‘Bristol: A Hidden Eden’ Premiere by Wildlife Film Society @ Room Above

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By Milan Perera, Second Year English Literature and Community Engagement

They may be a fledgling SU Society among the 350+ Societies based at the University of Bristol, but their membership is growing steadily with a vibrant kaleidoscope of talents thrown into the mix.

The Wildlife Film Society is intent on breaking down the barriers surrounding wildlife photography. Their message is loud and clear: nature photography is no longer an elitist pastime that comes with a huge subscription fee only for people with deep pockets. For a princely annual subscription fee of £5, the members are given access to masterclasses and lectures given by leading experts in the field. Even if you never held a camera in your hands but are driven with a great passion for wildlife and conservation, consider you have found your métier.

As they bring to an end the successful year at the University of Bristol, the Wildlife Film Society presents the fruits of their labour, condensed in a compelling and eloquent production that requires compulsory viewing. This is a film that should be packed to the rafters with people of all ages. It is Directed by Matteo Clarke, but is a labour of love of 15 dedicated contributors who carried out his vision over a period of 10 months. It goes without saying that at times it entailed waiting out in the bone-crumbling chill for a particular bird or a mammal to capture the perfect image.

The award ceremony / Milan Perera

The premiere was held at the intimate theatre and music venue of The Room Above in front of a packed audience and well-wishers. The proceedings for the evenings kicked off with the presentation of annual awards for various categories which included the Best Wildlife Photograph. The Wildlife Film Society had the chutzpah to invite award-winning wildlife filmmaker Stefan Christmann, who has worked with the likes of Sir David Attenborough. After the winners were acknowledged with raucous applause the much-awaited ‘Bristol: A Hidden Eden’ began to unfold to a pin-drop silence.

From the outset it was a revelation about the hitherto neglected wildlife treasures in our own backyards. The movie began with the montage of stags at the picturesque neck of the woods of Ashton Court. The skilled filmmakers got tantalisingly closer to these antler-bearing four-legged dynamos where they locked horns with one another for the herd dominance and female attention.

The montage then switched to Eastville Park which has been popular among dog walkers and ramblers. But this most unlikely of nature reserves is the home to a large population of kingfishers where they found a safe haven among the brooks and barks away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Clifton may be one of the most affluent boroughs of Bristol, graced with Georgian palatial mansions, but it is also the home to one of the most misunderstood mammals: the fox. Little consideration is paid to the welfare of foxes as they are widely condemned as scavengers who serve no purpose except an accessory to cruel sports. The Queen guitarist, Brian May laid his reputation on the line when he was involved in heated exchanges on both printed and television media dispelling the myths surrounding foxes, in line with his animal welfare charity Save Me Trust. ‘A Hidden Eden’ caught a glimpse of the fox population roaming the streets of Clifton competing with other scavenger species and the fellow foxes for food supplies, even at the peril of run over by speeding vehicles. They look alarmingly friendly and docile dispelling the notions surrounding feral behaviour.

The final sequence was dedicated to Avon Gorge as you have never seen before. The imposing rocky cliff overlooking the river Avon has been a haven for large white goats who freely climb up and down the cliff with an astonishing vigour. It also shed some light on the young conservationists who are currently working tirelessly to make Avon Gorge a habitable niche for wildlife.

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The seamless montage of stunning images blended beautifully with original thematic score of Owain Llwyd. The narration of Charley Greenwood with his gravelly, velvety baritone delivery was both calming and compelling much akin to his hero Sir David Attenborough.

This is no just pleasant evening viewing. It carries a hard-hitting message that requires urgent attention: the beauty of biodiversity is found in the most unlikely places. Due to urbanisation these habitats are under an increasing threat. Not enough efforts have been mustered to counter the erosion of biodiversity in our midst. It is time to stop preaching but act before it is too late.

Featured image: Milan Perera


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