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Durrells Underhogs tells the story of an ignored species — Pygmy hog

Ramna Walia

The film's cinematographer, Shaz Syed, spoke to Cinestaan.com about the reasons of making the film, and why such ignored species should be brought to limelight.

Shaz Syed and Rao Narendra Yadav

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has been working to save certain species from extinction for years through a network of wildlife conservationists. Their interest lies specifically with species often overlooked by mainstream conservation programs, species that are “too small to be seen and heard — the underdog species”, declares their website.

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Daniel Craven’s Durrells Underhogs tells the story of one such species — the smallest pig in the world. Craven, Durrell’s volunteer manager travels to India to capture the legacy of Gerald Durrell and joins the team of conservationists following the process of saving an endangered species of hogs and their rewilding. The film travels from Benaras to Tata Nagar in Jamshedpur to Assam.

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CInestaan.com caught up with the film’s cinematographer, Shaz Syed, at the 5th Woodpecker International Film Festival where the film was screened on 11 November.

Excerpts:

How were the conditions you were shooting in? Since you travelled extensively and were shooting in varying weather conditions, as a cinematographer, what were the discussions you had through the filming?

It was a hectic 45 days of travel and shoot in India. We faced delayed trains, heavy traffic. Daniel (Craven) didn’t know how things can get chaotic here, but I must say he managed pretty well. This particular film didn’t have a very big budget. Wildlife film in particular, the genre is such that one cannot have a big team.

We primarily used a small camera that we could easily lug around. I had a shoulder ache, but there are also space constraints and we wanted the film to have the realistic look — angles that you get sitting at the back of the jeep.

We had long shots and had to have shoulder shots to match. One has to anticipate and match shots with another activity — with wildlife it is tricky. The hog sections you see are mostly my shots. Hogs are extremely shy animals. They were semi-wild and rewilding is a complicated process. It takes three generations to be able to do that. We give them time for all this to sink in.

And one sees a variety of shots...

Yes, you see a variety of shots — talking to communities, conservationists, activities. Daniel was primarily the director, I was handling the technical aspects and had to take into account the time lapses. Our story also captures various aspects of the conservation process and we shot accordingly.

The story seems to be about the wildlife as much about the Durrell legacy, and the community working on the film as it is about saving and rewilding the hog, right?

Right. The direction given to me was to capture the Durrell legacy and link up the legacy to the work of the Trust, and community.

People who funded it know that for a foreign audience this history is important, especially, in terms of Durrell’s work in India. What’s great about this, is that, here is a person who decided to work on a species nobody cared about — it’s an 'insignificant species'. No one knew much about it except perhaps the aboriginal people.

Hogs were also hunted for meat. So, there was very little interest in the species. For that point of time, for a person to get up and say 'I am going to protect this animal that nobody cares about' is very courageous and reflects on his legacy. They nosedived into something totally new and courageously worked on it.

His principles, his ideals have been incorporated very well within all its employees. And specially conservationists like Parag Decker have been working to keep that legacy alive through their work. Parag has worked tremendously on conserving the hogs and he is very dedicated to this work, very passionate. Passion for an animal not as fluffy as a tiger or huge and magnanimous as an elephant, or as attractive as a rhino.

It’s equally important to show it on screen because a lot of work is happening, and we otherwise see a number of wildlife, but never about the hog.

We see images and films on tigers, bears etc. They look majestic. There is a lot of work done on that. Durrell team has invested in the insignificant species like the hog. We want to draw attention to species like that. Images that don’t saturate our world, through a film like this.

You see, we have the gear and the equipment to give you a perspective. You would not be able to see the hog on your own, because it is going to see you much before you see it. And it’s going to vanish. We need a glimpse of the hog and until we are able to capture it and give you that glimpse, it won’t incite you to observe, think about it.

I’m hopeful that those are the beginings of an interest. That’s how interest was created for tigers, etc. That for me, is what conservation is. I am marketing the animal. For us, it is to create awareness and create a lobby for it, because we need funds to keep working on it.

In a festival like this, where we talk about all sorts of issues; gender, disability, livelihoods, children’s films and, of course, wildlife, do you think this exploration of a hybrid form of film selection helps the cause of raising awareness? In the sense that you are not restricted to a wildlife and environment festival, and might be able to reach to a wider audience. People interested in social issues get a peek into equally important issue.

Yes, I think Woodpecker (WIFF) has been kind enough to show it. It’s a good film, I am not simply saying because I worked on it. Daniel is a first time director, he worked hard on the film.

The team has done a wonderful job and it needs to reach a Delhi audience, an educated audience, students. It’s played in New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, in WWF in Delhi, India Habitat Center. But Parag has also screened it a couple of times for the villagers and locals. We’re glad that Pygmy hog is getting attention, and festivals like these are helping us create awareness.

Related topics

Woodpecker International Film Festival