Ethics in Wildlife Filmmaking

by Ram Ashwin Alluri

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: Wildlife films; Ethics; Audience deceptions; New Zealand; Science communication
Record ID: 1299240
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5543


The creative component of this thesis is Trials of the Takahe, a 25-minute film my film partner and I were involved in making. It chronicles the history of conservation of the takahe, an endemic flightless bird in New Zealand. During the film’s production, we were forced to take liberties with facts and to use a variety of filmmaking techniques that we believed would help make the story more accessible and entertaining for our audience. This presented me with a problem, one that called the factual nature of our film into question. Were we deceiving our audiences by employing these techniques, and if the answer to that question was yes, were we justified in so doing? These questions prompted further research into the ethical decisions made by professionals in the wildlife film industry, which culminated in the academic component of the thesis, Ethics in Wildlife Filmmaking that aims to provide an insight into the ethical dilemmas encountered by wildlife filmmakers, analyze the decisions made, and attempt to arrive at solutions based on my own experiences. I studied different types of ethics, their advantages and disadvantages, and how they related to wildlife filmmakers and animals. I researched filmmaking techniques that are used to deceive audiences, and cases of animal cruelty brought about by filmmakers and presenters. Research into audience reactions to deceptions, and recommendations for ethical practices by critics followed. Lastly, ethical suggestions based on my own experiences while making Trials of the Takahe were taken into account. My research uncovered a wide range of theories relating to the ethics observed by humans, ranging from lenient, opinion based subjective ethics to highly prescriptive objective ethics. There are instances of audience deception in every stage of a film’s production, but sufficient qualitative data relating to audience responses to these deceptions was found to be lacking. Animal cruelty, though not as rampant today as it was in the early 1900’s, is still prevalent. Recommendations ranged from the highly rigid and prescriptive to the permissive and tolerant. I found that the line between ethical and unethical filming practices is largely subjective and best results can be achieved only if a filmmaker gives equal consideration to the audience’s expectation of authenticity and the subject animal’s welfare as he or she does to TV ratings and money. Any decision that disregards either of these two major considerations could result in the development of a widespread mistrust of and disrespect for the genre of wildlife films.