Wednesday marked the half way point of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival (September 24 to 29) and delegates attending the event continue to arrive. By Tuesday morning, Barry Clark, chairman of both the festival and Mandalay Media Arts, estimated that attendance was around 550 – down 150 from attendance in 1999. But on Thursday morning, festival director Lisa Samford said people were still registering. ‘A lot of people we thought had cancelled actually haven’t,’ she says.
Will Taylor, president of Panthera Productions, was among those planning to arrive mid-week. ‘Wildlife filmmakers are among the most intrepid creatures on this planet, so we will be there,’ said Taylor on Tuesday from his Dallas-based office. ‘With so many of the big players in our industry, on the broadcast side, based in New York and Washington D.C., I am sure the mood of the festival will be affected. [But], the natural world and all it has to offer is a soothing balm for some very sad souls.’
Clark and Samford agree the mood of the festival is more subdued than in years past, but spirits remain high. ‘So far, the energy and spirit, while muted as a result of the tragedy of September 11, is remarkably high, and a source of reassurance,’ says Clark. ‘The weather is incredible, the sessions are packed, the parties are lively, and it would be difficult to know, except by comparison to the high spirits of previous years, that any mishap had befallen the world.’
Samford says the festival opened with a party, co-hosted by Natural History New Zealand and Japanese pubcaster NHK, that began with a traditional Japanese ceremony that seems to have set the tone for the event so far. ‘There’s a lot that binds people together in the world of natural history,’ explains Samford. ‘The conversation is that the terrorism isn’t just about America, it’s about the entire world. It’s going to affect us all and we have to do what we can in our own little arenas to make it a better place. The world of natural history filmmaking will certainly be impacted in terms of the number of films that are being made and the kinds of shows that are being made.’
It’s still early to predict what the shape of these changes will be, but the buzz at Jackson Hole is proof that natural history films will have a place in the program schedules of the near future. Offers Clark, ‘Because it celebrates life, the nature genre may be a real antidote to societal despair, a source of hope in a dark and stressful interlude.’