The prestigious Wildscreen Film Festival recently took place in Bristol, England. The world-leading event is held biannually and focuses on the photographers, videographers and conservationists who tell engaging stories about the natural world. Its mission is to reconnect people with nature through inclusive, accessible and impactful storytelling, as well as through several networking events.
This year's speaker lineup was made up of some of the most important voices working in conservation, including everyone's favorite nature documentary narrator David Attenborough, songwriter and record producer Imogen Heap, and film director Darren Aronofsky who is most famous for Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan and Noah.
• Check out the best lenses for bird and wildlife photography (opens in new tab)
While some of the talks were held virtually, many of the talks were held in locations dotted around Bristol, giving the audience a chance to engage, ask questions and have a more interactive experience.
Australian conservationist, photographer and videographer Doug Gimesy (opens in new tab) was just one of the incredibly passionate speakers to attend this year's event. He took part in the Telling Local Stories panel alongside Ashwika Kapur, Clay Bolt and Fiona Tande, where they discussed capturing captivating content close to home.
For the last few years, Doug has been studying one particular species of bat that is local to Melbourne, Australia, where he lives. Bats make up 20% of the mammal population and yet Doug thinks they are "both misunderstood and underappreciated".
Most people don't pay enough attention to them, he tells me, but Doug hopes through his work people will recognize the importance of bats in the world for controlling pests, pollinating plants and even dispersing seeds. Fruit-eating bats, for example, can be responsible for up to 95% of seed dispersal in cleared rainforests and are one the catalysts for biodiversity regeneration.
There are four main reasons Doug started working closer to home:
1) to have more time to capture nature at different times of the day,
2) to build relationships and benefit from better access,
3) to reduce his costs and impact on the planet, and
4) to engage more deeply with an issue and give him the right to "stick my nose in and say 'hey not in my back yard.'"
Having initially trained in zoology and microbiology, Doug has always had a deep connection with animal welfare and the natural world, but he didn't pick up a camera until 2012. By 2016, though, he was doing it full-time, and today he describes himself as a conservation, wildlife and welfare photojournalist. Doug hopes he can "inspire people to stop, think and treat the world a little more kindly" by using images as a method of communication that transcends language and culture.
During the course of his career as a photojournalist, Doug has had his photos published in National Geographic, he's worked with the Natural History Museum in London, and has appeared on ABC national radio talking about his conversation work. But for Doug, making the Wildlife Photographer of the Year final in 2016 and winning the Wildscreen Photo-story award in 2018 were the two moments that changed his career.
As well as showcasing the incredible work of photographers and videographers and giving the creators time to speak about their conservation projects, since 1982 Wildscreen has also hosted the Panda Awards – a sort of 'Green Oscars' that celebrates the international wildlife film and TV industry. The award consists of 20 categories and special awards that recognize everything from the best emerging talent to the best-scripted narrative.
This year Doug once again appeared in the Photo Story category as a finalist for his series, 'Fighting the Heat', which examined the effect that Australian bushfires had on the local flying fox bat population.
Although Doug admits he is "definitely not an adopter" of new technology, he does like to have the most up-to-date versions of whatever equipment he's using. Only this year did he switch from using a DSLR to a mirrorless system and currently he shoots with a Sony A1 (opens in new tab), a Sony A7 IV (opens in new tab) and several Sony lenses including a Sony FE 16 – 35 f/2.8 GM (opens in new tab), a Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM OSS II (opens in new tab) and a Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II (opens in new tab).
Doug's latest project was working with detector dogs; highly trained dogs that are able to sniff out the scent of target animals that humans can't easily find, such as dead microbats on wind farms and threatened species like koalas and tigers in forest areas.
If you missed out on this year's Wildscreen Film Festival, you can still get access to all the talks and seminars that took place by buying a post-festival virtual pass (opens in new tab). So whether you want to listen to Steve Backshall talk about sensationalized sharks, or Imogen Heap discuss how she created the score for the Climate of Change podcast, there is a wealth of exciting and thought-provoking talks available.
Festivals like Wildscreen continue to be an extremely important way of communicating with the wider community about issues our planet and the natural world are facing and through these platforms, Doug is able to raise awareness about bats, an animal he holds very close to his heart.