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Old February 11th, 2006, 12:12 PM   #1
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The Ethics of Wildlife Shooting

there's a film being screened here at a local film festival called "Being Caribou" about a husband and wife team who follow a caribou migration by living among/as caribou (hence the title), and it is winning awards and winning some traction as a tool for environmentalists concerned with arctic drilling. the caribou people are being touted as heroic.

what is the difference between tim treadwell living among the bears, as a bear, and "being caribou." is it because tim came across as a possibly bipolar nut job in herzog's presentation? (i saw him in a live presentation, and he presents very differently live than he does in the film.)

i think i was more offended by "winged migration" than i was by what tim was doing. it was sad that he was ultimately consumed by who he was "consuming" (from a visual, consumer culture standpoint, eg he was supporting himself by importing these bear images out of nature into culture).

in "winged migration," you have to watch the behind-the-scenes footage, where it shows how they raised bird flocks specifically to make this film, acclimating the birds to ultralight technology so they wouldn't be disturbed by the presence of an ultra-light mounted camera. it was the ultimate in "un"-natural footage--wholly manufactured by humans for human visual consumption. i actually found the enterprise rather appalling. i didn't understand what i was watching while i watched the movie, it was only afterwards, in the behind-the-scenes "making of". and this film was nominated for an academy award.

so on one hand, we have tim treadwell, who without werner herzog's interest, would have operated in relative obscurity. then we have "being caribou" (which i've not seen personally, so can't specifically comment upon--it airs sunday) where people "being caribou" are heroes. is the difference that bears eat you, and caribous don't? is it that simple. and here's "winged migration," where you raise animals as your actors and acclimate them to the very technology that threatens them.

i guess i could throw in "march of the penguins," but i watched that "making of", and it seemed like those guys stayed at a fairly respectful distance to their subject, using long lenses, and not interfering much....

i don't have a bunch of conclusions, it just seems like the ethics of wildlife shooting is not at the forefront of discussion, even though these films are at the forefront of what we do.....so i have these three films on my mind and was thinking this might be something to discuss here, if there's any interest.

as the people who do this, what are your ethics of how you interact with the wild....? and what do you think about these examples of how others do it?
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Old February 11th, 2006, 01:39 PM   #2
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Ethics, Religion, Politics.

Is there ever a 'right' answer?

As someone who once made his living WITH animals, (horses) I've been accused of exploitation. I've also rescued horses from the slaughter, and nursed them to a strong working career for anothre half dozen years.

I think my personal ethics in working with animals - and that's what you are doing, whether it's filmmaking, dogsledding, farming, rodeo riding, keeping a zoo or running a circus - is to ask myself the extent to which I am 'advancing the animals well being'.

At what point does your effort cross the line into exploitation or abuse?

Frankly, whatever you might decide is the line, someone else isn't going to agree with it. That's life.

The elements that you see in filmmaking as exploitive or perhaps even abusive, might be seen as advancing the greater understanding of the species as a whole, and therefore advancing their greater safety and well being. (The best justifcation for well-run zoos).

Some might argue "What right do you have to enter their domain and film them at all?" The observer inevitably influences the environment. Others might say "Creating a compelling narrative, even with artificial inducements or editing is a necessary means to a justifiable end."

Ethics, Religion, Politics. It's a personal choice.
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Old February 13th, 2006, 05:31 PM   #3
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Hi Guys

This is a very interesting issue which deserves more attention than it seems to be getting. I think the matter ultimately comes down to what sort of soul you are - you are what you film. Our biggest problem is that natural talent tends to narrow us into specialisation, thereby robbing us to some extent of a more contextual view of what we do. I am not naming any names, but I worked with some very well known wildlife specialists back in the old days-when it was all sixteen mm, and I saw some things that were quite wrong. I remember walking into a licensed basement film lab to see a room full of emergent butterflies batting themselves on a skylight. The butterflies had emerged over the weekend without supervision and without being filmed. It seemed to me a shameful waste; moreover, those that did survive were released into a totally alien environment. Similarly, some prize winning filmed shrews were sacrificed over a weekend break - the footage was great, but the stock just died. I posed the unanswerable question: do you think they died of loneliness. This was not the least of the ill treatment of animals that I saw, and the excessive care, (as it was judged), ultimately lost me my contract. But the failure left me with the ambition to do my own thing in my own way, and I have been gifted so many natural compensations, that I am glad I was thwarted when I was. I too have transgressed along the way, but I am now glad to see that most modern wildlife film makers are more constrained than those of the old days. Judging from the posts though, there are still issues afoot, evidence Richard's self justifying remarks; but maybe he has a point - the more you take, the more you have to give back.

This is headed Aboriginal, because I think that when you are so steeped in Nature that there is little or no difference between your identity and the thing you predate a natural balance spontaneously arises. It is only when the will is interposed and an industry starts to develop that abuses really start to occur. Then it is obsessiveness that calls the shots, not a natural calling for the subject. This situation is not unique in life and although I am a fallible man, the maxim of: 'I must do', not, 'I want to', usually resolves my consternation. Fortunately, filming in the wild demands so much natural patience and care that only a handful of people stick at it long term. In my experience most of them do it for one reason, and that's because they love it and the animals they harmlessly shoot (mostly).

Rod Compton

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Old February 16th, 2006, 02:12 PM   #4
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Ethics of Wildlife filming

Well it looks like we are almost alone on this one Meryem, I wonder why.

Rod Compton
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Old February 16th, 2006, 03:21 PM   #5
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The difficulty you have with this thread is that with ethics its dependent from where you are coming from. First of all I wish to make it clear that I am a conservationists and in no way would I deliberately disturb, harm or manipulate wildlife to get footage, but judgeing by some of the threads here, there are hunters and probably those in between on the forum.

I maybe wrong , I'm sure there are those who will tell me so, but this forum is all about how to aquire good footage and to do so within the law (some laws that you may disagree with) and guidelines set out by some broadcasting companies (BBC being one). Equipment and how to use it etc etc.

When we talk about ethics it becomes very political (broadest sense of the term). Not to long ago many blue chipped wildlife films contained contrived scenes and sets without reference being made to it. This now is very rare.
If this is the type of ethics we are talking about great.

On the other hand if we start to criticise the filming of legal activities or filming in a legal way that I and I am sure others would find offensive, then the forum could become a sounding off board for various activists.

I think Richard is right here, tread very carefully.

Regards

Mick
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Old February 16th, 2006, 07:15 PM   #6
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it's fine with me if no one wants to chime in. i figure, if people want to talk about something, they will. i'm pretty interested in this subject and just figured this would be the place...

also, i thought it would be worth discussing in light of the recent attention wildlife films have been getting. they seem more popular than ever. penguins, grizzlies, bird migrations, etc. are drawing people to theaters like never before in recent history.

and the story behind these stories--the insane lengths that people go to get the shot--is very interesting to me. this is certainly not the only context for such a discussion, but it seemed logical at the time.

i disagree that "ethics" is this big, fat loaded term. that's cowardly. we can get into flame wars over which camera has the highest resolution, and we can't engage in a civil discussion over whether it's right to stick your lens into a birds' nest to get the shot? nonsense.

i'd like to be able to say that i've never disturbed wildlife in shooting wildlife, but it simply isn't true. the same fox that is unafraid of me when i'm out for a walk alone balks when i point an XL2 his direction. the question is the degree to which it is an acceptable practice. which i think is worth considering. i may be (nearly! thanks for chiming in rod, as the other voice in the proverbial wilderness.....) alone in thinking this way, then again perhaps not...
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Old February 16th, 2006, 07:46 PM   #7
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It's when you interact with them, as opposed to observing, that the trouble begins. Many creatures have never met a human, and every encounter changes their perception, and their reaction. If they lose the initial fear of humans, it will ultimately turn out for the worse. The grizzly man found out the hard way.
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Old February 17th, 2006, 01:07 AM   #8
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Meryem,

Your comment about the reaction of the fox to a camera pointed in its direction is interesting. I have been photographing and later videoing birds for over thirty years now, and I have always noted the frequency with which a bird which has been perched doing its own thing for some time takes to the wing the instant I get focus!

My gut feeling is that the average bird is less concerned by binoculars.

In New Zealand where all mammals are immigrants, birds seem less bothered by lenses pointed in their direction.
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Old February 17th, 2006, 01:51 AM   #9
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In my opinion, this is the single most important topic going on this site. Thanks for all your input,
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Old February 17th, 2006, 07:02 AM   #10
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Ethics of Wildlife filming

Here, here, Chris,

On Alan's point.

For someone that has done a lot of field work, nearly forty years, I have inevitably come to understand that some animals are tamer than others, and how some animals, especially birds, are more shy around nesting time. For instance, the common or garden Robin is literally tame during the winter, but come breeding time it becomes quite secretive. I started photographing birds back in the seventies and my first subject was one of the tamest of all the British woodland birds: the long tailed tit. This beautiful little creature is very confiding indeed and builds a nest which is one of the miracles of nature - a ball of lichen, hair and cobwebs. Inevitably though, when you get very close to your subjects you are bound to witness tragedies. Nature is as full of violence as it of beauty and I think one must not forget that some of the most beautiful creatures are by nature predators. I hope I am not alone here in seeing homo sapiens as part of this contextual view; our very existence inevitably endangers the environment in which we live - it is unavoidable. The issue is then not whether we do harm, it is whether we can redeem the harm we do by creating something beautiful.

On the point I was making earlier, I am convinced that an individual attracts or is attracted to his subject. There is much on record about natural tribesmen having an unconscious link with the animals that they predate as part of their daily existence. The famous cave paintings of prehistoric tribesmen are now thought to support this view. Instead of these depictions showing actual creatures, they are now thought to be of shamanistic Dreamtime objects. In this sense the depictions are anticipatory rather than retrospective. Whichever way round you put it, it means that the first art was about, either the souls of the creatures our ancestors hunted, or the creatures themselves. Distinct from many others in film making, we work very close to nature and as such our instincts are sharpened by similar influences to those in our common ancestry. I think Nature film making can be every bit as spectacular as Holywood and a lot more wholesome and informative in the process.

Rod Compton
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Old February 17th, 2006, 12:21 PM   #11
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I don't think there is anything wrong with the techniques used in winged migration. The filmmakers were completely up front about what they did. I have a much bigger problem with staged documentaries involving human subjects.
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Old February 17th, 2006, 12:33 PM   #12
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Rodney's comment about Homo sapiens inevitably endangering our environment is fair comment, but we go far beyond that!

Before the polynesians arrived New Zealand had no mammals except for two fruit eating bats. Most endemic birds were either flightless or poor fliers as they had little need for flight. The polynesians brought dogs and rats, which meant three predators.

The europeans added cats, dogs, other rats, even stoats and weasels (to try to control the rabbits we had introduced), and later the possum (for its fur). The result is that many species of native birds can now exist only on predator free off-shore islands. The black robin was down to six individuals at one stage.
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Old February 17th, 2006, 12:55 PM   #13
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In Florida, the walking catfish and here in the DC area there is a bounty for this really ugly fish that is creating havoc for the native species. (looks like a snakes head I think).

An interesting article I read last year was about a man who raised orphaned bear cubs. There was wide spread fear they would be too attached to humans and would 'visit' peoples homes for food when older. He raised them as bears, fed them like bears, interacted with them like a bear. When they were finally released, they didn't bother humans at all. The only human they would allow near them (especially when one of them had their own cubs) was the human who raised them. But they were also that way with other bears and wildlife. Animals, must like humans, can't be all bunched in generatlities.

I want to say also I support hunters and fishermans and pet owners rights. I too am a amateur conservationist and believe in a well rounded view point, not an extremist one. I am much more worried about the petroleum based toxins we are putting into the environment vs the ethics of hunting fishing or owning pets. If we don't stop there wont be anything left at all.
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Old February 17th, 2006, 02:40 PM   #14
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natives stirring

Well done guys, at least we now have a discussion

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Old February 17th, 2006, 03:46 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith Forman
It's when you interact with them, as opposed to observing, that the trouble begins. Many creatures have never met a human, and every encounter changes their perception, and their reaction. If they lose the initial fear of humans, it will ultimately turn out for the worse. The grizzly man found out the hard way.

this comment by keith points to something that i'm really curious about. is there a line drawn between humans and non-humans that should not be crossed? i mean, i've read all of the discussions about "grizzly man" on this site, and every thread contains condemnatory comments about what tim treadwell was doing--"being" the bear. the grizzly man as keith says, found out the hard way, and yet no one seems to have a problem with "winged migration" or "being caribou," where the filmmakers are similarly collapsing the category of the observer and the observed....

is the only difference that tim treadwell was consumed by his subject? how is it that one set of filmmakers are heroes and the other considered a nut when their shooting practices are in some ways so similar? and their metaphysics "be the bear"--"be the bird"--"be the caribou" are absolutely identical.

in "grizzly man," there was a native american briefly interviewed who was highly offended by what tim did, because he said it crossed a sacred line recognized by his ancestors between humans and beasts. he appeared to care less that the guy died than that his behaviors were taboo, in violation of a sacred distinction between humans and beasts.

does this even matter anymore?

if it only matters if you get munched by your subject, i.e. if it's every bear or man for himself, or, as richard says, just a matter of personal choice and not a matter of ethics at all, then perhaps the sacred line between animals and beasts is in a state of collapse in spite of what we humans do, rather than because of what we humans do. or, to put it another way, if we have no ethics regarding animals, then indeed we can't distinguish ourselves.

i like what rod said about we are what we shoot. i wonder if there is a corollary to that: we are "how" we shoot....

gives me a lot to ponder....thanks for persisting, y'all....
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