My name is Tessa Barlin and I am currently a freelance filmmaker, focusing on environmental documentaries. I mainly work as a camera operator but I have recently started directing my own films too.
1. Tell us about yourself – who are you and what do you do?
I am a 24 year old documentary filmmaker with an absolute passion for the natural world. Although I also work on commercial shoots, narrative films and human-interest documentaries, my passion is for wildlife filmmaking, and telling conservation stories. I grew up visiting the bush as often as I could, and doing wildlife photography. Now, I focus on making documentaries that inspire people to love and protect nature.
2. What are you currently up to? Are there any exciting projects ongoing?
I just finished up a short film called Beyond The Fence. It is about bringing wildlife conservation into the hearts and minds of school students who come from rural communities living on the boarders of the Kruger National Park. Although these communities are geographically close to wildlife, due to poverty, most have never been inside the park or seen wildlife before. The film focuses on three young people – Queen, Rifumo and Wisani – who come from these communities, who had the opportunity to learn wildlife photography through an organisation called Wild Shots Outreach, and are now becoming eco-warriors in their own right. Through their photography, they are bringing wildlife back home to their communities and teaching their communities to love the natural world. I am hoping to take the film to film festivals nationally and internationally.
3. What’s your best project/work to date?
Beyond The Fence is my best work to date, as it is a topic very close to my heart, and it was the first film I directed.
4. Who or what inspires you?
Two things keep me inspired – First, spending time in nature. Long road trips through billion-year old mountains, swimming in the ocean or watching a beautiful sunset never ceases to amaze me. I fall in love with this planet every day and am inspired to help protect it. Secondly, the brave women and men who are fighting endlessly to save our planet from greed and destruction. People who have started their own NGO’s, people who travel to the ends of the earth to document the rich beauty of nature, and people who put their lives in the line to expose the people harming the planet in the name of corruption and greed. My hat goes off to those people. I hope to be one of them one day.
5. When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
When I’m not working, I like to do things like go hiking, boxing or scuba diving. I also enjoy walks on the promenade and often I take my camera out and go photograph insects at Kirstenbosch just for the fun of it.
6. Finally, what tips or advice could you give to other documentary creatives, just starting out or to the more experienced creatives needing a bit of encouragement?
My advice is to keep yourself busy, even when you’re not working. Shoot as much as you can, just for fun. Shoot things purely because they make you happy. Remember why you decided to become a filmmaker in the first place. The biggest lesson I’ve had to learn is that when work becomes quiet – which it inevitably will – try not to let this get you down. It is when I let myself become inactive that I start to feel anxiety. When I spend time doing what I love, I feel productive and good about myself, even if it not a paid job.