Winner of Green Oscar Awards Ashwika Kapur won the award for the wildlife documentary Sirocco – How a Dud Became A Stud at the annual Wildscreen Film Festival held at Bristol, UK. Sirocco, being the only bird with a Government job, stands for conservation in New Zealand. While finishing her Masters in Science & Natural History Filmmaking, Ashwika Kapur decided to make a documentary which led her to win the Panda Awards.
highlights of this episode
- Right after her graduation from St. Xavier’s Kolkata she left for Africa to pursue her dream of being a wildlife filmmaker.
- Exploring the savage setting of the African rainforests and debacling with the tigers from the wild.
- Finding places on Earth to be like real life ‘Avatar’.
- Sir David Attenborough being one of her inspirations in filmmaking.
quotes and takeaways
- “Pick a profession you love, give it your absolute best, and success will follow.”
- “Everything from the fecund smell of green, to the unimaginable cacophony of insects, birds and animals that resound through the forest, draws you into a world like none other.”
You packed your bags to leave for Africa right after you finished graduation. Can you tell us how your childhood years influenced your pathway as a wildlife filmmaker?
I’ve always been a lover of animals. When I was four, my unsuspecting parents didn’t realize that the little duckling I brought home would be the beginning of a mini sanctuary of rescued and adopted animals in their 12th floor apartment. That’s how I fell in love with animals. A few years later, much to the disapproval of stern school authority, I became a child actor in Calcutta. Having spent many years of my childhood on the sets, I fell in love with cinema. Post-college, when it was time to decide upon a career, I followed my heart, put my two loves together, and emphatically declared that I was going to be a wildlife filmmaker. And with that decision, I abandoned all things conventional, and tumbled into a life of unimaginable fulfillment.
Can you tell us about the background of your latest film “Sirocco”? How was the experience of making this documentary?
I was in New Zealand finishing my post graduation in a very niche and specialised field of study: Science & Natural History Filmmaking. What I was looking for was a positive conservation story which was not only unique and never-told-before, but also one that would educate, inspire and most importantly entertain the audience. While researching ideas I came across a very rare species of bird called the Kakapo. There are only 125 Kakapo Parrots left on Planet Earth today. Indeed, that itself is a conservation story but what makes matters more fun, is that one Kakapo among the 125 is convinced he’s a human being. His name is Sirocco and he’s the only bird in the World with a Government Job! Sirocco’s lifestory is hilariously amusing, and at the same time it represents the immensely challenging conservation history of the species. So here I was, with the perfect script that would teach the audiences about Kakapo conservation through a delightful rags-to-riches story about a superstar bird.
What has been the most interesting experience in your journey so far?
Well my first experience in the wild was quite a classic. I stepped foot in the southern hemisphere for the first time, to begin my training as a wildlife filmmaker. My very first hour in the bush set the tone for the thrillingly unpredictable career I was about to embark upon.
After a four-hour and very rocky ride from the airport to a reserve situated in the Limpopo Province South Africa, we reached camp, full of irrepressible energy to leap out of the vehicle and explore the savage setting that was to be home for the next month. But about half an hour later, I realised that in my eagerness to get going, I had left a bag behind in the car, which was parked at a 5-minute walk from the campsite. So while the rest of the group mingled and mixed with the rangers in the tent area, I naively decided to take an unaccompanied walk back to the parking lot to fetch my bag.
This wasn’t the cleverest of ideas, as this ‘car park’ was nothing but a small clearing in the midst of thick African bush land, as feral and accessible towildlife as any other part of the grasslands that surrounded it.
I climbed into the car to fetch my forgotten bag, climbed out of the car, and leisurely traipsed back to campsite, to find a ranger animatedly giving instructions to the rest of the group. Having wandered off, I had missed most of it, so I walked up to this ranger and asked if there was some important instruction I needed to get, to which he casually replied –
“Oh no, it wasn’t too important, I was just telling the folks not to go to the car park right now, ‘cause one of the male lions is sleeping under a car”.
I went white in the face and informed him where I had just been. He looked at me, smiled and simply said,“Welcome to Africa”.
What are the most memorable incidents which you recall when thinking about the rainforests of Borneo?
Rainforests are the most magical places on Earth, as far as I’m concerned! Everything from the fecund smell of green, to the unimaginable cacophony of insects, birds and animals that resound through the forest, draws you into a world like none other. But the incident I remember best happened during a night adventure. A couple of us were on a night trek in an absolutely pristine rainforest in borneo, surrounded by the outlandishly magical smells and sounds of the forest after dark. Our guide, a local man, lead us to a point and then surprisingly asked us to put our torches off. We assumed he wanted us to enjoy the dark forest, so we did. Slowly, as our eyes got accustomed to the dark I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Out of nowhere we were standing in an area full of green, glow-in-the-dark, luminescent fungus. It surrounded the base of trees and the whole area was glowing green like a scene straight out of an enchanted forest in a fairy-tale. It was real-life Avatar!
What documentaries have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Well the documentaries I like best are the ones that tell a story. Not the one’s that are simply a compilation of beautiful shots. Of course, in that respect, the big, blue-chip BBC & Sir David Attenborough documentaries have had a huge impact on me, but so have some amazingly well made independent films. My life as a Turkey was one of them. So was Green. Both Panda award winners.
What advice would you give our readers who wants to have a life making films?
Whether it’s filmmaking or anything else, I have a simple bit of advice: Pick a profession you love, give it your absolute best, and success will follow. Any artistic career comes with its own set of hardships, but if you’ve got it in you to be a fantastic filmmaker, take the challenges in your stride and go tell that story that’ll touch the world. I assure you, the payoff always makes the effort worth it. Good luck!