THE LAST KOALAS, 54min., Australia
Directed by Serena Michelle Findlay
The summer of 2020 was characterised by catastrophic bushfire events around Australia. On Kangaroo Island in South Australia, over 200,000 hectares was burned, including 90,000 hectares of national park. A thriving colony of 50,000 koalas called Kangaroo Island home prior to the devastating Black Summer bushfires. Now, as few as 5,000 - 10,000 koalas remain. As the koala species edges closer to the threat of extinction on mainland Australia, this documentary explores the incredible rescue, recovery, rehabilitation and release effort undertaken for the surviving Kangaroo Island koalas; a colony which scientists have signalled may well be Australia's last.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
I initially arrived on Kangaroo Island as a volunteer, at a time when the fire that destroyed almost half of the island was still actively burning. My sisters and a small group of friends and I travelled over with emergency medical supplies and wildlife feed, but hoped also that our combined hands may be useful too. Our group had varying degrees of experience in animal care, and when we arrived we found that we could actually offer some help at the koala rescue centre, which was still very much in its infancy at that time. I continued to revisit by myself over the coming weeks and months to help out at the rescue centre; feeling somehow that the island was drawing me back time and time again. I documented very little over that time, in fact filming did feel a little intrusive and there was still so much hands-on work to do as a volunteer. As I continued to return though, and witnessed firsthand just how much had been achieved through sheer determination and generosity of human spirit alone, I felt that there was a really beautiful story to be told.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
I started filming in March 2020, and returned to the island to film for a final time in June 2020. The whole process was around 9 months in total.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
"Harrowing" would definitely be one word. There is so much sadness to be felt in reliving what happened. No Australian is really a stranger to bushfire disaster, but the scale of devastation during the Black Summer, and especially on Kangaroo Island, is unlike anything I could have ever imagined. But "heartwarming" is the second word; to see what humanity combined can achieve when we work towards a common goal was also an amazing experience.
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
This is my first documentary, first full-length feature of any kind, and my biggest obstacle was really that I really had no help. I'm essentially self-taught in video production, and have no mentors or even many industry contacts. I would have loved to have had some outside influences to guide me and help tell the story in the best possible way. I do feel that there are probably lots of improvements that might have been made, had I been able to bounce ideas off someone along the way.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I teared up a bit! It was wonderful to hear people talk about what they got out of the story, and to see in many cases that the takeaway messages for some people really were the ones that I wanted to leave people with. It was pretty special.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
I've been working in video production for about 10 years now, but I think making The Last Koalas has been the turning point for me. I really enjoyed the process of documenting and telling a story that felt significant. Ideally, I'd like to move forward and do more of that kind of storytelling in the future.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
As a kid I watched The Lion King over and over again and could recite it word-for-word. Once an animal person, always an animal person...
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
I have been really happy with this experience so far.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
I am new to this but so far the experience has been great. The platform is certainly very easy to use.
10. What is your favorite meal?
My Mum makes a great "meatloaf" which is actually made of nuts and mushrooms. I can make it, but of course it's always better when Mum does it!
11. What is next for you? A new film?
I'm working on a project which is about the diminishing habitat of Kangaroo Island's koalas through the clearing of commercial Bluegum plantations across the island. At this stage the project is very much in its infancy, but I've met some really passionate people who are committed to the cause, and I'm interested to see where that story leads.