WA filmmaker Jennene Riggs is passionate about preserving the State’s increasingly fragile flora and fauna.
She is currently completing a series that focuses on conservation efforts to save our most threatened and endangered animals.
“There are still several sequences left to film. I anticipate completing all filming by the end of 2021,” she tells The Starfish.
In the 12-part series, Rewinding the West, to screen online, Jennene has joined forces with actor and wildlife-champion George Shevtsov, travelling the length and breadth of the State shooting vital programs to save our unique fauna. It will be an 8 x 12 min web series for YouTube and Facebook, freely available for all to watch and enjoy.
The camera follows George (most recently in Black Swan Theatre Company’s The Cherry Orchard ) as he volunteers his time to help conservation programs run by government departments and non-government organisations, striving to save wildlife from extinction. These bodies have set up ‘insurance populations’ on remote island arks and other mainland based sanctuaries.
The series has gained access to some fascinating and vital conservation projects. They cover the capture and release of Gilbert’s Potoroo (the world’s rarest marsupial) from Bald Island off Two Peoples Bay, onto Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago. Then there is the capture and release of several Noisy Scrub Birds on Bald Island and their release onto Mondrain Island in the archipelago.
They filmed the capture of Dibblers on Escape Island in the Jurien Bay Marine Park and the associated breeding centre at Perth Zoo. It also shows the translocation of Western Ground parrots from Cape Arid, east of Esperance, to a top secret location on the south coast. Heading north, they shot the release of Banded and Rufous Hare-Wallabies onto Dirk Hartog Island at Shark Bay as part of the ‘Return to 1616’ program.
The project has just launched a crowd-funding campaign through the Australian Cultural Fund to assist with editing and post-production.
Jennene chats to The Starfish about the series and the state of our wildlife.
What motivated you to embark on shooting the Rewilding the West series?
I’ve been making natural history documentaries for over 20 years now. It’s what I’m passionate about and I feel very strongly about the need to take care of biodiversity and the environment; it’s essential to our wellbeing and the health of the planet. I filmed and produced a documentary a few years ago called ’Secrets at Sunrise’ which was about a team of people trying to save WA’s rarest bird – the Western Ground Parrot – from extinction. During the filming for that doco I met George, when he volunteered on one of the listening surveys. We got talking and he told me about some of the other conservation programs he’s helped out on all around the state and I thought he’s such a fascinating guy! He also has this incredible laugh and an infectious passion for nature and this sort of work. So I asked him if he’d be interested in me filming him do his volunteering, and so we’ve been traipsing across the country and onto these really remote islands, filming and volunteering, for the past three years.
Do you think more Western Australians need to be more aware of the precarious plight of our many endangered and threatened species?
Absolutely. It’s why I do what I do! I don’t want to sound preachy, but I feel a lot of people have tuned-out to nature and have no idea there are so many species under threat of extinction. We have the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world in Australia. If I can raise awareness of some of these animals that are endangered, and the people working hard to protect them, then I feel like I’m helping the situation a bit. You know, its that adage – If you don’t know something (or someone) is struggling, you don’t know they need help.
How has it been working with George Shevtsov and has his passion for our flora and fauna helped shape your series?
Working with George has been amazing. He is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He’s so selfless and so compassionate, and so much fun! He’s very knowledgeable and, as he and his partner Linda lived with Aboriginal people in the desert for a decade, they’re both very in tune with the environment and how to read the the landscape.
You have covered many of WA’s most important conservation projects. Which of these do you feel most strongly about?
All conservation projects are important, but I think the ones involving threatened species and ecosystems are the most pressing. We have a short period of time to get some balance back
What have been the largest human impacts on our unique fauna and what can be done now to stop the loss of species?
Habitat loss is probably the largest impact on our fauna and flora, combined with the introduction of feral animals which compete for the remaining habitat. Feral cats and foxes in particular heavily prey on our native animals. There’s so much people can do to help stop the decline in species, but one of the most effective things they can do is to keep their cats indoors at night to stop them from hunting, and to educate themselves about native wildlife.
Which endangered/threatened animals do you think also need similar attention, but are currently not getting it?
Our native bees populations are natural pollinators of our remaining wilderness areas. Our relentless encroachment on nature and our dependence on pesticides is having a huge impact on their population and will ultimately affect our ability to produce food. More needs to be done to understand and conserve these crucially important insects.
Do you think the WA Government should devote more funds and resources to protecting our unique flora and fauna?
The WA Government funds some incredibly important conservation programs that lead the way with conservation in our state, but have been winding back funding on some projects due to a lack of resources. I’m not a very political person but my view is that the Federal Government needs to increase funding for the environment, particularly threatened species and maintaining biodiversity.
How large a role is climate change playing in the loss of wildlife, and have you been aware of this in your travels shooting the series?
Climate change is certainly having an impact on our wildlife, with increased frequency and ferocity of wildfires being very noticeable in this part of the world. The utter devastation of habitats east of Esperance which are relied upon by the western ground parrot was shocking to witness first hand when I was filming Secrets at Sunrise. It’s hard to imagine how anything could survive such intense and prolonged heat.
What remains to be done in finishing off Rewilding the West?
I need to do a bit more filming, and then we need to start the enormous task of editing it together into a series that’s engaging and educational. Theres quite an art to making sure a documentary remains factual and informative, but can also hold an audience and make them want to come back for more. I think that’s where George will really help, because he’s so entertaining to watch! Once the editing is complete we need to market and promote it widely to make sure its watched and shared by as many people as possible, and has a huge impact.
What has been the most memorable moment while shooting the series?
Camping out under the stars in some really remote places with George and the scientists conducting this work. They’re good people, my kind of people. Theres such a great community of volunteers that help out on some of these conservation programs, you meet wonderful people from all walks of life and its really special to be out in nature – away from all the distractions of modern life – getting to know them. One of the most memorable moments of filming was going to Bald Island and hearing the incredibly loud calls of noisy scrub birds around the camp site – you can’t see them but you know they’re there – you have to put earplugs in at night to sleep as its so loud!
Funding for such projects is always an issue. You have just launched a crowdfunding campaign. How can people sign up and support the series?
We’re incredibly thankful to receive seed funding from the Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group early on in the project, but have self-funded since then – filming and working on the project for the past three years – and its been a huge undertaking. You can imagine after three years there’s a lot of footage to cut together, so we’ve recently launched a crowdfund through the Australian Cultural Fund – which is a dedicated platform for Australian artists – and all donations over $2 are tax deductible. If you see merit in this project and want to see this series come to fruition, we would be extremely grateful for your support and you can donate via this link – https://cpaus.force.com/artists/s/project/a2E6F000004Ljy5/rewilding-the-west-a-documentary-series
Watch the Rewinding the West teaser…