“Shaba” Honors & Film Festivals: Jackson Wild and more

I am proud to say that Shaba my film about the first matriarch of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary has been selected as a finalist in THREE categories – Conservation Short Form, People & Nature Short Form and Our Human Planet Short Form – at the Jackson Wild Media Awards. Widely considered the most prestigious honor in natural history media, the Jackson Wild Media Awards celebrate excellence and innovation in science and nature storytelling. These are the Oscars of nature filmmaking. The film will be screening at the festival and winners will be announced Sept. 30. 

Jackson Wild is a catalyst for accelerating and elevating impactful storytelling at the nexus of nature, science and conservation. Through innovative and collaborative community gatherings, skill-building initiatives and mentorship programs, Jackson Wild creates an inclusive forum for storytellers to more deeply illuminate connections to the natural world and our collective responsibility to the wild.

The Jackson Wild Summit will be held September 27 – October 1, 2021. Passes are available here.

It has also been selected as an Award Finalist in the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, held in New York, where it will be screened on October 20. And the short film will be featured in the upcoming Innsbruck Nature Film Festival in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria from October 19 – 22, and at Docutah November 1 – 6 at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah.

Earlier in the year, Shaba won the LA Independent Women Film Awards and was an official selection of the EarthXFilm Festival, Walla Walla Movie Crush, the Toronto International Women Film Festival, the International Wildlife Film Festival and the Doclands Film Festival.

Watch my website for festival information and more updates.

Shaba: A New Film by Ami Vitale

I am so excited to share my new short film, Shaba, about the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary’s first matriarch elephant and the extraordinary bonds she formed with a herd of baby orphaned elephants and the people who rescued her.

Shaba arrived traumatized after poachers shot her mother dead. This is a story about learning to trust those that we fear. She teaches us about love and our connections to all of life around us.

Ticket to view Shaba online are $10 and are available at amivitale.com/product/shaba. All ticket sales will go directly to Vital Impacts, a new non-profit supporting grassroots organizations who are protecting people, wildlife and habitats.

Shaba has been selected as a finalist in THREE categories – Conservation Short Form, People & Nature Short Form and Our Human Planet Short Form – at the Jackson Wild Media Awards. Widely considered the most prestigious honor in natural history media, the Jackson Wild Media Awards celebrate excellence and innovation in science and nature storytelling. These are the Oscars of nature filmmaking.

It has also been selected as an Award Finalist in the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, held in New York, where it will be screened on October 20. And the short film will be featured in the upcoming Innsbruck Nature Film Festival in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria from October 19 – 22, and at Docutah November 1 – 6 at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah.

Earlier in the year, Shaba won the LA Independent Women Film Awards and was an official selection of the EarthXFilm Festival, Walla Walla Movie Crush, the Toronto International Women Film Festival, the International Wildlife Film Festival and the Doclands Film Festival.

The fundraiser benefitting Reteti Elephant Sanctuary has ended. Together we were able to raise an astonishing $250,000 which will be used to buy milk, blankets and medicines to support the baby elephants and the people who have committed their lives to protecting them. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first indigenous owned and run elephant sanctuary in Africa.

Thank you for caring and being a part of this journey!

Warmest regards,
Ami Vitale

Toronto Film Magazine: About Shaba

Ami was interviewed in May by Toronto Film Magazine about her filmmaking and her experience making Shaba.

In the mountains of northern Kenya, a Samburu community is doing something that has never been done before. They’ve built a sanctuary for orphaned elephants to try to rehabilitate them back to the wild. The project is not just changing local attitudes about elephants, it’s changing attitudes about women too because the secret to Reteti’s success is all because of the special bond between a group of local women keepers and one special elephant named Shaba.

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first-ever indigenous community-owned and run sanctuary in all of Africa, where rescued orphaned elephants are looked after by local keepers from the Samburu community. They are rehabilitated and raised and then reintroduced back into the wild. The sanctuary is empowering young Samburu women to be the first-ever indigenous women elephant keepers in all of Africa. At first, the community didn’t think there was a place for women in the workplace. Now, the success of these women elephant keepers is unlocking new possibilities and setting a powerful example for young girls, hoping to pursue their dreams.

What’s happening there, without fanfare, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation in the way the Samburu people relate to wild animals. This oasis where orphans grow up, learning to be wild so that one day they can rejoin their herds, is as much about people as it is about elephants.

This is a personal story about a group of women and an elephant named Shaba who changed each other’s lives. This film is a powerful reminder that we are a part of a complex world created over millions of years, and the survival of all species is intertwined with our own.

Reteti began in partnership with Conservation International who provided critical operational support and work to scale the Reteti community-centered model to create lasting impacts worldwide. It was our pleasure to speak to the director of Shaba, Ami Vitale.

How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?

I began as a writer and photographer working for international publications like National Geographic magazine, so my background was already in strong visual storytelling. When the DSLR cameras evolved to include HD video, I pushed myself to embrace these new tools and learn to make short films. While photography is an incredibly powerful medium, films allow us to amplify important voices and stories in other impactful ways. Film brings these stories to life by truly listening to one another’s stories. My first film, Bangladesh: A Climate Trap, documented the mass migration of people who are being impacted by climate change. Bangladesh faces a double threat: rising sea levels as a result of the melting ice caps and glaciers, and as the world warms, more extreme weather patterns. Monsoon rains in the region are concentrating into a shorter period, causing a cruel combination of more extreme floods and longer periods of drought. The poorest are the most affected by climate change but they are the least responsible for it. The country’s future, however, and the fate of its impoverished millions, will be determined not necessarily by rising sea levels, but by the behavior of its citizens, neighbors and outside powers. Whether it becomes one of the great human tragedies of our time or a model for the future depends on these choices. Right now Bangladesh appears far away, but our planet’s ecosystem is an intricate web and the lessons learned here are important for all of humanity.

What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?

For my next film, Shaba, I spent the last 6 years working with a Samburu community in northern Kenya who are rescuing orphaned elephants. What’s happening at the Reteti elephant sanctuary, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation. This oasis where orphans grow up, learning to be wild so that one day they can rejoin their herds, is a story that is as much about people as it is about elephants. They are doing something that has never been done before, building the first ever indigenous owned and run sanctuary for orphaned elephants to rehabilitate them back to the wild. The film focuses on the indigenous women elephant keepers who are changing not just how the Samburu relate to wildlife but also how people relate to one another.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent female filmmaker in the film industry?

It’s very difficult to get a foothold in the industry. Who you know matters and those doing the hiring end up excluding new talent. Perhaps it feels like a risk for them and so most of the opportunities are given to the same people who often happen to be men. I am working in the natural history space and most of my colleagues are all white men. Until our industry takes more chances to empower new voices, we will not have a multitude of perspectives.

How difficult is it to fund indie films?

In my experience, it is very challenging but I have been lucky and learned how to find people who believe in my projects. The challenge has been that I end up using so much time and energy away from the creative to find funding.

Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?

There are so many directors I admire but the ones that inspire me the most are the strong women directors who have carved a path in what can be an inhospitable industry. They have found ways to use their voices to create narratives that help us imagine a more equitable world. Their work is not just compelling and heartwarming but they use their crafts to create new narratives and reframe the old narratives.

Agnes Varda has always been a great inspiration. Her work resonates because she was also a photographer before she was a filmmaker. She had a photographer’s eye and paid very close attention to everything that was in frame. All of her films were social commentaries, addressing feminist issues. She filmed womens stories, lives and struggles and had a profound impact on the way I see the world. A journalist once wrote that “she was so far ahead of the world that she had to wait for it to catch up to her.”

Kirsten Johnson’s 30 years of making films and her deep connection to the people she films has resonated deeply with me. She shows the importance of authenticity and intimacy in making films. Her own trajectory from being a camerawoman to director and filmmaker has personally been very inspiring.

Maïmouna Doucouré uses her voice and art to ask difficult questions and empower women. She takes stories we may think we understand and turns them on their head. Her work challenges Western audiences to think about how when we objectify women, we also oppress them.

Why do you make films?

Films are an incredible tool for creating awareness and understanding, a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. After a decade of covering wars as a photojournalist, I realized that all the stories about people and the human condition were always connected to the natural world. In some cases, it was the scarcity of basic resources like water. In others, it was the changing climate and loss of fertile lands but always it was the demands placed on our ecosystem that drove conflict and human suffering. Today, I have become a filmmaker and my work is not just about people. It’s not just about wildlife either. It’s about how small and deeply interconnected our world is.

Ami Vitale on CBS Sunday Morning

Ami was honored to have recently been featured on the program CBS Sunday Morning in the segment, “Travel photographers on capturing images close to home.

During the pandemic, photographers who are used to working in exotic locations have been focusing on more local subject matter, opening up new avenues of creativity. Correspondent Rita Braver talks with Ami Vitale, whose work frequently appears in National Geographic magazine, and lifestyle photographer Gray Malin, about how the lockdown forced them both to reach a new understanding of their work – and their purpose.

Some of the work included in the broadcast included Cows in the Mist, Kamera and Kilifi Under the Umbrella, Lekupania and Giraffe, Yeye in the MistWellGujarat Montana Mane and Mountains, and The Last Goodbye.

Flash Print Sale to Support Northern White Rhino Keepers

The last two northern white rhinos on the planet are never alone. They are cared for 24-hours per day, seven days a week by devoted keepers. Some of them you may know from these posts like Zacharia Mutai, Joseph Wachira and James Mwenda but there are many others who have committed their lives to protecting these creatures.

These men spend more time with these rhinos than they do their own families. The bonds are deep and the keepers have a profound understanding of just how precious these last northern white rhinos are. These men have become some of the northern white rhinos closest friends and greatest advocates.

For the month of February, I am holding a special fine art print offering of all my photographs of northern white rhinos. 100% of the profits will be donated directly to the keepers at Ol Pejeta Conservancy so that they can continue on their mission of protecting and fighting for some of the world’s most vulnerable creatures. Show your support today by visiting amivitale.com/shop/giving-back

Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time

I’m also honored to have contributed to Human Nature: Planet Earth In Our Time in which 12 of today’s most influential nature and conservation photographers address important environmental concerns of our time.

The featured photographers are:

  • Joel Sartore
  • Paul Nicklen
  • Ami Vitale
  • Brent Stirton
  • Frans Lanting
  • Brian Skerry
  • Tim Laman
  • Cristina Mittermeier
  • J Henry Fair
  • Richard John Seymour
  • George Steinmetz
  • Steve Winter

Alongside their reflections, they present curated selections from their photographic careers.

Stories and extraordinary images from around the world come together in a powerful call to awareness and action.

  • The United Nations has declared that nature is in more trouble now than at any other time in human history.
  • Extinction looms over one million species of plants and animals.
  • Human Nature wrestles with challenging questions: What do we have? What do we stand to lose?

This book offers inspiration to environmentalists, activists, photography fans, and anyone concerned about the future of our world.

  • This illuminating book tackles our modern environmental future through the lens of preeminent photographers
  • Great gift for photographers, nature enthusiasts, those who enjoy backpacking and camping, and anyone who cares about Earth’s climate and future
  • Add it to the shelf with books like National Geographic The Photo Ark Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals by Joel Sartore, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, and Dire Predictions: The Visual Guide to the Findings of the IPCC by Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump

Learn more and get your copy today at Chronicle Books.

Lavazza 2021 Calendar: The New Humanity

I am incredibly honored to be partnered again for the Lavazza 2021 Calendar which has just launched! The theme this year is called ‘The New Humanity’ which asks us to work for a better world that is sustainable and just for all of us. Each photo had a meaning and a message. My message was that the environment has always been, and will always be, a social justice issue. We are all connected to one another and the outcome to every single story of humanity is always dependent on nature. The project aims to spread hope, bringing it where it is most needed.

My work was featured alongside these legendary photographers: Simone Bramante, Martha Cooper, Charlie Davoli, Carolyn Drake, Joey L., David LaChapelle, Christy Lee Rogers, Steve McCurry, Eugenio Recuenco, Denis Rouvre and Martin Schoeller.

Explore this powerful photography and the messages behind each image now at calendar.lavazza.com

Nikon Donates New Z 50 and Lenses to Joseph Wachira at NYWild Film Festival

I was honored to introduce the moving documentary film Kifaru directed by David Hambridge about the last male northern white rhino, “Sudan” at the 7th Annual New York Wild Film Festival opening night. Joseph “JoJo” Wachira flew in from Ol Pejeta in Kenya for the festival where Nikon surprised him with a new Nikon Z 50 and two DX lenses, the NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR presented by Steve Heiner, so he can continue to tell this important story!

I am so grateful to Nikon for this empowering gift. I also wish to extend a huge thank you to Kenya for donating his ticket and to all of you who came out for this powerful evening.
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Currently, I am running a print drive to benefit the rhino keepers who selflessly have committed their lives to these creatures. You can own a signed photo of the moving final moment with JoJo and Sudan while also helping them personally. Details are available at amivitale.com/product/sudan. 100% of the profits will go directly to all the keepers.

Print Sale to Benefit Ol Pejeta Keepers

I am honored that my photograph of Joseph Wachira saying goodbye to Sudan was chosen as the National Geographic best photo of the decade by the people of Instagram. I will never forget what it felt like to witness what I believed to be the end of a species. Yet, in a beautiful twist of fate, this image – an image documenting extinction – is the beginning of something powerful, something hopeful.

The coming decades will not be easy, but I believe we are making a real difference. You are my hope for a future that includes rhinos and other endangered species. 

This image is currently available for sale. I am donating 100% of the profits directly to the keepers, like Joseph, at Ol Pejeta so that they can continue on their mission of protecting and fighting for some of the world’s most vulnerable creatures.

Purchase the signed print here.

The National Geographic Photo of the Decade

There are no words to adequately describe the profound feelings of hope and melancholy inspired by Joseph Wachira’s final goodbye to Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino. This image has been chosen as the best photo of the decade by the people who voted yesterday on National Geographic’s Instagram account. I will never forget what it felt like to witness what I believed to be the end of a species. Yet, in a beautiful twist of fate, this image – an image documenting extinction – is the beginning of something powerful, something hopeful.
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Our world faces so many challenges. Humans are ushering in a new era of mass extinction. While that thought keeps me up at night, the profound care that Joseph showed for Sudan inspires hope and drives me to work even harder. Those who feel the urgency of this moment in history, are coming together around this image. As I write this, embryos created by Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Avantea, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya Wildlife Service and Safari Park Dvur Kralove wait to be transferred into a surrogate mother. This would not have been possible without your support. Please keep supporting the Biorescue Project. This matters.
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The coming decades will not be easy, but I believe we are making a real difference. You are my hope for a future that includes rhinos and other endangered species. The key thing is to not fall into the trap of thinking that these issues are too big to deal with or that someone else is taking care of the problems. It is up to all of us. It’s up to you. And to me. Be the VOICE for this planet. Don’t sit this one out. Without rhinos and elephants and other wildlife we suffer more than loss of ecosystem health. We suffer a loss of imagination, a loss of wonder, a loss of beautiful possibilities. Saving nature is really about saving ourselves. Sudan taught me that.