This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer.
Four years ago, graduate student Austin Gallagher took a video camera into the tropical waters around Mo’orea, about 17 km northwest of Tahiti in French Polynesia. With his first post to YouTube, he was hooked. Filmmaking supplied an instant gratification quotient to balance the years of patient, slow research required to turn scientific inspiration into scientific publications. It also reached an audience that doesn’t usually dive into the technical depths of scientific papers. Gallagher wanted to show people the beauty, as well as the science, of his ecological subjects, and share some of the every-day experiences of research.
“It’s a way to connect with people,” he said. What I want to do is show other researchers that filmmaking isn’t that hard to do. It should be one of our tools.”
Now a PhD student in conservation ecology at the University of Miami, Gallagher is still filming, and urging other divers, scientists, conservationists, and policy wonks—all the aquatic stakeholders—to take up a camera and show off the underwater world at his third annual Beneath the Waves Film Festival, screening at the Benthic Ecology Meeting in Norfolk, Virginia on March 21-24. Previous festivals have drawn audiences of 300-500 locals and conference-goers, and featured the rap stylings of young ecologists alongside professional animation and endearingly untutored footage of divers at work. Gallagher encourages novices to jump in.
“Get your hands on some equipment. It doesn’t matter how good the equipment is, because you’re still going to be able to record something. The tool doesn’t make the filmmaker. It’s how you tell your story.” Gallagher recommends that new filmmakers let their own identity spill into the narrative, and use the specialized knowledge behind the lens to woo viewers.
“Some of my favorite submissions have been from scientists out in the field, filming on their iPhones, for all I know,” he said. “Try to convey who you are.”
Underwater footage is not required, but the film should tell a story or impart a message. Focused brevity is key. “People have really short attention spans. You should be able to get your message across in five minutes. Keep it short, sweet, and potent.”
Gallagher studies sharks, and admits to a bit of a shark-bias on the festival website, but the film series welcomes aquatic themes of all persuasions in all narrative forms. He wishes he could include everyone who applies, but since space and time and limited, a panel will select films for the March lineup. Submit your creations by February 24th to be considered for the 2012 Festival.
Image credit: Austin Gallagher