Charity Film Awards – interview with filmmaker Andrea Walji

CCF UK have been shortlisted for a Charity Film Award! These annual awards celebrate the films that charities have produced in the past year and allow participants to share their films with new audiences, helping to spread their messages far and wide.

After a huge amount of voting by our amazing supporters in the first round, we are now in the shortlist which is one step closer to winning. But, we need your help! Please watch and vote for our film. Our entry focuses on the illegal wildlife trade in cheetahs and was made by filmmaker Andrea Walji, who we interviewed to discover the story behind the film, and her feature length version that is now being screened at film festivals, and learn about her personal cheetah experiences.

CCF UK: What is your job/business and what kind of films do you usually make?

Andrea Walji: I am a producer of short impactful conservation and environmental films.

CCF UK: What inspired you make your film?

Andrea Walji: I was inspired to make Not A Pet and the CCF campaign film after having made a short film on tiger poaching and conservation in India. It was whilst working on the tiger film that I started to notice how many social media and dating sites were featuring selfies with drugged chained up tigers, and it really sickened me that people were perpetuating this trade.  The more I researched into it I saw how many species were being illegally trafficked for tourists to pet and take photos with, and with that came the desire for people to own exotic wildlife.  The more I saw on social media, the more it angered and upset me, and I knew I had to do something about it.  I knew I could use my production skills to start making films about the illegal pet trade, which no one was talking about.  There is of course a huge focus on the trade in illegal wildlife, and rightfully so, but this is mostly in the dead parts of the animals. At this point it’s too late to save them.  Through Not A Pet I wanted to shout out that thousands of animals are being stolen from the wild, illegally trafficked, sold, traded and paraded to individuals who just flaunt it on social media and this has to stop.  If we stop the demand, stop the likes on social media, then we can stop the trafficking and poaching at source.

CCF UK: Can you tell us the story behind your film?

Andrea Walji: Hundreds of cheetah cubs are being stolen from the wild, decimating the wild population in Africa.  For every 5 cubs that are taken, only 1 survives.  They are being smuggled illegally into the Middle East to be sold as pets.  Not A Pet looks at the illegal wildlife pet trade, and the role social media plays in the parading and trading of exotic animals online.
CCF UK: What was the filming process?
Andrea Walji: I spent nearly a year researching and writing the story before we started the filming process.  As it was a self-funded film, the team was made up of my DOP Jack Wylson and myself.  We interviewed Patricia Tircorache in London during the Illegal Wildlife Trade week in London, followed by a short trip to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, where we interviewed Dr Laurie Marker and filmed cheetahs there.  We also filmed for a few days in South Africa at HESC with Lente Roode.  We then used archive footage from social media to show the kinds of social posts which we are urging the public not to support.
CCF UK: What was the best thing about making the film?
Andrea Walji: The best thing about making the film… there are so many it’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing! I’d have to say having the opportunity to use my voice and share this story to the world through film festivals and social media to spread the word about the illegal pet trade has been the best outcome.  Through the medium of film, we’re reaching thousands of people who didn’t know this was happening, and the impact is rippling across far and wide.  Of course, meeting and spending time with the amazing dedicated conservationists and scientists at CCF and being able to support the work they’re doing in the field has been rewarding too. Ultimately just knowing I’m doing my best in trying to save the cheetah population being decimated in the wild is what drives me to make campaign films like this.  Watch this space, there are more to come!
CCF UK: What was the worst thing about making the film?
Andrea Walji: The worst thing about making this film was uncovering how many other species are being ripped mercilessly from the wild to meet the demand for them as pets, and finding out how many animals suffer and die along the way. Or for those that survive the long journey with traffickers who don’t know how to look after them, they are then so malnourished and abused at their end destination and locked up in cages, confined to a life of misery.  It’s heart breaking.  And it has to stop.
A huge thank you to Andrea Walji for sharing her story with us. Please vote for our film to win the Charity Film Awards!

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