“Status Wild”, a documentary about Rhodope Mountains goes live

Brilliant 15-minute film showcases the efforts of the Rewilding Rhodopes team and their work with Konik horses.  

Earlier this year, two talented Dutch university students – Joanne Landman and Jamie-Lee Bal – travelled to Rewilding Europe’s rewilding area in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria. They were there to make a documentary about the pioneering efforts of the Rewilding Rhodopes team, who together with partners are working hard to have the area’s growing herd of Konik horses legally recognised as wild animals. The result is “Status Wild”, a stunning short documentary recently made available to view on YouTube:

Rewilding Europe caught up with Joanne and Jamie-Lee – before the pair took a well-earned holiday – to ask them a few questions about their film-making experience.

Can you briefly introduce yourselves?

We are Jamie-Lee Bal and Joanne Landman, two girls born in Woerden and Hilversum in the central Netherlands. We have both just received our bachelor’s degree in communication & multimedia design from Avans University of Applied Sciences in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. We can now officially call ourselves multimedia designers! During our studies we learned about graphic design, marketing, communication and how to build websites, apps and games. But for us, the best part was making videos. After making the Status Wild documentary we hope to be able to continue as Jamie & Joanne Films, combining filming and travelling, all over the world.

Why did you choose the Status Wild project as the subject of your documentary? Are you both nature lovers?

For our graduation project we wanted to go abroad, combining our passion for film with our love for nature and people with a passion for their job. Although we haven’t studied anything related to nature, we both love to be surrounded by nature and to discover new places. Through our film we wanted to contribute to a better world. This is why we e-mailed a whole range of organisations connected with nature and volunteering across Europe. When ARK Nature replied and mentioned wild horses running through the mountains, we imagined the drone shots and were immediately sold!

Can you tell me a little about the timescale of your documentary making. When did you decide that you wanted to visit the Rhodopes, and how long did it take from that point until the videos were finished? 

We started our project with research in the Netherlands. In the middle of March we finally moved to Bulgaria where we stayed for three months. During that time we travelled into the field with people from the Rewilding Rhodopes team to capture the amazing wildlife and nature of the Rhodope Mountains. We had our own car, so we spent almost every day outside filming. On rainy days most of our time was spent inside editing. At the end, especially the last 10 days in Sofia, we were mostly editing the final documentary.

You interviewed some Dutch people about wild nature in one of your videos. Did their views surprise you?

Yes we did. It was really interesting, but also a bit shocking. When we asked people on the streets about their idea of wild animals, most of them thought of zoos and animals living in the jungle. Not a lot of people mentioned the wild animals of Europe. This was one more reason for us to spread the message about wild nature in Europe!

Is this the first time that you’ve created a documentary on a project involving wild nature? What were some of the challenges (personal and technical) that you had to overcome? What did you learn from the experience?

This was our first time filming in wild nature. Before this project we had mostly made corporate videos, so wildlife videography was a new challenge for us. During our time in Bulgaria we learned a huge amount about how to film in nature, but also about ourselves and each other. We became a good team.

Besides not being able to direct the horses and having to practice patience in a wildlife hide waiting for vultures, the filming experience was also new to us on a technical level. One week before travelling to Bulgaria, Jamie bought a drone. It was the first time that we had used this kind of video equipment, so we had to practice a lot.

One time when flying the drone in the mountains the signal was lost and the screen turned black. We thought we would never see the drone again, but luckily the signal came back and we landed it as soon as possible! To ensure we didn’t  disturb the animals and birds, we always flew the drone at places where it was safe to fly, and far away from breeding nests. The result was some amazing shots that really upgrade the quality of our documentary.

What are your plans now for this documentary? Are you submitting it for competitions?

We have published our documentary on YouTube and Facebook for the whole world to see. The speed which we’ve reached 1000 views on Facebook and the number of people sharing our video has really surprised us. It’s incredible!

We have submitted “Status Wild” to several film festivals, including the Mind the Indie Film Festival in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It would be great if we could win the student competition. But it is all quite new to us, so we will see what happens.

What would you say to other young people thinking of making a documentary about wild nature, or involved in another wild nature-based media project? Any words of advice or encouragement?

Just go and do it! Switch your mindset from working 9 to 5 to nature’s clock! When you’re in your new workplace, surrounded by wildlife and nature, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Having experienced this project in the Rhodopes, what are your personal views on rewilding?

For our documentary we conducted many interviews with people involved in the Status Wild project. We spoke to people who put their heart and soul into nature conservation and rewilding. During these interviews we learned so much about biodiversity, the mosaic landscape, and the importance of rewilding. Everything and everyone is connected in nature, and it is up to humans to restore some missing pieces so we can have complete nature again. We are really inspired by the rewilding message, and hope to inspire others with our documentary too.

Do you know about any of the other pilot areas of Rewilding Europe? If so, are there any of our other areas or wild nature projects that you’d like to cover in the future?

Yes, we know that Rewilding Europe currently has seven other rewilding areas in Europe. This was our first time filming wildlife, but we absolutely loved it. The experience of contributing to such an inspiring project like Status Wild by making a short documentary was amazing. To have the opportunity to capture more wild nature projects with the rewilding message in the future would be a dream come true. So if you ever need a video about any of these projects, we’d love to help!

“Status Wild” was commissioned by ARK Nature, a partner of Rewilding Europe.

More information on the Konik horse is available in the Rewilding Horses in Europe document, and also here.

Blog entries express the views and opinions of their authors, which might not always fully overlap with those of Rewilding Europe.

Daniel Allen

Rewilding Europe's Writer and Editor, Freelance Journalist and Photographer

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