The Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) Friend of the Month for March 2023 is an award-winning wildlife filmmaker from the Republic of Congo, Vianet Djenguet, who will be presenting a film on the elephants of the Congo basin at an EPI Foundation special event to take place online on May 22. He considers Congo as a stronghold for African forest elephants and western lowland gorillas
Vianet, what sort of childhood did you have and were you close to nature?
I was born in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. I grew up in the city centre, with my parents and brothers and sisters. My grandparents lived nearby. The great rainforests of northern Congo were far away but we would sometimes visit my father’s ancestral lands, on the outskirts of the forests. It was my uncle who took me to the zoo in Brazzaville, where I saw my first forest elephant.
And how did you become involved in filmmaking?
I studied film and moving image production and wanted to work in documentary filmmaking. I’ve always enjoyed operating cameras, but it takes time to become established in the world of filmmaking. It was on a BBC series called Deadly Mission Madagascar where I was given my first chance to use a camera, when my role as sound operator gave me the opportunity to also film time lapses.
Much of your work is focused on the natural world. Do you consider yourself more of a filmmaker, or a conservationist?
I consider myself very much a filmmaker. Conservationists are people who often devote their lives to the wildlife they study and protect. I wanted to work in documentaries to give people a voice they might not have otherwise. Working in the natural world made me realise that there are so many other voices that need a platform; animals, communities living beside wildlife and conservationists.
You’ve travelled across the world, but I’m guessing your home country Congo is close to your heart- so tell us what makes it special.
Around 70% of the Congo is covered with forest, some of which is primary forest. The water systems flowing through the Congo make it so special. The huge flooding rivers create swampy areas. It sounds like a nightmare to some, but these actually protect much of the forests and the species that live within. Congo is a stronghold for African forest elephants and western lowland gorillas. It was also the first African country to pass a law protecting indigenous people; the forest people who have lived in the forests for as long as history has known.
The Congo basin – its forests, people and wildlife – are of huge importance but face many threats. What do you think this area will look like 50 years from today?
I am hopeful that the Congo basin’s forests will be as they are today; intact and abundant. I believe this because the Congo, alongside other central African countries such as Gabon, Central Africa Republic and Cameroon, are pushing laws and maintaining parks to protect wildlife. New generations are being influenced to value the environment and wildlife.
The media often highlights the negative and the tragic, such as poaching. But when you visit the Congo basin, you realise how many people are working hard to protect wildlife and forests. These people give me hope. There are stories of success and hope that often don’t make it to the forefront of the media.