IDEA grant-funded documentary seeks to empower the next generation of conservationists 

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Above shows (from right to left) Duy Le, Lauren Pawlowski, Skyler Kim and Sarah Oxner at the premiere of their film, “The Next Generation of Conservation” at the Dodd Center on April 7, 2022. Their goal in producing this film was to inspire a new generation of conservationists by examining the work of existing conservationists. Photo provided by Jonathan Kopeliovich

On April 7, “The Next Generation of Conservation,” a documentary funded by the University of Connecticut’s IDEA grant premiered at the Dodd Center alongside a photo exhibition. Running at 40 minutes long, the film aims to inspire the next generation of conservationists by showcasing youth who are innovating across the Northeast.  

According to documentary producer Lauren Pawlowski, an eighth-semester environmental studies and economics major, there is an urgency to the climate change crisis. By showing the work that conservationists are doing, the students involved in the project “hope to inspire you to get involved in the movement and support your local community and your environment.” 

The filmmakers sought to represent diverse voices from a range of environments. Professor Phoebe Godfrey, a sociology professor at UConn, detailed her path to creating the UConn Spring Valley Student Farm. She said through the plant maintenance and crop education activities they do, people in a rural environment can be educated on how to grow food and as a result, get involved in sustainable growing practices. 

“OUR ORIGINAL PLAN WAS MORE FOCUSED ON NATIONAL PARKS. WHEN THE PANDEMIC CONTAINED US TO THE NORTHEASTERN U.S., WE DECIDED INSTEAD TO FOCUS ON SOME OF THE STRONGEST POINTS WITHIN THE NORTHEASTERN U.S. SKYLER AND LAUREN ARE ENVIRONMENTAL MAJORS. SO, THEY FOCUSED ON A LOT OF TOPICS LIKE FARMING AND SUSTAINABILITY.”

Sarah Oxner

Another person seeking to empower youth is a man from Rochester, New York, who wanted to bring gardens to urban food deserts and teach about worm upkeep. The documentary also features college-aged commercial fisherman Caitlin Townsend, who helps run a lobster business in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The filmmakers even spoke to middle schoolers doing trail maintenance in New York.  

Pawlowski said that the group brought a unique blend of skills to the table. The film director Sarah Oxner, a sixth-semester digital media and design major with a concentration in filmmaking, and motion designer Duy Le, an eighth-semester digital media and design major with a concentration in filmmaking, had their expertise in visual storytelling.  

Photographer and filmmaker Skyler Kim, a sixth-semester environmental studies and art major, brought his love for sustainability in conjunction with Pawlowski’s environmental organization background to propel the project forward. In an introductory speech, Pawloski said that she and Kim started pre-production on the film in the spring of 2021. 

“Our original plan was more focused on national parks. When the pandemic contained us to the Northeastern U.S., we decided instead to focus on some of the strongest points within the Northeastern U.S. Skyler and Lauren are environmental majors. So, they focused on a lot of topics like farming and sustainability,” Oxner said. 

Finding interviewees entailed reaching out to larger associations. Oxner said that the Connecticut Student Conservation Association recommended them to candidates, which they narrowed down. The filmmakers eventually filmed in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. 

As the filmmakers mentioned during the event, the filmmaking process certainly had its challenges. Kim talked about how scope was an issue. Spinning a variety of topics, from climate activism to lobster fishing, into a narrative that flows is a difficult feat.  

“FOR EACH INTERVIEWEE, WE INTERVIEWED THEM FOR PROBABLY OVER AN HOUR, EACH ONE, SO WE HAD TO CUT IT DOWN TO LIKE TWO OR THREE MINUTES FOR THE FILM FOR EACH INTERVIEW. WE GOT TO HEAR ALL OF THEIR BACKSTORY. JUST LIKE SEEING ALL THE LITTLE DETAILS OF THEIR WORK AND HOW MUCH CARE AND LIKE PASSION THEY HAVE FOR EVERY LITTLE ASPECT OF IT WAS REALLY COOL.”

Lauren Pawlowski

“When it came to actual filming, I definitely think I tried to direct Sarah’s camera…‘Is this okay? Are you doing B camera or C camera?’ I also try to be more critical when it comes to things like what we’re shooting and what we’re editing,” Kim said.  

They also had to do a lot of reshoots. Kim also recounted a horrific Airbnb experience, saying that they pulled up a 10-mile dirt road to a farm, where they had to deal with bugs — dead and alive — and slept in “Satanic-looking” rooms.  

While there were struggles, the filmmaking process was also an educational experience for the artists that created it, they expressed during the event. For example, Le, a Vietnamese immigrant with a background in filmmaking there, found it daunting to make films in the U.S. because of the language barrier. The invitation to him from the group and the subsequent production experience, made him “find his love for filmmaking again.”  

Pawlowski also discussed what she learned through this experience.  

“For each interviewee, we interviewed them for probably over an hour, each one, so we had to cut it down to like two or three minutes for the film for each interview. We got to hear all of their backstory,” Pawlowski said. “Just like seeing all the little details of their work and how much care and like passion they have for every little aspect of it was really cool.” 

Pawlowski explained that when she was young, she did a lot of volunteer work in the community and played outside a lot. Her mom’s gardening and chemical engineering work helped Pawlowski see the value of sustainability. Spending her childhood involved in sustainability encouraged her environmental activism later in life. 

The documentary makers want their film to be a showcase of what other people are doing in conservation, and as a result, inspire viewers like college students to take part in the community. 

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