWF Golden Panda Award for Blue Planet – Introduction, while Bugworld – War of Two Worlds, produced by London-based cameraman David Allen, won the Delegate’s Choice prize. Hugh Miles was given the Wildscreen Trust Award for Outstanding Achievement.
Aside from these special events, during the festival, delegates had their choice among seminars, workshops and screenings. Conservation was again a prominent theme. One particularly interesting session was a Q&A with controversial filmmaker Richard Brock, who argued that blue-chip docs may ultimately do more harm than good by fostering a perception that the natural world remains perfect. His assertion is that it is up to filmmakers to figure out clever ways to incorporate conservation messages in their programs.
On the technical side, high definition remained the topic of the hour, with daily presentations sponsored by Japanese pubcaster nhk, as well as workshops spearheaded by the likes of Sony and Bristol-based post house Films at 59.
Wildscreen 2002 was also conscious of catering to the rookie filmmakers in attendance, even offering a special daily session called 15 Minutes of Fame for their benefit. Scheduled each day before the start of the afternoon discussions, 15 Minutes of Fame gave selected new doc-makers a platform to pitch their ideas and get feedback. In particular, U.S. brother/sister team Laura and Robert Sams generated buzz for their presentation on children’s wildlife programming.