Follow us behind the scenes with Mariah Wilson, filmmaker of the 'Silent Forests'
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WE MET WITH THE FILMMAKER. HERE'S WHAT WE LEARNED.
Here we have Mariah Wilson, director of film 'Silent Forests' an intimate, character-driven portrait of conservationists and activists who are struggling to stop forest elephant poaching in Africa's Congo Basin region.
Saturday, Sept 28
Who are you?
I’m a Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker who has worked in non-fiction TV, film, and digital for the past fifteen years. I started making documentaries because I love learning new things. Every time I get involved in producing new content, it's like getting a crash course on a different subject. In my career so far, I've learned about subjects ranging from tunnel building mega-tools to Tokyo truck driver subcultures. I've filmed at 12,000 feet above sea level in the remote Andes, and 70 feet below sea level in Fiji. And I've loved every second of immersion into whatever story I am telling. I continue to make documentaries because I love sharing what I've learned with others.
Aside from work, I’m a big scuba diving enthusiast - I try to get underwater as often as I can. It’s a whole incredible world down there, and so much of it remains a mystery to us still. I also volunteer doing animal rescue around New York City, mostly spay/neuter and adoption of stray cats. But you’d be hard pressed to find an animal I don’t like… that’s why I gravitate towards wildlife stories in my filmmaking. You can see more about my work here: https://www.mariahewilson.com/
What inspired you to create this film? what was the production process like?
In 2015 I completed a short documentary about rhino poaching in India, and decided I wanted to take on directing a feature about poaching. But I wanted to find an aspect of the global poaching crisis that wasn’t being told by other filmmakers. I had seen a lot of good media coverage about the elephant poaching epidemic in the eastern and southern regions of Africa – but that was mostly talking about savanna elephants. Those are the large and very iconic elephants that are in the open plains and grasslands across the continent. As I began to dig in further, I realized there was much less attention being paid to the plight of the forest elephants in Central Africa.
Forest elephants are a very important and wonderful sub-species; they help shape the forest ecosystem and are vital to its health and existence. But they seemed to be getting mostly ignored in news and documentary coverage at that time, and their population was - and still is - being hit really hard by poaching for ivory trafficking. I had already read about Sidonie Asseme, the female eco-guard in Cameroon, in a WWF newsletter a few years earlier. I realized she was working in the same area where these threatened forest elephants lived. Then I began reading about other bold conservation efforts in the area, like LAGA’s Wildlife Law Enforcement model and Arthur Sniegon’s sniffer dog team…. It all started coming together. This was the under-resourced region I wanted to focus on, and the overlooked species I wanted to highlight: forest elephants in central Africa.
What is home to you?
I’m originally from Miami, but moved up to New York City almost exactly 20 years ago. After leaving Miami I’ve since developed a real deep love and appreciation for my hometown and home state (although it always seems to disappoint me during national elections.) But South Florida was a very special place to grow up, especially where flora and fauna are concerned. I had lizards running around my backyard next to the avocado, mango, and palm trees; a small alligator even once found its way into the pond in front of my house! I love visiting Florida and kayaking on its rivers or walking through its wetlands. The bird, reptile, and marine biodiversity is just spectacular. But I now consider myself a New Yorker with pride, and could see staying in the city for the rest of my life. Its energy, vibrancy and diversity really can’t be overstated. I’ve made a home for myself here that I truly love, even on days when I’m cursing the subway’s dysfunction or the traffic congestion.
But as much as I value having a stable home base with lots of close friends, I love getting out of the city too. I’m a pretty voracious world traveler – 92 countries across six continents, and counting! My goal is to see every country in the world in my lifetime if I can. I love immersing myself in new places, observing different cultures, and seeing all the unique wildlife around the world. At the end of the day, the planet we live on is home for all of us - the more you see of it, the more you can understand and appreciate it, and want to take care of it. I know I’m very lucky to have seen as much of it as I have, and I’m excited to continue the exploration.
CALL TO ACTION:
I’ve been encouraging people in our audiences to visit our film’s website, to learn more about how to support the conservationists featured in the film: https://silentforests.com/fea. All the people we filmed with are incredibly hard working and resourceful, but it’s definitely a lot of grassroots efforts with very low funding. Any bit given can really go a long way!
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