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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


New York Wild Film Festival 2016 3rd edition wrapped

From January 28 -31 New York’s renowned Explorers Club presented the third edition of the New York Wild Film Festival. It was established by its executive director Nancy Rosenthal as the first documentary festival in the New York metropolitan area devoted exclusively to environmental and wildlife productions with the mission of exploring, discovering and protecting global nature and its wildlife.  Through effective storytelling and superb cinematography in most productions selected the festival creates a viable platform for new perspectives and discussions with the educated Audience it attracts in the intimacy of the club. More than 200 productions were submitted from 25 countries and 17 selected for the program by area and film professionals. Over three and a half days films were screened back to back with frequent introductions, Q& A sessions and some breaks. All programs were sold out reaching more than 200 people  in its small 2nd floor auditorium.  Awards in nine categories were provided. Similar to last year’s program the productions I could view were characterized by creativity, original presentations and high production value which may be linked to the funding basis of the films. Unlike other film festivals with their emphasis on action, entertainment, and docudramas the Wild Film Festival provided a learning experience with reflexive challenges and innovative insights, in short it is the critical and issue oriented individual’s film festival. The festival was sponsored by the Explorers Club, Miami University’s exploration science program, National Geographic , the New Yorker, and numerous in kind supporters.

SOUL OF THE ELEPHANT by Dereck and Beverly Joubert (USA,2015) the best Wildlife film, is the reconstruction of the life of two old bull elephants who died aged 70 with complete tusks of natural causes in Botswana. Travelling on skiffs along a river the Joubert provided unparalleled  documentation of the long tracks of elephants in search of food and water with a strong emphasis on their social life and protective interaction. Images of nurturing and raising their young are startling as are the elephants’ soulful encounters on their well-traveled path with the remainder of deceased elephants which they morn and explore. Deferring silently to the movements of the animals the Jouberts  capture compelling close up images of the elephants and their interaction. In Botswana one third of the Earth global elephant population still roams in areas protected by the government as distinct from  Tanzania and Zimbabwe and other regions where an estimated 30,000 elephants are killed in the lucrative  criminal ivory trade.

This issue is squarely addressed in the award-winning conservation film WARLORDS OF IVORY by producers Katie Carpenter, John Hemingway and JJ Kelley (USA, 2015).  This film follows the investigative reporting by Bryan Christy who tracks the trade of tusks in Africa from the initial poaching. The trail was leading from Congo’s Garamba National Park north to the Sudan, rather than going east to eventually reach the Asian destination as Singleton expected. His unique approach was the insertion of a GPS tracking device in a carefully constructed fake elephant tusk which allowed monitoring the passage of the tusk after he left it with an anonymous dealer.  His research revealed a clear link between the ivory trade and terrorism. As distinct from Botswana the violent and conflict beset areas of the Congolese Garamba Park offered little protection for elephants which were sometimes shot using helicopters but more often from the ground. Singleton’s investigation revealed extensive official corruption but more importantly the active role played by The Lord’s Resistance Army. Young members are ordered to kill the elephants, remove the tusks to carry them through the jungle all the way to an enclave bordering the Central African Republic and South Sudan where apparently the some of the LRS is located with its leader  Joseph Kony.    There the tusks are sold or traded to the Sudanese army in exchange for arms. The tracking device stopped sending signals after the fake task arrived in the Bashir area.  The Garamba National Park’s elephant population declined in 2015 by 10% and given the instability of that Congolese Area, growing activity of the LRA and widespread corruption the conditions may turn worse.  The documentary succeeds in showing a clear link between wildlife trade, terrorism and security. Only a decline in the Asian ivory market, as possibly indicated by initiatives of the Chinese government may reduce the slaughters of African elephants.

The French-German production consortium Arte sponsored LICENSE TO KILL by David Singleton (UK,2015) which was selected as the best exploration film, largely facilitated by the provision of an icebreaking research ship by the German Alfred Wegner  Institute. License to Krill excels through its research based approach, outstanding photography and including amazing never seen before deep underwater images.. Most impressive it engages the audience in an analysis of the consequences of climate change in a little known crucial sector, the massive decline of Krill estimated to range between 50-90% of the total population. Krill are tiny two inch shrimp creatures and a crucial part of the food chain feeding on plankton and providing in turn food for larger animals like squid, seals, penguins and whales. Krill provides most of their diet and without krill the majority of Antarctic life forms would vanish. Consisting of marine scientists from different specializations, the expedition objective was the exploration of the dramatic decline of the krill population. Data driven the research revealed that there are no direct human causes such as krill fishing, but that the decline seemed to be driven by context specific larger factors, such as changes of the eco-climate system with an emerging focus on the decline of the west Antarctic ice cover that serves as a breeding ground for krill. That region is the fastest winter warming space on earth and experienced over the last 50 years a temperature increase of 7 Celsius. The sea ice holding the essential single cell plankton melts earlier and freezes later, and the later it freezes the less biomass there is for the krill. Since the internal clock of the krill is tied to daylight and not to climate change they are misled in their search for food and their decline threatens the whole life eco system of Antarctica. The first evidence is the apparent demise of the Andalie penguins.

Claus Mueller



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