Interview: Bertie Gregory, filmmaker and wildlife photographer

Bertie Gregory is a 26-year-old filmmaker and wildlife photographer who currently splits his time working for the BBC and the National Geographic. Environment Journal got in touch with Bertie to talk about his career and to discuss what documentary making can teach us about protecting the planet. 

How did you begin your career as a wildlife filmmaker? 

As a teenager, I was obsessed with British wildlife and I soon realised that if I took pictures of what I was seeing I could get other people to be excited about it too.

I started entering young wildlife photography competitions and  I was lucky enough to win some of those.

Off the back of this, I was asked to give a presentation on what it’s like to get into photography and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time – National Geographic filmmaker Steve Winter heard my speech and said he was looking for an assistant for a project he was working on about leopards.

So I finished my degree and the next day I started working with him and that has since opened up so many doors.

What has been your most memorable experience?

I think people have this romantic idea that wildlife photographers just prance around the world having one amazing experience after the other.

In reality, these amazing incidents happen once a year and we spend most of our time either at an airport or in hiding.

But this means that when these moments do happen they are really special.

On one trip with the National Geographic, we spent 44 days living in a little boat on a river in Brazil and we saw a jaguar jump onto the back of a caiman, seeing what is a predator in itself wrestle with another predator was a pretty special moment.

Having spent your career in some of the most remote natural environments what are the main lessons you have learned? 

I think the main lesson I’ve learned is that most wildlife is a lot smarter than we give it credit.

Humans have this arrogant opinion that we are superior to everything else.

Sure, animals can’t build a bridge or a computer, but their intelligence can’t be compared to humans – it’s on a different level that ironically is hard for us to understand.

The other thing I have learned is that no matter how remote the place that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit, there is always evidence of humans screwing things up.

David Attenborough’s most recent documentary Extinction was very hard-hitting with viewers describing it as ‘terrifying’, do you think this style is this the future of wildlife documentaries? 

I think it is pretty spectacular that humans have put ourselves in a situation where documentaries that show the status of the planet can be described as terrifying.

Although this kind of documentary is essential, I do think there has to be a balance.

As programme-makers, it is our job to get views and to do this we have to remember that primarily TV is for entertainment and we can then use that entertainment to inform educate and inspire.

I think people who are already interested in climate change may watch a documentary like this, but these aren’t the people that we need to be watching this programme.

We are already living through some tough times and we can’t just depress people further.

Documentary making is about celebrating diversity, if we are going to talk about the bad news then we need to talk about the tangible solutions, and there are lots!

How has the pandemic and an inability to travel impacted your career?

I have been go go go for the past 6 years, so having so much time at home has been a real challenge because on a selfish level it’s not what I’m programmed to do.

That said, in lockdown I have been working on some projects that I previously haven’t had time for.

Just because you’re filming wildlife, it doesn’t mean that you’re inherently looking after it, so I’ve been trying to come up with ways to ensure that every project I work on has tangible quantifiable benefits to nature, animals and the people who I meet.

It’s very easy to lose sight of the real issue and why I started this career in the first place.

Lockdown has also forced me to re-get to know British wildlife.

I had a day off the coast of Scotland watching three humpback whales, 200 common dolphins and 10 minke whales – it was one of the best days of whale watching I’ve ever experienced and I’ve been whale watching in the Antarctica and Canada!

Many people living in cities can feel disconnected from nature, what is your advice? 

There is a large disconnect between modern-day society and nature, but that is reinforced with this myth that we perpetuate with wildlife documentaries that nature lives in remote places and we don’t.

While I am not saying that cities are good for nature, I am saying that there are a handful of species that do thrive and those species can provide us with an opportunity to connect with the natural world.

 

 

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Pippa Neill

Pippa Neill

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