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WILDSCREEN FESTIVAL TANZANIA FILMMAKER CASE STUDIES: Lilian Anold

For our final Tanzanian filmmaker case study, we meet wildlife photographer and camera assistant Lilian Anold.

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First speakers announced for Wildscreen Festival Tanzania

Award-winning Tanzanian Filmmaker, Erica Rugabandana, unveiled as headline speaker; short doc “Chameleon Corridors” set for world premiere.

WILDSCREEN FESTIVAL TANZANIA FILMMAKER CASE STUDIES: Erica Rugabandana

Erica Rugabandana

Erica Rugabandana is a Tanzanian conservationist, director and award-winning wildlife cinematographer. Her production credits include working on the Disney+ nature series, Queens, and she’s also independently producing films and running community campaigns via her own organisation, Sima Wild Film. Her film, Living with Lions, won Best Film, Best Storytelling and Best African Film at Pridelands Wildlife Film Festival.

Growing up in Tanzania, , Erica’s childhood was spent close to nature, and from a young age she harboured a keen interest in conservation.

Returning after a period studying in Mweka wildlife College in Kilimanjaro, where she completed her Wildlife Management degree, she was alarmed to find the place she called home was no longer recognisable.

“I grew up around lush forests and vegetation, but when I returned many of the trees had been cut down – for firewood, for property development, for all kinds of commercial and economic reasons. First, I felt angry, but then I was fired up. Someone needed to tell these stories, to explain what was happening to our landscapes and our wildlife habitats.”

A masters in community development followed, after which she came across an opportunity offered via the University of Leicester (through the Darwin Initiative project) in Kenya to study wildlife filmmaking.

“I realised that this was how to get the message across. You can tell people all you want, but it’s so much more powerful if you can show them. I got my first bits of kit, a small camera, and some training on how to use it. That was my starting point, and I knew then that I wanted to become an independent film producer – but there were many hoops to jump through to get there.”

Women supporting women
As so many Tanzanian filmmakers do, Erica began her career making films for tour operators and other local businesses. “It was a great way to build my craft, but if you’re making films for organisations, you’re telling their story. I knew I wanted to make nature films that told the story in a different way.”

In 2019 she received an invite to a film festival in France called Nature Through Her Eyes, which focused on female cinematographers in the wildlife space. There, she met Producer Jacqueline Farmer of Saint Thomas Productions and Justine Evans and Sophie Darlington, Directors of photography and Cinematography for Wildstar films.

“Meeting these women who were doing such amazing work was truly inspiring. They really encouraged me to find my voice, to work towards creating my own films. I had the vision, I just hadn’t had the opportunity, and meeting them really jump started that process for me.”

Having been working as a research assistant on a project with lions in Tanzania, Erica had her first subjects close at hand. What she needed now was backing to make the film she had in mind.

“I wrote a concept that I shared with Jacqueline. She encouraged me to question my assumptions and with her I learned how to write and script a film like this. Once I had the idea, I got some interest from Curiosity Stream, an American streaming service, but in order to back the project they needed to see clips.”

An original concept
To produce the quality content needed to secure the project, Erica needed high-end equipment. Wildstar, who were working on the Queens series at the time, employed her as a series mentee under Justine Evans who was mentoring Erica, on the filming kit, filming sequences and all the skills needed for nature film making.

Through the team there, was able to reach the camera company RED, who loaned her the equipment she needed for a year.

“I went back to the Serengeti and spent a year filming with the lions in both the dry and wet seasons. Curiosity Stream were so impressed with the clips that they funded the film. It was a long process, but by making these connections I was able to make something I’m very proud of and which I hope will influence people’s attitudes to and understanding of lions.”

Erica’s next challenge was ensuring that the film was seen by those in the communities that surrounded the places she was filming. This was important to her because films of this nature produced by local filmmakers were few and far between.

“The nature films we were exposed to were all made by international crews coming over here and filming. They didn’t have accents like ours. They didn’t have the local understanding that we do. Although they were filmed in our homeland, they were often quite far removed from our experiences of it. So, it was important to me, as a Tanzanian, to be able to hold that mirror up and show them the nature on their doorstep through a local lens.”

Widening access
Access to high quality nature films is not something that’s commonplace in Tanzania. “Not everyone can afford cable TV or streaming services. If I wanted to show it in those communities, I realised I needed to host screenings, so I looked for funding to do that.

“Nomad Tanzania were among the companies who supported me with this. They provided five days’ transport and gears so I could go to the village where the film was made and show everyone the film. I also did it in the neighbouring villages. It really helped to build trust with the community. They could see the importance of the work I was doing.”

A further grant from the Australian High Commission has funded another set of screenings, this time in six more villages from 8 – 19 April 2024.

“The format is that we show up, screen the film and then host a discussion afterwards. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive so far. One of the villages I went to was just 15km from the national park, and yet those people had never been inside it, didn’t have access to the animals.

“Me showing them that film was providing a window into a world right beside them that they hadn’t had access to. It also enabled us to have a discussion about lion behaviour and do some education around how people can live more harmoniously with these animals.”

In Tanzania, as in many other parts of the world, poaching is a big issue. “Poachers may use these villages near animal habitats to hide, and they might hire young people to help them access the areas they want to go to – but it’s dangerous, and often people don’t fully understand the danger of what they’re getting themselves into, or the impact it will have in the long-term.”

She hopes, in the future, to be able to train more young people as she was trained in the art of wildlife filmmaking. “But we need to build capacity in-country to do that. We need equipment, skilled people to train them and opportunities for them to go into the field and innovate.”

Bureaucracy busting
Another thing hampering progress is often red tape. “When starting out, I struggled to get permits to film in the national parks. It is a long and costly process, and this can be a barrier for young people struggling to make their first film.

“For international filmmakers coming in, it’s less of a problem because they have the funding and can get those permits quicker. But for local filmmakers who are just starting out, they often need to supply clips before they can get the funds to finish the film – so it’s a vicious cycle really that hampers their progress. If we have the capacity to open those doors, it would really empower local filmmakers to fly.”

What really marks Tanzania’s filmmaking community out is its sense of community. “It’s great having those connections because a lot of us are in the same situation.

“People like Jigar Ganatra at AFRISOS and Hans Cosmas Ngotey at Ngoteya Wild are really supportive if I have an issue, or a challenge or I need to borrow equipment, for example. As a community we all look out for each other and share the love for what we do.”

What Erica would like to see for the future is for Tanzania to take greater pride in its wildlife filmmaking industry.

“The local screenings are so important because they help us build that reputation. We have the most amazing wildlife, national parks, original scenery, and also very talented people here. International filmmakers can come here and make amazing films, but we have a unique perspective to share and originality in the way we present it.

“We should be proud of that, and our people, our government, our film industry, should get behind that. I’d like to see us build capacity and really become the powerhouse for wildlife filmmaking that I know we can be.”

Wildscreen Festival Tanzania takes place from 6 – 7 June in Arusha, Tanzania. Find out more and buy tickets online here.