Last weekend, we visited Rotterdam as my film The Clowns of the Sea was screening in a festival there – Wildlife Film Festival Rotterdam, or WFFR for short. I have been to film festivals before, but I’ve never been to one specifically for wildlife filmmaking – let alone one that was screening a film I’d made.

I must admit I found the atmosphere at WFFR a little overwhelming at times; I’ve never had people who were so excited to speak to me saying “I’ve never spoken to a filmmaker before!” while also being so nervous about what people thought about my work. It was an intense experience, but an incredibly good one. Every filmmaker I spoke to was very encouraging and clearly passionate – not only about filming but about their projects, the environment, and life on earth in general.

I was impressed with the scale of the festival, given that this was only it’s second year running. WFFR covered between three and five screens per day, had a “nature cafe” set up where interviews were taking place and even had a dedicated VR section. It was well organised too, which helps when you’re looking around wondering where on earth you start!

Unfortunately my film wasn’t nominated for any of the awards, but I was invited to complete a Q&A after the screening of my film. I’m quite a shy person naturally, I find it difficult and incredibly nerve racking to do presentations and public speaking, but I agreed to do the Q&A. I wanted to have the opportunity to explain why I wanted my film to be different, why it was so short and what I’m working on next. I felt incredibly lucky for it to have been selected to screen at WFFR, given the quality of the other films there. Ultimately, nerves just tell us that we’re doing something that’s important to us, which is why I try and push myself out of my comfort zone. I was over the moon to be given some beautiful flowers after the Q&A, though disappointed that I couldn’t bring them home with me due to airline restrictions.

The cinema screens at WFFR just before a screening

While we were at WFFR, we had the opportunity to watch virtually any of the other English language films we wanted – we could have seen the Dutch language ones too, but we wouldn’t have understood them. I don’t think I have ever watched so many films in a 48 hour period before! There were some incredible films there; below are my thoughts on just a few of them.

The standout film to me was Racing Extinction (Psihoyos, 2014). I’ve never felt more guilty for owning a car, for not being able to install solar panels on my roof or for working for a company that I know wastes tonnes of paper every day simply by using an out of date computer system. This film is all about the Mass Extinction humans are causing – the first since the Dinosaurs – and how we’re causing it. Using a special camera, they are able to film the CO2 released by big industry, cars, homes and businesses. It looks at the social economics behind climate change, illegal poaching and wildlife smuggling. You’d think a film like this would leave you utterly demoralised at the state of the world, but actually it makes a huge effort to show how little changes made by individuals can cause massive shifts in socially accepted attitudes, as well as the money saved by businesses simply updating their practices and their buildings to be more energy efficient. It’s hard to watch in parts, but definitely worth watching all the way through.

Running Wild – Scandinavia (Munier & Frankrijk) was another excellent film. I honestly can’t decide if this was my favourite film or if Racing Extinction was. The film follows wildlife photographer Vincent Munier as he explores the Arctic regions of Norway looking to photograph an array of wildlife – Moose, Reindeer, Musk Oxen and several different owls to name a few. Shot with Nikon DSLRs, this gave me an insight into the often overlooked capabilities of Nikon cameras as well as going to show what you can produce with a camera most people interested in photography already own. This film is a fantastic insight into what it takes to be a wildlife photographer. There were lots of giggles from the audience when Vincent Munier sat up after sleeping in a frost covered bivvy bag to survey the herd of Reindeer around him, almost as though they weren’t expecting it.

The Wildlife Cafe at WFFR

Several episodes of The Hunt (BBC, 2015) were also screened at WFFR, which gave me the opportunity to see them – and it was no surprise that the episode Hunger at Sea won best underwater film. Attenborough’s Life that Glows (BBC, 2016) – also known as Light on Earth – won the best professional film, but we’d already watched this when it aired on television, so we decided to skip the screening in favour of watching something we hadn’t seen before. I’d definitely recommend it to people though, it’s an incredible one-off film shot almost entirely with natural light and is about bio-luminescence.

Other films that I enjoyed included Tale of a Lake (Röhr & Saarniluoto, 2016), The Pray (Jones, 2016) and Mystery Monkeys of Shangri-La (Fletcher, 2015).

Tale of a Lake was an incredible feat of 600 days filming, sometimes spending days waiting in the same location to shoot a section no longer than 40 seconds. It was beautifully shot and the film recounted Finnish tales of ancient natural deities at play in the 190,000 lakes of Finland. Director Marko Röhr also gave us a wealth of advice regarding funding and commissioning projects when we met after the closing film was screened.

The Pray is a fun short film shot using macro filming techniques. It depicts how a Praying Mantis hunts and survives in it’s environment with a narration that is open and appealing to others – particularly children. I wasn’t surprised when it was announced that The Pray had won the Best Non-Professional Film.

Mystery Monkeys of Shangri-La was a beautiful depiction of the elf-like Snub Nosed Monkeys of the highest forests in the world – bordering the Himalayas in China. It was an incredible insight into the lives of these animals and it turned the camera on the crew too, so you could see their emotions and involvement in the film.

I’d definitely recommend anyone who is interested in wildlife filmmaking goes to WFFR. It’s a fantastic film festival which is open to anyone – you just buy tickets for the screenings you want to watch. Rotterdam itself is a nice city, quiet with lots of trees and green spaces. It’s a coastal city with a marina and lots of museums to visit too, if you’ve got the time. The central area is easily accessible as everything is within easy walking distance – though there’s plenty of good public transport too.

Leanne after her Q&A at WFFR


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