I first met filmmaker Gianna Savoie nearly two years ago. Over beer at Jackson’s brewpub, she explained her history in wildlife biology and nature storytelling, two trajectories that were, at that point, converging in the form of a wolverine documentary that she was making for PBS Nature. I’d already gone on one wolverine research trip with a cameraman for the documentary in tow, but at that point the idea was, to me, still abstract, and I was still a skeptic. I knew from experience that it was hard enough to do wolverine science; I couldn’t imagine how anyone – no matter how smart, talented, and energetic – could possibly create a viable film about such an elusive animal.
Seeing Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom, which first aired on PBS on November 14th, 2010, was enough to make me realize that my skepticism had been misplaced. If I needed any further confirmation that the documentary was fantastic (I didn’t, but still…..), that confirmation recently arrived in the form of an Emmy nomination for outstanding nature programming. The nominations were announced back in July (I was on a horse in wolverine habitat in the middle of the Altai in Mongolia, and still haven’t caught up on all the back news), but Montana State University, where Gianna is currently teaching wildlife filmmaking, published an article about the nomination today. Wolverine’s fellow nominees for the honor include David Attenborough’s First Life, Animal Planet’s The Secret Life of Elephants, and another PBS Nature film, Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air.
I had dinner this evening with Gianna and her husband Kip, who also worked on Wolverine. We wondered what might be the best comment on the Emmy prospects for the film, and (jokingly) concluded that neither hummingbirds, elephants, nor David Attenborough would stand much of a chance against wolverines in a face-to-face encounter; if art remains true to nature, the award should go to the gulos.
Joking aside, Gianna is, as ever, humble about her work, and emphasized that her biggest interest is in drawing attention to the wolverine’s conservation needs. As she stated in the interview for the MSU article:
“I didn’t merely want to put the species on the radar, I want to create a place for them in the hearts of the public,” Savoie said. “I want people to fall in love with them as characters, as individuals.”
In fact, Savoie said that her first thought when she learned of her nomination for the prestigious award was not about what dress she would wear, rather it was the attention it might bring to the wolverine, one of the world’s toughest, yet least understood mammals.
“Anything that helps put the wolverine on the radar so that people will want to learn more about them is fantastic,” she said.
This documentary has already created momentum for wolverines and wolverine conservation, and in that sense, it has already started to do what Gianna hoped it would. An Emmy would further that goal and would also recognize the work and the artistry that Gianna, Kip, and the entire crew put into making the film. The awards ceremony for News and Documentary Emmys will be held on September 26th. Congratulations to Gianna on the nomination, and let’s hope that it is the prelude to more good news for wolverines.