Search
Menu

Into the wild: Global Seminar explores science through an artistic lens

Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 2019 in the Holly and Henry Wendt, Class of 1955, Global Seminar “Documentary Filmmaking in Kenya: Techniques in Visual Storytelling on Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation,” undergraduates — some of whom have never before picked up a video camera — will be trained in digital video production, screenwriting and editing to produce short documentaries.
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 2019 in the Holly and Henry Wendt, Class of 1955, Global Seminar “Documentary Filmmaking in Kenya: Techniques in Visual Storytelling on Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation,” undergraduates — some of whom have never before picked up a video camera — will be trained in digital video production, screenwriting and editing to produce short documentaries.

Co-taught by Katie Carpenter, a 1979 Princeton graduate and a wildlife documentary filmmaker, and Daniel Rubenstein, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and director of the Program in Environmental Studies, the seminar will guide students to search for answers to two questions: How can the art of film advance the causes of science? How do communities use media to support their environmental activism?

“My hope is that the students will experience the story of conservation in Kenya in a way that completely motivates them to take that story home and tell everyone they know,” said Carpenter, who has produced films and television programs for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, PBS and the BBC.

The seminar was first taught in the summer of 2013 — then titled “Documentary Filmmaking in Kenya: The Art of Science Storytelling,” — from the base camp at Mpala Research Centre, a partnership among Princeton, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service. That summer, Carpenter co-taught the course with Su Friedrich, a professor of visual arts in the Lewis Center for the Arts and a filmmaker, who, in collaboration with the Princeton Atelier, was instrumental in making the initial seminar possible, Carpenter explained.

Carpenter and Friedrich, in developing the syllabus, asked students to not only engage with international development issues in Africa — water, wildlife, agriculture and land use — but also consider how best to communicate about them through video, especially to “audiences who don’t care about Africa, who don’t care about wildlife,” Carpenter said. “The students really grabbed that. I was impressed.”

Upon the completion of the course, the students’ short films premiered at the Storymoja Hay Festival at the Nairobi National Museum, and were screened in Princeton at the Garden Theatre. (They can also be viewed online. "Lost Boys of Laikipia," produced during the 2013 seminar, can be viewed below.)

Brady Valashinas, a freelance filmmaker and editor based in the Los Angeles area and a 2014 Princeton graduate, took the seminar the summer after his junior year. The anthropology major directly credits his Global Seminar experience to his post-Princeton career trajectory. “[The seminar] was life changing for me,” he said. “It was the first time I thought to myself that this [filmmaking] was a career and something I could spend my life doing.” After graduation, Valashinas was a Princeton in Asia Fellow in Bangsak, Thailand, and then earned a master's degree in wildlife filmmaking from the University of the West of England in Bristol.

Valashinas is now returning to Kenya this summer to assist with the course. “It’s really humbling,” he said. “It’s really amazing to be able to return to the place and to the course that had so much impact on me. To be at Katie’s side and to be able to ignite a spark like I had in another student is such an incredible promise.” 

As during the 2013 seminar, filming will entail trips into the field, interviewing and recording. Film screenings, readings and discussions will complement weekly guest lectures by Africa-based filmmakers and journalists who have filmed a documentary or written articles about scientific issues such as desertification and endangered wildlife or about entrepreneurial tribal projects and the work by community activists on environmental issues. “Dan [Rubenstein] will bring wildlife biology and evolutionary ecology into the classroom, and lead students on excursions to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya,” said Carpenter. 

Carpenter called the Kenya seminar visionary. “The need to tell these stories [now] is so great,” she said. “Wildlife has always been an ‘in’ to telling stories about Africa, especially for those who don’t understand the complicated geopolitical and socioeconomic issues of the continent. Wildlife is a story of hope, and telling the stories of wildlife can bring a lot of support to villagers, farmers and tribespeople and everyone who is fighting to save Africa.”

PIIRS Global Seminars are held over six weeks in June, July and August. Since the program was launched in 2007 by PIIRS in collaboration with the Office of International Programs, more than 800 students have taken part in 56 Global Seminars in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Europe, the Near East and South America. Participating students earn credits for one University course.

Learn more about Global Seminars and apply to “Documentary Filmmaking in Kenya.” The course runs from June 12 to July 26, 2019, and will be hosted at Mpala Research Centre. The application deadline is Dec. 14, 2018. “Documentary Filmmaking in Kenya” is co-sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Institute.

 

Lost boys of Lakipia 5:48