We are wildlife filmmakers who are curious about the impact of our craft on environmental protection. The increasing number of wildlife filmmakers and films, and the increasing popularity of our work, may come at the expense of poor coverage of environmental emergencies, such as the current, staggering loss of biodiversity, and the growing impacts of climate change. Time is short to address these urgent problems. Our films have to do more to inspire people to act, otherwise it is hard to justify the high carbon footprint of wildlife filmmaking.
Most broadcasters judge the success of their programmes by the size and satisfaction of their audiences, so traditional outlets rarely commission ‘doom and gloom’ programmes about environmental problems. Nevertheless, the growing public awareness that time is short is reflected in the increasing popularity of hard-hitting films such as Seaspiracy, which demonstrates that online streaming services have been more willing than traditional broadcasters to promote these programmes. Wildlife films are slowly changing. Their representation of environmental emergencies may alter people’s attitudes towards nature, but it is rare to be certain that this translates into real-world action.
In this Perspective piece we explore why so few wildlife films include much of the environmental context to the stories they cover, and how filmmakers risk misleading their audiences into believe that everything is fine, by focussing on the few remaining wilderness areas. Impact producers are starting to ensure that some wildlife films now have measurable impacts, particularly those made to support environmental campaigns.
As well as satisfying large audiences, we believe that the success of wildlife television programmes should be judged by asking whether they make a real difference to protecting nature.
We hope researchers will be interested in collaborating with broadcasters and filmmakers on new ways to assess the impact of our films.