The prestigious Jackson Wild Fellowship which provides a platform for emerging conservation media leaders recently announced its 2020 fellows. And at 23, Navi Mumbai-based wildlife filmmaker and presenter, Aishwarya Sridhar, is the youngest to be chosen among 24 global fellows for the honour. Edited excerpts from an interview.
How did your love affair with wildlife conservation begin?
My father, Sridhar Rangan-athan, is a member of the Bombay Natural History Society. So, as a child, most of my weekends were spent trekking, going on wildlife trails, visiting wetlands, birdwatching for hours and documenting them. At the age of 11, when I saw my first big cat at Pench National Park, I was elated, but also heartbroken after the news of the same tiger being poached made headlines. It was at that time that I decided that I wanted to work for wildlife conservation.
Why the medium of filmmaking or photography?
I am a self-taught photo-grapher and filmmaker. As a teenager, when my father gifted me a DSLR, I’d share wildlife photographs that I clicked with neighbours and friends. It made me realise how the visual medium could cultivate a love for nature among people. Growing up watching Discovery, Animal Planet and National Geographic, I wanted to work with them. My debut documentary, Panje – The Last Wetland (2018) was telecast on DD National. I have been working with the local fishing communities, NGOs and the state, towards policy-level protection for wetlands. In the lockdown, I directed and presented an eight-part digital series for WWF India to inculcate a love for wildlife in children. I’m currently hosting Nature For Future on Discovery Channel India.
Tell us about the Jackson Wild Fellowship.
The fellowship is open to filmmakers from across the globe. It trains emerging conservation media leaders through mentorship programmes and offers a scholarship to attend the film festival and the annual Jackson Wild Summit. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to network with top content creators. Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, the summit is happening virtually, from September 28 to October 1. I am honoured to represent a country which is blessed with biodiversity and ecosystems of all kinds — from grasslands, wetlands and rainforests to deserts, and the Himalayas. As a filmmaker, I want to make films that highlight hidden stories of these ecosystems; it should have a lasting impact on conservation and effect policy-level changes by moving people into action for the planet.
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