From shooting on the busy streets of Jakarta to traveling to the remote beaches and villages of Papua, following research scientists and integrating with the locals and filming their daily lives, my overall experience working with the NX 70U was great. Size, weight and its unique design enabled me to travel as light as possible, and get full coverage in a diverse range of environments without drawing much, if any, attention.
For instance, at a market in the town of Manokwari, Papua, I filmed the illegal sale of leatherback turtle meat and eggs. Then, when a live juvenile Olive Ridley turtle was produced and prepped for slaughter, I filmed the interactions between turtle research scientists and local fishermen. Thankfully the intervention lead to the fisherman agreeing to release the turtle and we went out on a boat and returned it to the ocean. A nice rounded story…this was documentary filmmaking!
After a bumpy 5-hour speedboat ride from Manokwari, we arrived at the remote Jamursba-Medi Beach, which is one of the main nesting beaches for leatherback turtles.
The locals hunt daily in the forest for deer and wild pig, which along with fish are their source of protein and income. Only locals are allowed to take from these forests. They hunt both actively with spears and passively by laying traditional traps. And while on the subject of wild animals, destruction of turtle nests by wild pigs and wild dogs is a major conservation problem. Predation of this kind is very difficult to control and in some high predation zones an electric fence has been placed at the edge of the forest and the nests are protected with netting. But a hungry animal is difficult to outsmart.
The Hunt is On
I joined three pre-teen boys – Robert, Nimrod and Titus on their hunt. Just before venturing into the humid, bug-infested forests of Papua I was warned about touching the various poisonous plants, even with my clothes, as it would create nasty blisters that require hospitalization. Great, that’s all I needed to hear miles from anywhere. Fully covered from head to toe, and with camera set to “active steadyshot,” I followed the parang (machete) wielding bare-footed boys and their hunting dogs through the jungle. During filming I could not always discern the poisonous from non-poisonous quickly, but the boys kept an eye on me and hacked at the lethal vegetation in my path with their parang. This was the first time I had been in a jungle like this and it was a humbling experience being among such lush dense vegetation – in “all natural surround sound!” To my relief, nothing was caught that morning. I wasn’t mentally ready to film an animal being slaughtered – something that in this environment is a way of life. Later, I witnessed the skill with which the animals are skinned and dismembered. But on this day, it was a fun morning and I let the boys take turns with the camera to film us swinging from a vine over a river. I will always remember the boys’ laughter as they watched themselves play back on the LCD screen.
A few days later I followed Bernadus, an experienced hunter, back into the forest and filmed him set traditional traps made from rope tied to a tree branch, which he’d cut and jabbed into the ground and set under tension. It’s a really ingenious system that has been used for generations. Father of six, he is now very involved in the leatherback conservation program.
At night the beach monitors and research scientists patrol the beaches. Walking 12 miles a night, I filmed endangered leatherback sea turtles nesting and research scientists collecting data on these giant ancient creatures (averaging 6-feet long and about 1600 lbs). During a late afternoon patrol, I was lucky enough to also stumble upon hatchling tracks. Following the tracks up the beach lead me to a hatched nest, and I filmed the final two hatchlings emerge and disappear into the ocean.
It takes the keen eye of an experienced beach patroller to see a nesting leatherback in the dark, and typically you will only know a turtle has emerged by the deep rhythmic tracks embedded in the sand. With headlamps turned off, we walked in the dark near the waterline where the sand sometimes slightly firmer and easier to walk on. Higher up the beach is the nesting zone – a no walk zone. When a fresh track was identified, a beach patroller crept up slowly to the animal keeping a low profile while the rest of the team waited behind. Once the turtle starts to dig the nest, it goes into a trance of sorts and it becomes more approachable and less likely to be spooked. Filming infra red with the NX 70U is only effective at a 3-5 feet distance to the subject, so I had to go in close (turtle breath is not fresh). I have to admit, being up close to a leatherback is always an amazing experience and their nesting process is mesmerizing to watch. I feel privileged to have witnessed this incredible event and share my experiences through film.
Music in the videos composed by Tracy Bartel.
Disclaimer: All gear mentioned in this blog has been purchased by me. I have no affiliation or financial interest with any of the manufacturers mentioned and the opinions expressed are solely from my personal experiences.