Imagine spending 2 months alone in the jungle without any human contact to photograph and film wild jaguars. Dan O’Neil, a Zoologist, Wildlife Filmmaker and Explorer, who grew up between Oxford and rural California, has always craved to know as much as possible about wildlife across the world. This is what lead him to study zoology, travel to some of the most beautiful and remote places left on earth and to pursue a career in wildlife filmmaking.
With thousands of young people standing up across the world to protect our climate which governs our mature ecosystems, it’s individuals such a Dan who are making sure young creatives are able to have a platform to share their creative content centered around the world's natural species, whose futures are in serious jeopardy.
Dan’s goal is to use film as a medium to make people as excited and protective as he is about our natural world. With Wilderland we now feel there is that platform.
What does travel mean for you?
What excites me about travel is the feeling of meeting new cultures, experiencing new tastes and of course the wildlife - but more than anything else, I travel to explore. The feeling of going somewhere almost no-one has been before is one I can’t even describe.
What are your must see’s & do’s when trippin around the world?
The ancient Mayans grew fruit trees around their cities and now generations later, aggregations of howler and spider monkeys can be seen all around you from the tops of the ruins, just like from the top of Structure I at Calakmul, Mexico.
Walking through the food markets in Luang Prabang, Laos is a symphony for the senses and there is nothing better than to have a dinner journey tasting everything in one night.
Apart from your phone and passport, what are your travel essentials?
Binoculars, insect repellent and a very sturdy pair of wellies. My favourite camera to bring is a trusty Sony FS5 - hasn’t failed me yet and makes a fantastic image. Also love my Canon 70D and nifty little GoPro. A light panel is a must and so is a good quality mic. Good sound beats good picture, and there’s nothing better than the ambience of the rainforest.
What’s the most memorable trip you’ve been on?
The most incredible experiences of my life have been in Guyana, from traveling down the incredible Linden Lethem trail that cuts straight through the interior to flying in a six seater bush plane and landing in an Amerindian village, it feels like a true lost world. Nothing however compares to spending the best part of two months traveling by canoe down the remote tributaries of the Rewa river and seeing a wild jaguar for the first time. That was possibly the best moment of my life.
How would you describe Guyana to someone who’s never been?
If you’ve always dreamed of exploration, don’t mind having few creature comforts and wish to see every single star in the galaxy when you look up from your hammock at night, there is no place better on Earth than the interior of Guyana.
For those who don’t know, what’s Wilderland Festival all about?
As the UK’s first-ever touring wildlife film festival, Wilderland shines a light on some astonishing and thought-provoking stories - filmed by a host of independent international filmmakers.
Our judges, including renowned camera operator Doug Allan (The Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Frozen Planet), naturalist and author Stephen Moss (Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival, Springwatch), and producer/director Louise Heren (Big Cat Diaries) have chosen films that will take audiences on a journey through the world’s most enigmatic wildlife; from a film exploring how the mercurial Snow Leopard and Himalayan communities co-exist, to the diminishing population of Orangutans in Borneo, to the impact of noise-pollution in our seas on the majestic humpback whale and many more.
Audiences also have the opportunity to support the effort to save some of our planet's most endangered species. At each show, the audience are invited to vote for one of five endangered species identified by our corresponding Wildlerlight Campaign. Votes will be counted each night and, at the end of the tour, the team will embark on a journey to make a film about the most voted-for species, raising awareness of its plight and encouraging support for grassroots charities working to help them. The resulting film will be premiered at next years festival and funded by a percentage of our profits.
Nowadays, the story of the natural world includes the beauty and the loss, due to human development, overfishing, deforestation and climate change. How does Wilderland aim to shine line of these problems?
The majority of wildlife film festivals are targeted inward at the industry. So very often brilliant and important independent films are not seen by the general public. As a public facing touring film festival, we're in a unique position to take these films and their messages to a far wider audience without the commissioning constraints imposed in broadcasting.
Our planet is at a crossroads, we want as many people as possible to feel connected to the solution to issues related to human development and climate change.
In less than 50 years, we’ve seen an overall decline of 60% in population sizes of vertebrate species. Can you tell me a little bit more about how the Wilderlight campaign is combatting this?
Every year Wilderland selects five species all in some way in trouble - that have been left in the dark and will campaign for each of these species to develop awareness and bring them into the light. After the festival attendees vote on their favourite, Wilderland travels directly to the chosen species' home to make a short film about their conservation story. With this, we as a community can share and spread the word about these animals and every single one of us can be part of the change. We dedicate 10% of Wilderland’s profits to the Wilderlight Campaign, and this directly goes into producing the film each year.
This years WilderLight ‘Champions’ can be found on our website!
You’ve managed to get some impressive people on board, especially your judging panel. Tell us about the process of starting up your own festival.
For us it was very much seeing a gap in the market, wanting someone to fill it and realising we should just go for it ourselves. When myself and Isaac Rice founded the company, we were studying wildlife filmmaking and working in the industry. This put us in the perfect position with so many supportive and excited people around us to launch. People are reaching a much greater state of ‘conservation awareness’ and through which are looking for ways to make their mark - so when we approached our judges, they were as excited as us to be part of our dream!
We are all-hands-on-deck at the moment getting ready for our tour but we have lots of other projects happening alongside.
Recently I returned from a two-month expedition into the deep Amazon, where I directed and presented a mini-series about the search for a wild rainforest jaguar.
Isaac, my business partner, is working on Digital content for the BBC Natural History Unit.
My short film, ‘To Find a Harpy’, about the world’s most powerful bird of prey – the harpy eagle – is currently in festivals internationally.
And finally, The Wilderland team will also be heading to make a mini-series in Vietnam for YouTube in early September to be released whilst we are on tour, which we are super excited about!