Exploring the road to conservation filmmaking | conservation filmmaker Eilidh Munro
From working in marketing in Scotland to filming in the Amazon rainforest, Eilidh Munro shares her journey to becoming a conservation filmmaker, as well as her inspiration for her latest project, a film following the story of an illegal road currently being built in the Manu Biosphere Reserve.
What was your path to becoming a conservation filmmaker?
Before I worked full-time as a photographer and filmmaker I was working in marketing for 5 years, running the marketing department for one of Scotland’s greatest advertising agencies. That gave me a really good grounding in communications and the importance of knowing who your audience is when you’re creating work. It is equally as important to know how you want to share the message – and to who – as it is to get the image.
Was conservation filmmaking a job you spent a long time working towards?
Yes, definitely. I was trying to build up my portfolio for a few years before I got my first paid job as a photographer, and even then it was a sort of hybrid job of photography, filming and marketing for The Crees Foundation, but from their research base in the Peruvian Amazon. Before then, I had taught myself how to use my camera and take photos, then how to film and edit using Final Cut Pro x. I managed to edit a few of showreels for the agency I worked for, and would get in touch with organisations, offering to do some videos for them to build up my portfolio. Basically I spent all my free time practicing.
What influenced you into becoming a conservation filmmaker?
When I was in that period of time where I was practising and trying to do as much as I could to get a job filming, it was all about wildlife. I really wanted to be able to get the classic wildlife pictures you see in magazines. Once I started to get technically better, and getting closer to that type of shot, I stopped being so excited by just the superficial element. Instead, I started thinking more about the story; about how I could describe what the animal was doing, how I was able to get the shot and the risks facing the species. At the time I was working for The Crees Foundation and promoting my work through their voice and social media. Seeing people react, comment or tag others on a conservation-leaning post made me feel so excited; like my work was making a difference, at least for Crees. So I sort of transitioned from wanting to capture the natural world to wanting to capture the natural world through the lens of conservation issues and solutions.
What inspired your latest project?
The project is following the story of a road which is being illegally built through the Manu Biosphere Reserve, where our team have worked for a few years now.
It’s an extremely complex situation because the road is being built by local, indigenous people, which comes as a bit of a surprise to many who initially presume it’s the work of big business. The road will undoubtedly threaten the region environmentally and culturally, however there are also many valid reasons why people want it to be built; whether it’s for better connection to healthcare, to the market or to improved education. These stories are very translatable to anyone’s life, no matter where you live. However, they are also varied and complex, as many other living within Manu don’t want the road and nor do they believe it will bring the desired benefits.
We felt inspired to give a platform to these voices, to explore the likelihood that this road will bring all that it promises and to try and unearth any solutions for how the road’s impact could be managed.
How do you look after your camera gear in the rainforest?
The most important thing is to try to keep your equipment as dry as possible at all times: in the jungle, dry bags and silica gel are everyone’s two best friends. No matter how tired you are after a day filming, it’s crucial that you clean everything and store it safely or else it could break or start growing fungus (I’ve been there!).
Best and worst memories working in the rainforest.
My best memory would have to be when I finally found and filmed spider monkeys after trying for months. I was trekking 10km every day for about five weeks, aiming to film spider monkeys feeding in the Crees mammal clay lick, until one day I finally met a large group going down to feed and calling from trees. It was the most rewarding and exciting moment, as I felt the waiting, trekking and perseverance had paid off. However, it also was completely representative of life and work in the jungle, because whilst it was amazing to find the monkeys, my lens then completely steamed up from the humidity for about 20 minutes and I couldn’t film anything. So those 20 minutes were some of the worst and most frustrating moments of working in the rainforest, but thereafter was one of the most amazing experiences!
How does your most recent film success make you feel?
My first short doc, A Rainforest Reborn, which captures the aforementioned spider monkey feeding behaviour, is being screened at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York, which is really exciting and makes me feel really proud and amazed. You spend so long on a project like that, and get really close to it, so it’s amazing that other people will see it, and at such a great festival.
What are your future career aspirations?
Short term it’s hard to think past the projects I’m working on because you get so close to them and don’t have a lot of time to think ahead.
Long term – but not that long hopefully – I would love to work on productions with the likes of the BBC’s Natural History Unit. Recently, shows like Blue Planet 2 have been combining incredible wildlife footage with a strong and direct conservation story, and taken this to a huge audience. For me, these films are a really powerful way of communicating conservation messages and it’s great to see this coming through in those programmes. That is something I’d love to be a part of.