Today we speak to our friends at NHU Africa, a wildlife documentary production company based in South Africa. We find out all their latest news, their thoughts on the future of wildlife television and film, and get some advice on what it takes to make it in this competetive industry.
Into the Wild: What does NHU Africa do?
NHU Africa: NHU Africa (The Natural History Unit Africa) commissions and co-produces natural history documentaries that focus on telling African stories for both local and international broadcasters. We also look for unique and compelling stories that create an interest in the natural world and carry positive environmental messages.
Into the Wild: NHU Africa has various initiatives. Tell us about your involvement in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Wild Talk Africa Film Festival Conference, and the Wildlife Film Academy.
NHU Africa: We have the license to exhibit The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition here in South Africa. It is owned by the Natural History museum and the BBC magazine in the UK and we are lucky to have it on our shores every year. It is a wonderful collection of 100 or so of the world’s best wildlife images that we exhibit here at the Iziko natural History Museum (in Cape Town), who partner with us in the event. The exhibition attracts over 60,000 visitors every year and has been running for several years in SA, with the imagery being nothing short of breath-taking!
We have also made an exciting change to the Wildlife Film Academy, moving it to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, which is arguably the best venue in the world for Wildlife filmmaking.
Finally we have the Wild Talk Africa Film Festival and conference. This is a biennial event that can be considered one of the main wildlife film festivals in the world and certainly the biggest in the Southern hemisphere.
Into the Wild: What can we expect from the future of wildlife film in general? Are there fresh topics to visit, or is it all about revisiting issues/species with new technologies?
NHU Africa: Natural history programming is in an interesting place at the moment. We have seen a move away from ‘blue chip’ programming (this is the ‘pure’ natural history – animals only programming) because it has a very high production cost and is difficult and takes time to make. Only broadcasters like BBC NHU can afford to produce this kind of programming. Television broadcasters are also moving more towards entertainment led programming, and this can be seen in the natural history genre with the addition of human-animal interaction adventure programmes like the Steven Irwin type shows. As a whole we are seeing the genre move away from education towards entertainment.
Into the Wild: What has been NHU Africa’s most successful production?
NHU Africa: Thus far we have seen a lot of interest around Into the Dragon’s Lair, a Foster Brothers co-production that follows photographer Roger Horrocks into never before seen underwater crocodile lairs in the Okavango. This film was a ground-breaking achievement and spawned follow-ons Touching the Dragon and our newest 3D offering Dragon’s Feast 3D. We have also enjoyed success with our in-house series Cheetah Diaries, and season four is now in production.
Into the Wild: What does NHU Africa look for when giving a commission for a new wildlife film?
NHU Africa: NHU Africa looks for strong, African based stories that speak to the connections between people, animals and the natural world. We are not looking for proposals focusing anywhere other than Africa and we are not looking for issues, thesis’ or lectures. We are looking for powerful, entertaining, unusual and dramatic stories that provide an insight into the natural world and our place within it.
Into the Wild: You recently collaborated with Frontier on our Wildlife Filmmaking Competition. What would be your advice to anyone looking to get into the business?
NHU Africa: It is not an easy industry to get into, so passion and perseverance are necessities. However it also helps to know what one wants to do; be it filming, editing, producing, directing or otherwise. A strong candidate would have a basic understanding off all of these elements and the drive to get out there and do it. But the best starting block in my mind would be developing the skills needed by doing a wildlife filmmaking course, such as the Wildlife Film Academy or the University of West England’s course.
Into the Wild: Any exciting news that you'd like to share?
NHU Africa: One of our latest productions Paseka - The Easter Elephant (An amazing story of survival by one young elephant, who is forced to find a new herd and home) just won an award at the International Wildlife Film Festival for its conservation message. We have also entered several of our films into Wildscreen, which happens in Bristol this October. So anyone in the UK interested in wildlife film should make an effort to be there!