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Life through a lens: finding nature with film

Young Aucklanders have been discovering their local environment and wildlife through filmmaking.

Credits: student filmmakers Michael Jessup, Ariana Brunet, Clinton Qin, Jenny Ann Sweatman.

Teens and young adults have been getting to grips with making short films as part of a unique project that explores the natural world through a camera lens.

Ecologist Chris Ferkins at Gecko Trust says that a core part of the science filmmaking project, called Curious Kaipātiki, was investigating the plants and animals in their local environment. This helps build a sense of belonging and a relationship with the place they live.

He and co-leader, geoscientist Irene Wallis at The University of Auckland, started the year-long project by taking the students on a series of nightwalks in local parks in Auckland to discover the wildlife in their neighbourhood. The team then ran three science workshops in three different reserves in Kaipātiki: Le Roys, Lynn and Eskdale.

Student holding a predator tracking tunnel

“We wanted to show the kids how to look for things that aren’t necessarily right in front of you,” Chris says.

Irene adds, “This is a place-based community-driven storytelling project, with the scientists supporting kids’ exploration rather than leading the project.”

Next, videographers Malcolm Hall and Dianne Musgrave helped the kids discover the world of filmmaking.

Malcolm and Dianne began their workshop by asking the students to tell a story, and then they broke the story down to show how it was made up of a beginning, middle and end.

Students learning what makes a good story

The group also looked at what kinds of elements – from close-up shots to good audio – a film needs, and how to put it together piece by piece.

“We really liked how the students took to it straightaway. They were so quick and enthusiastic in picking up the skills. It was so great to see them blossom,” Dianne says.

Malcolm adds, “It was inspiring to see just how at-ease all the kids were when editing the footage using tablet and smartphone apps, and they advanced further in much less time compared to adults.”

Practicing filming

12-year-olds Paris Headford and Rita Straka from Wainui School in Auckland made a film called ‘Battle for the Birds’, in which they explored the impact of mammals on birds.

“We went to look at wildlife and learnt about how they lived, and then we learnt about filmmaking to tell a story about what we had seen,” Paris says.

“We decided to do a film about birds because they are really important and some are endangered. I really enjoyed interviewing Matt Maitland for it. He’s the [Auckland Council Senior] Ranger and we learnt heaps from him.”

Rita adds, “I think my favourite parts were doing the scenery shots but I really liked the whole thing, actually – the learning about the environment part as well as the filming.”

Edmund Sharrock, 18, from Northcote also created a documentary, which showed how to catch and check the health of native fish in local streams.

Edmund editing his film footage

Other students veered completely away from the standard documentary format.

18-year-old Billy Park created a silent film but with over-saturated colour called ‘Forest Friend’, in which he used gestures and mime to tell his story about a bird he befriends.

Brothers Blake Harper, 14, and Liam Harper, 12, created a comedy called ‘Fantastic beasts and where to find them in Kaipātiki’. In this, they did a skit with stuffed toys, with a voiceover that sounded just like David Attenborough, while still raising awareness of birds becoming endangered.

“I really liked doing the filming,” Blake says, “The planning bit was hard so we just improvised in the end!”

Introducing the films at Glenfield War Memorial Hall

The project culminated in a screening at Glenfield War Memorial Hall, where the students got a chance to watch each other’s videos.

“I love that the kids are so confident now and how they’ve really embraced their voices in these films,” says Hannah Shingler, who managed the project. “It’s been so cool seeing how much they have changed.”

Gecko Trust and others in the team are now taking the project to more young people, living in other parts of Auckland such as Whenuapai, under the new name Curious Tamariki.

Locals watching the screening

Photo credits: the Curious Kaipātiki team.

About the Project

Gecko Trust logoCurious Kaipātiki was run by Gecko Trust with support from the University of Auckland and the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.



Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

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