Over the past few years I’ve frequently found myself, when some variation of the debate around the environment came up, having more or less the same, often heated, conversation. “The Earth is so big,” I was told, repeatedly and with conviction, “and humans so small, that we humans can’t possibly be having much of an impact on the planet.” That idea just seemed wrong to me, so with “The Nature Makers” I set out to make a film that took the other side of that argument.
I’m a city boy, born and raised, and I’ve lived the bulk of my life in either New York or Los Angeles. For me, nature was always the thing that happened beyond the city limits, where there was plenty of room for all things wild. Sure, I knew about pollution and how rapidly we humans are expanding our control over the world, but it simply never occurred to me that nature itself could actually be under some kind of seriously existential pressure.
That is, until I began making this film.
The usual strategy for a film about environmental issues is, quite logically, to show scenes of destructive humanimpacts, but my idea was to turn that approach on its head. Rather than dwelling on how humans are degrading natural systems, I wanted to focus on the extraordinary effort it now takes to keep threatened species and natural habitats from vanishing under the pressure of relentless human expansion into once wild areas.
The film follows three teams of conservation biologists,
all in the American heartland, working to keep important species from vanishing. Traditionally, conservation
has been a practice where land is set aside for human recreation, and to give wildlife a bit of room to live. But
in the 21st Century, conservation has begun to require active, unconventional, and even aggressive interventions in natural systems. To save each species, these teams employ techniques that at first glance seem anything but environmentally friendly. As one biologist says in the film, “This is extreme conservation.”
These biologists work heroically, and pretty much thanklessly, often in remote and physically
challenging environments, but their efforts are actually paying off. Their work shows that humans can indeed
have a profound impact on natural systems, not all of it destructive. Aggressive human intervention can be restorative, though admittedly success is almost always tentative and fragile.
Welcome to conservation in the age of humans.
In the end, I hope this film provokes the audience to reexamine their preconceived ideas about humanity’s relationship with the natural world. Making this film certainly caused me to reexamine mine.
– Scott Saunders