Fremont, CA – July 31, 2023 – “Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a unique place. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most biodiverse places in the world,” says filmmaker Charli Doherty. “We wanted to transport the audience to this incredible ecological site and give the viewer an appreciation of the vital conservation work carried out by wildlife rangers, alongside local communities.”
An inspiring documentary released on World Ranger Day, presented by That Gorilla Brand in partnership with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and The Gorilla Organization, “The Hearts of Bwindi” certainly transports the viewer into this breathtaking conservation site in Uganda.
Captured in tandem with their upcoming feature film “Maji,” the small production team from Biscuit Bunker, including Cinematographer Will Hadley, Editor Olly Cooper, Producer Tom Neish, and Doherty, who as well as directing took on camera, sound recording, and colorist roles, collaborated on a workflow based around shooting on Blackmagic Design cameras and editing and finishing in DaVinci Resolve Studio using Blackmagic Cloud.
“We had a two camera setup, shooting between the URSA Mini Pro 12K and Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro,” says Doherty. “The big deal with a complete Blackmagic workflow is not just what can be achieved with the hardware, but also what the software can do. Olly and I have been collaborating very closely within the edit itself, even though I’m based in Berlin and he’s in the south of England. It’s a whole ecosystem that just works flawlessly between hardware, recording, and into post.”
Nature and Nurture
“The Hearts of Bwindi’ is full of richly detailed sequences of the rangers and villagers of the National Park, contrasted with the color rich macro shots of the insects and wildlife, all against the background of the forest itself. However, there are some purely cinematic touches. A wide canopy shot, accompanied by the sound of a bird, cuts to reveal it is a ranger whistling; it strengthens the feeling of intimate connection with nature that pervades the film. When the rangers are alerted to the presence of poachers, the film moves from a tension building, rack focused shot of a series of crouched rangers into a stylized 5fps sequence as they dash into the jungle.
“In a documentary situation, running around a forest can present many challenges,” says Hadley. “There’s a lot of humidity, moisture and dirt, and all sorts of factors that can be hard for us, as well as the cameras. With a little TLC at the end of each day, we didn’t have any issues with the kit.”
Hadley shot on DZO Zooms. “They’re a flexible option for documentary, but I like the texture you get from them,” he explains. “We also had some super wide primes for lots of wide portraits, as well as the B roll capturing the forest and the environment. Then there are macro shots of ants and beetles and the forest floor in detail, which are important for contrasting those grand epic landscapes.”
The URSA Mini Pro 12K’s 14 stops of dynamic range and the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro’s 13 stop latitude gave the team plenty to work with. “Dynamic range is incredibly important because we were constantly shooting into shadows,” says Doherty. “We did a lot of shooting up into the canopy, often having the environment dominate the space above the rangers. We got all the detail in the skin and the shadows without clipping the sky.”
“We shot full sensor 6K on the Pocket Cinema Camera, but what’s great about the URSA 12K is being able to mix resolutions,” adds Doherty. “We shot a few scenes in 8K, but it was mostly in 4K. It’s an incredible innovation, having the option to jump resolution without cropping the sensor. From a look perspective, it’s very filmic, and that’s the aesthetic I tried to achieve.”
Doherty further enhanced the cinematic look in the grade using DaVinci Resolve Studio. “We applied a Kodak 2383 LUT towards the end, but a big part of the work in post was matching footage shot across a few days in very different environments and lighting conditions, from different cameras,” he explains.
As a drone was used for aerial shots, Doherty had to match this with the other footage. “The color warper tool in Resolve is just a godsend for this,” he says. “For example, the drone’s greens are very different from the URSA, but we had the ability to just pick that one color and shift it with the tool to match and get them consistent.”
Although 95 percent was filmed by the DoP, Doherty and Neish were able to lend a hand in shooting. “We’d do multiple takes of similar sequences, and there were moments where we had to cross shoot, so it was great having another camera on hand to know you’ve got a different angle, or if we wanted to get a gimbal tracking shot to know that we’ve got a super wide lens on the Pocket Cinema Camera. It’s great for coverage,” says Doherty. “We had a very limited time to do this, and as we were moving quickly through the space just having an option on the second camera and a different look presented more options for us.”
The built in ND Filters of the URSA Mini Pro 12K helped control the fluid change in exposure and depth of field needed for certain shots. “Having the internal NDs allowed us to finetune the subject,” says Hadley. “The forest environment is rich in color, so we had that as a palette, while the intimate close ups showed beautiful skin tones.”
“We had a Tilta Follow Focus system, and when things were more dynamic, I was pulling focus from the director’s monitor,” adds Doherty. “I think one of my favorite shots of the film is where Will pulls focus from the forest to a portrait of a ranger, from nature to the human. I love the visual shift moving us along the narrative, moving the audience’s focus from the forest to the rangers.”
Doherty hopes the film has a similar impact for audiences, “I hope people look up the work of wildlife rangers. As well as catching poachers, they’re building partnerships with communities and organizations which offer sustainable alternatives to wildlife crime. It’s an incredibly valuable job; they’re protecting the biodiversity that is vital for all life on Earth.”
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