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Festival Yields Opportunities for Student, Award for Professor

Center for Environmental Filmmaking director Chris Palmer attends annual SOC film competition.

Center for Environmental Filmmaking Director Chris Palmer accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 IWFF

When professor Chris Palmer invited students in his Producing Environmental and Wildlife Film class to join him at the 32nd International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF) in Missoula, MT, where he would receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, I knew it was a great opportunity. And that’s how it turned out—attending this festival, along with all the other incredible support I’ve received at SOC, has made a huge difference in my MFA program here at American.

Professor Palmer met with students prior to the festival to discuss our goals and plans, to make sure we got the most out of the experience. I had assumed that I would attend a lot of film screenings—but I didn’t even manage to attend one. Instead, we had the opportunity to network, learn about the wildlife and environmental film industry, and meet filmmakers, conservationists, students, and representatives from inspiring foundations.

At the Awards Gala, we watched as our professor received the IWFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. This honor is presented to the individual whose life’s work best represents the Festival’s mission of promoting awareness and understanding of wildlife, habitat, people and nature through excellent film, television and other media. All of the graduate students felt honored to attend the awards dinner.

He used his speech as another opportunity to support his students, naming each of us who had come to the festival, and praising our commitment to environmental filmmaking. He concluded his acceptance speech with a handstand and an explosion of laughter and applause.

Learning to network and navigate a film festival were the most valuable lessons of all.  Professor Palmer introduced us to everyone and gave me the chance to speak with some of the world’s leading IMAX underwater filmmakers such as Howard and Michele Hall (Deep Sea 3D now playing at the Smithsonian) and hear personally from Michelle how she got started in filmmaking. I also had the privilege to meet Brian Leith, the Executive Producer for the BBC Natural History Unit as he joined a group of students and filmmakers in a casual evening get-together and discussed his career at BBC.

On the long bus ride to the Montana Island Lodge for the the 5th Annual Tarkio Retreat, I sat with Dr. Laurie Marker, the Co-founder and Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, and the second recipient of 2009 IWFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Meeting and speaking with her about her conservation work over the last 20 years touched me deeply and reminded me why I want to make documentary films.

Freelance Producer Kathy Pasternak, Janet Hess, Producer, Nature WNET Channel 13 New York and Katja Shirakow,  co-founder of Wild Logic all shared with me tidbits of knowledge that only comes from years in the business. SOC students also exchanged ideas with students from Montana State University about possible collaborations. I know I will be attending next year’s IWFF along with fellow SOC students and some newfound friends.