Entry Category: New Approaches: Documentary
Title: Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise
Original URL: http://www.pbs.org/gorongosa/home/
Date Project/Content Originally Made Available: 9/22/15
Running Time of Submission: 01:00:03
Production Company: Off the Fence
The goal of “Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise” was to create an immersive, engaging, inspirational, and broadly entertaining 6-part docu-series that brought conservation, wilderness restoration, and re-wilding into the living rooms of a general viewing audience around the world. Commissioned by PBS and NGCI, and produced by Off The Fence, this story is set in war-torn Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. It’s one of the most ambitious wilderness restoration projects ever attempted.
In terms of both visual devices and the overall storytelling approach, the production team aimed to create an authentic experience with immersive, sometimes gritty, handheld coverage of “behind-the-scenes” situations, blended with the classic beauty of an iconic African park. To that end, Gorongosa National Park granted complete and unlimited access to the production team for 2 years.
The Producers inserted American-born, African-raised wildlife cameraman Bob Poole into the story, not just as a shooter, but also as a first-person presenter/storyteller. Instead of just staying behind the lens filming the action, he gets roped in and becomes a core part of it. This device was key to making the location and the restoration story relatable and engaging for a TV audience.
The story structure of the series had to also mirror this ambition. Taking a page from successful drama series, Gorongosa Park provided viewers with returning characters and episode-straddling storylines with a wide human and animal canvas. The storytelling balances animal behavior (with the soap operas and personalities of iconic wildlife characters), the science and scientists behind restoration ecology, and the passionate heroes working daily to save the wildlife and people in this beautiful but impoverished part of Africa. The episodes work as stand-alone hours, but provide a deeper satisfaction when strung together, operating as a unified 6-hour story with a beginning, middle, and end across the whole structure.
“Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise" merits serious consideration for bringing critical and urgent conservation and restoration themes to a broad audience and providing millions of people with a much-needed inspirational and positive wildlife success story.
The wide-view, immersive approach to the series extends beyond the episodes themselves:
The series became a powerful educational media asset as well. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is USA’s largest independent creator and distributor of educational media, accessing 4m students and 50,000 educators nationally. They distributed a variety of Series-originated educational media tools - 20 video shorts, and numerous text and graphics elements) on their www.biointeractive.org website. The site gets 1.8 m unique visitors annually (with 60,000 newsletter subscribers) and provides free educational resources for high-school and college-level educators. A companion iTunes course received 33,592 visitors / 6,258 downloads. PBS’s Learning Media Gorongosa website generated an additional 30,000 views of video modules.
HHMI also created a website allowing users to process hundreds of thousands of camera trap images from Gorongosa. (https://www.wildcamgorongosa.org) The site has been live 7 months, attracting 18,039 volunteers. 2,499,701 identifications have been made with 210,000 images 100% verified.)
Shorts on PBS’s Facebook page were viewed 2.9 million times in a single week, “significantly above” average, and received “unprecedented” engagement (likes, shares, and comments) for a series in this genre.
Local Broadcast in Mozambique:
The series was also re-versioned for Mozambican TV and given away license-free, in perpetuity, to all free-to-air networks, thereby available to everyone who has access to TV. Community screenings will be organized in 2016 and 2017 to reach people without TV access.
Political Impact in Mozambique:
Finally, for Gorongosa National Park, the Series had a significant political impact. Greg Carr, the driving force behind the Gorongosa Restoration Project, writes:
“The series generated enormous political support. Indeed, it cultivated affection and understanding for Gorongosa among all the Mozambicans: people and politicians. This enlightened understanding of Gorongosa has emboldened the President of the country to pursue a 50-year dream: expand the Park to the Zambezi River, and reestablish an ancient wildlife corridor through Africa's Great Rift, birthplace of H. sapiens. It is certain to say that the President would not feel the political wind at his back to enact the decree that will protect this portion of the cradle of our species forever--protect a sanctuary in Africa for elephants, lions and as many as 75,000 other species--if it were not for the series airing in Mozambique and in nearly 500 million homes worldwide, making the Mozambicans proud of their world treasure."