In this era of short-form video, I feel that short films provide a unique opportunity to communicate about nature, wildlife, and climate issues. What do you think?
My name is Saxon, and I am a researcher, filmmaker, and on occasion, a writer. My focus and passion are researching and communicating the obscure and untold stories of the natural world. I would like to introduce you to my first two short films.
If you are a regular Conservation Optimism reader, you may remember a blog piece about Mission: Find Aral, a 3-part documentary series exploring the story of the Aral Sea, written by my friend and collaborator Nicolas Bergounioux. Work on this series continues and is nearing completion! If you are interested in our progress, I invite you to read our synopsis and summary article, where we give a more up-to-date account of the series, our storytellers, and what we hope to achieve.
And now, the two short films.
During research on the Aral Sea for Mission: Find Aral, I encountered a specific story that consumed me. Microscopic, “magic” brine shrimp, which are responsible for making flamingoes pink, has become an economic lifeline. Communities surrounding the sea that have suffered catastrophic environmental crises, resulting in the loss of their crucial fishing industry, have had to adapt to the new desertified ecosystem. Brine shrimp, otherwise known as artemia, is used as a feeder food in the billion-dollar aqua-farming industry. In the absence of predating fish, a sizeable population of brine shrimp has developed in what is left of the Uzbek portion of the Aral Sea.
The short film “KURT” is a video essay bringing together my research on this topic (published originally in text form with The Third Pole).
In the late 1950s, the Aral Sea produced up to 45,000 tonnes of fish in a year. By 2004, Uzbekistan’s section had lost every species of fish, according to Ablatdiyn Musaev, a biologist and researcher at the Karakalpakstan branch of Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences. A catastrophic failure of water management caused this, leaving many people destitute. Researchers estimate that the loss of the Aral Sea has displaced 100,000 people and affected the health of five million.
In the past 20 years, however, the cultivation of brine shrimp, or artemia, has offered communities a new lifeline. The artemia industry has come to underpin the multi-billion dollar aquaculture sector, contributing to the employment of more than 5,000 people. My mentor for this research, Professor Patrick Sorgeloos of Ghent University, has been studying the small crustacean since 1969 and describes them as “magic” – due to their extreme tolerance against salinity and a unique ability for their eggs to lay metabolically dormant for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, then in the return of suitable living conditions are ready to hatch.
This story documents the resilience and adaptability of both the local community and these unique, microscopic brine shrimp.
Guardian of Machakhela
From the Aral Sea in Western Uzbekistan, Central Asia we move 1,000+ km west, the other side of the Caspian Sea to the Caucasian country of Georgia – where I am currently located.
The story of the “Guardian of Machakhela” is the story of park ranger Dural Khinkiladze and his relationship with the Machakhela National Park that lies in the valley of Machakhlistskali in Georgia, a country rich in wildlife and biodiversity. In 2014 the National Park was established, and in 2021 it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dural Khinkiladze joined the National Park Agency when the national park was formed as part of a team of 12 rangers who work together to take care of the valley’s ecosystems. The team of rangers helps to provide for the preservation of unique biological and landscape biodiversity. The film follows Dural on his daily tasks as he monitors a track high in the mountain, noting down his observations, and trees that have fallen on the track. The film demonstrates some of the vast natural beauty of the region whilst Dural describes his role, and characteristics of the regional wildlife, and reflects on his more than 40 years working with the nature of the Machakhela Gorge.
In Guardian of Machakhela, my first goal was to celebrate the life and career of an individual who has demonstrated a passionate commitment to protecting nature. A second aspiration was to transmit the peace and tranquillity of Machakhela, of mother nature. As Dural Khinkiladze speaks you can hear the birds chirping and the flow of a nearby waterfall. My hope is that with the six and half minutes you are able to soak up some of this soothing natural atmosphere and take it into the rest of your day.
Should you have any questions, feedback, or thoughts of any kind regarding any of the above, please do not hesitate to drop me a comment on the video or contact me directly via Instagram.
We are actively on the lookout for the distribution of our series, Mission: Find Aral. If you have any suggestions or contacts, we implore you to reach out to us!