Looking back on the 2019 Film Festival – Q& A with Marion Fernandez

This blog was initially written in French and is available in that language here

We are now in the exciting lead up to the second Good Natured: A Conservation Optimism Short Film Festival! As we are now accepting submissions, we decided to have a catch up with the winners of the first edition.

We started this interview series by catching up with Marion Fernandez, who won the Audience Favourite Award last year with her film Le tombeau des épuisés. This tale narrating the links between seabirds and sailers did not leave the audience of the film festival indifferent! Set up on the Hermione, a famous French frigate, the film took our viewers on a poetic exploration of the relationships that can develop between humans and birds in the middle of the ocean. We talked to Marion to hear what inspired her to develop this film and discover what she is now up to.

Conservation Optimism: What inspired you to create Le tombeau des épuisés?

Marion Fernandez: The organisation Hermione Lafayette, which is in charge of the Hermione frigate, got in touch with me and asked me to take some footage and photographs during the navigation that took place in 2018. The goal was to produce some kind of travel diaries that would then be shared online so that ‘land people’ could follow the journey.

Before this adventure, I had graduated from a wildlife filmmaking school and had always loved nature, wildlife and being out in wide-open landscapes. Once on board of the Hermione, I quickly became frustrated. With the exceptions of a few marine mammals, you don’t see much wildlife out there. So when I started seeing animals that I associated with the land, such as some bird species, I started filming them. Initially, it was just something I was doing for my own pleasure. It’s not every day that you get to see a European nightjar, and even less so while being on an 18th-century frigate!

When we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, the radio kept ringing to inform us to keep our eyes wide open. It was the middle of the night but lots of boats filled with refugees were indicated to be drifting. My predecessor told me that during the navigation they had crossed path with a boat which had capsized. There must have been about 40 people on board and they did not find any survivors. We all decided to pay homage to them with the small paper boats [which you can see in the film].

This is something that resonates with me. My grandparents fled Spain when the dictatorship started so without their migration I probably wouldn’t be here today. In Gibraltar, I suddenly realised what I was going to do with my footage of birds. They can travel wherever they wish to without any barriers and borders. Somehow it’s a beautiful lesson that nature is giving humanity and I wanted to convey that in the film.

CO: Could you tell us how your film aligns with the ethos of Conservation Optimism?

 MF: As explained above, birds can travel beyond borders. They can cross them and go where resources are. If a place becomes hostile, it is completely normal for them to leave and go somewhere most hospitable. It’s a message of hope and freedom.

Aboard the Hermione, I found a society full of hope and freedom. We could travel freely and there was an atmosphere of brotherhood/sisterhood on the frigate. It’s only by working together that we make the boat move. We don’t have any other choice than helping each other. And this spirit goes even further than that: when exhausted birds came on the boat, the sailors did all they could to help them out. They sheltered them and they fed them. It was beautiful to see because those birds quickly understood that the sailors were on their side and did not want to harm them. I never saw this anywhere else! A swallow stayed in my mind specifically. I don’t know if it made it but we started by giving it some insects and it ended up coming on our knees asking for more because it was so famished. The trust that this swallow had towards the sailors was beautiful and very touching. I’m incredibly happy to have been able to film those moments. They also carry a message of hope.

© Le tombeau des épuisés

CO: Your film was awarded Audience Favourite- well done! How did you find your experience with our film festival?

MF: I regret that I could not be there! I would have loved to see it with my own eyes and get to discuss it with the public. The film has been selected by more than 20 festivals in France and abroad and this award was the first I received! I’m very touched to have won the Audience Favourite Award. It means that my message shone through and that people liked it. It reassures me for the future of humanity and nature. Thank you so so so much to have believed in my film!

CO: Are you working on a new film at the moment?

MF: Yes, I have various film projects currently ongoing. I can’t say much about them though because they are still being developed. They should be screened on TV and so I will be somehow limited in terms of format which is quite different from the situation I was in with Le tombeau des épuisés. That film was self-produced so I could say and do whatever I wanted. I also have some ideas for future short films: one about a mass grave in India and another one on birds again but this time common cranes.  

Are you a filmmaker who tells stories of Conservation Optimism? We would love to hear from you! 

We are currently accepting submissions for this year’s short film festival Good Natured on Film Freeway, under the categories of People & Nature: Communities, Heroes & Wellbeing; Conservation Works: Learning from Success & Failure; Animation and Student film.

Submit your short film before the 15 March deadline!

About the authors

  • I joined ICCS and Conservation Optimism in January 2019. My role focuses on outreach and communications and involved the organisation of the Conservation Optimism Summit. I’m also a multimedia journalist with a passion for constructive journalism and solutions-oriented reporting who loves showcasing what people from all over the globe are doing to make the world a better place.

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