Towards conserving Ladakh

Meet wildlife filmmaker Gautam Pandey, who last year completed a 3 part film series “Into the Himalayas” for UNDP, Union Environment Ministry on 360 virtual reality (VR) technology platform
Towards conserving Ladakh
Gautam who lives with a passion for wildlife says the 3 part series films which are yet to witness distribution, highlights people, ecology and wildlife of Ladakh. Image credit: Riverbank Studios

Srinagar: For wildlife filmmaker Gautam Pandey, it is more than lineage that has been an important factor in his film making career. Gautam, Director of Riverbank Studios, is the son of prominent filmmaker Mike Pandey. This nature enthusiast has carved a niche for himself, even as the father-son duo has done some interesting work together.

Gautam, is one of India’s accomplished wildlife filmmakers and studied films in Canada. He has won several national and international awards for his films including the National award. However, since the last five years, Ladakh for Gautam has been no less than a second home.

Just before the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, Gautam completed a three part series of films “Into the Himalayas”, which focuses on multi-dimensional aspects of the Himalayas, including Ladakh.

Gautam says the films were shot on the insta360 Pro, a high end stereoscopic 360 camera in 8K resolution.

“These films have been completed under the ‘Secure Himalaya Project’ with support from Ladakh Wildlife Department’ for United Nations Development Programme and Union Ministry of Environment. We are thankful to Sajid Akbar of the Wildlife Department in Ladakh, who was quite helpful in making this project a success” says Gautam.

Gautam who lives with a passion for wildlife says the 3 part series films which are yet to witness distribution, highlights people, ecology and wildlife of Ladakh.

“These films are also about securing the livelihoods in Ladakh. Not everyone, especially policy makers do get to visit Ladakh. With these films, we are trying to create empathy. The films will provide a virtual reality experience of Ladakh and not just showcase the scenic beauty and wildlife but some harsh realities such as problems of solid waste in this region” says Gautam.

Born into a family of nature-enthusiasts, Gautam’s passion for filmmaking started at an early age and he is now focused on using film as a medium to bring about awareness about wildlife and combine the genres of Natural History and Conservation films.

Two of his films have featured on Animal Planet and Discovery, Gyamo - Queen of the Mountains and Looking for Sultan. Both films have been awarded internationally and recognised for their conservation message.

Gautam has been experimenting with technology and for the past couple of years has been experimenting with cinematic 360 virtual reality technology to create immersive experiences to tell stories and deliver conservation messages to new audiences. In Ladakh, he was successful in filming wild snow leopards in 360 VR, a first in the world of wildlife filmmaking.

The 360-degree videos, also known as “immersive videos or spherical videos”, are video recordings where a view in every direction is recorded at the same time, shot using an omnidirectional camera or a collection of cameras.

The critically acclaimed award-winning film 'Gyamo- Queen of The Mountains' produced by Riverbank Studios during 2017 in association with Discovery Communications India was the first project shot in Ladakh that involved Gautam. The film is about Gyamo, a snow leopard found in Ladakh and her two cubs, who haven't been seen ever since a big male snow leopard appeared, says Gautam.

The father son wildlife filmmaker duo Mike Pandey and Gautam Pandey while following the trail of this leopard, discovered that there were many challenges that surrounded this endangered big cat.

“This film is directed towards the nature enthusiasts, government authorities and tourists with an aim to make them more aware of the prevailing conditions and need for urgent intervention to stop further damage to local ecology,” director of the film, Gautam told Kashmir Ink.

By highlighting the issues in the pristine Ladakh region, Gautam through his work has been showing piling up of garbage due to the presence of tourists in huge numbers.

“Huge number of tourists arrive in Ladakh region every year and the numbers are only growing. We are not blaming anyone. It is just the reality of the issue. Places like Ladakh where the terrain is difficult and the region remains isolated for most part of the year due to extreme climatic condition, disposable plastic is not meant for this region,” Gautam said.

The piling garbage in Ladakh is also encouraging the growth of stray dog population, which is posing a big threat to the snow leopards. These dogs are also mating with wolves which is producing a menacing breed which is attacking humans and wild animals alike.

"Through our films, we hope to generate more awareness on this critical subject and hope for timely intervention from authorities,” Gautam said. He said in the recently completed three part series films, his team filmed in India’s highest landfill site in Ladakh. “Authorities in Ladakh are putting in their efforts for solid waste management. The important message is that plastic needs to be banned in eco-sensitive zones such as Ladakh. I hope after watching this part of the film, one takes a pledge not to dump a plastic bottle in a place as beautiful as Ladakh ”says Gautam. He says usually issues based on conservation are getting ignored as mostly the spotlight is on the scenic beauty of health resorts and other eco-sensitive places.

Gautam says there is a need for the government to promote conservation awareness films, especially those based on the 360 VR technology. “Government and other concerned agencies must help in the distribution of these films. The need of the hour is that viewing of films based on this technology be supported” says Gautam.

Among some of the recent projects of Gautam, includes filming and camera trapping brown bears. He has been filming and directing videos based on 360 technology in Jabarkhet Nature Reserve, Mussorie.

Gautam has also been the Director of Photography for various projects including a current project, which is a 6 part series on the jungles of India, set to release on Discovery channel. He has also been Director of Photography for “Wild Cats of India, 2018, Felis Creation - Nat GeoWild” which is a 3 part series on the big and small cats of India, on air on NGC wild and Hot Star. In the Himachal Pradesh series during 2013 -2015 for Himachal Forest Department, Gautam was the Principle Cameraperson and involved in time lapses and drone work on all 4 films. He filmed and camera trapped the Western Tragopan, a rare pheasant that had never been filmed before in India.

The films covered both culture and biodiversity of the shepherds of the mountains, high altitude lakes and the Pong Dam in Himachal.

Gautam is a post graduate in advanced film and television and has a specialisation in directing, camera and lighting from Sheridan College Institute of Advanced Learning, Canada. He also conducts film workshops to share and help build a community of filmmakers that want to tell stories that need to be told.A synopsis of Gautam’s works can be found on his Instagram handle: https://www.instagram.com/riverbankstudios/?hl=en

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