Exploring the Nature: Five Stories
MEDEA Highly Commended 2010
Exploring the Nature: Five Stories (Pieci stāsti par dabu), is a documentary film series that was created in 2009, by ELM MEDIA (Latvia) with the help of the Latvian Fund for Nature, a non-governmental nature conservation and research organisation.
Educating Latvian youngsters on climate change and the impact humans have on the environment, this series is made up of 5 educational films on five different biotopes (floodplain meadows, inland waters, forests, marshlands and sea coast) and their management. Each film, also available online, is a road movie with 3 students travelling around Latvia and exploring nature by visiting protected areas and countryside farms and meeting experts from the Latvian Fund for Nature. By following these adventurous travel stories by their peers, teenagers are encouraged to associate with the environmental problems discussed in the films and to change their general attitude to one where all members of society are involved in preserving the environment by maintaining natural diversity and protecting natural habitats. Students learn about three main topics: the natural processes that are going on in these five main natural biotopes that cover almost the whole Latvian ecosystem, the different species that live in each biotope and what makes them different and they also learn about the importance of each species.
Pieci stāsti par dabu also includes a CD with teaching materials and each film is short enough (~20 minutes) so that it can be used in a 45-minute class. In the teaching materials, teachers can find a detailed description of each theme and topic covered in the film as well as photos of different species from each film, literature references, other sources as well as a suggested structure for explaining each of the five topics, which includes watching the film, discussion in class, different exercises for students (both indoors and outdoors) and other activities. Activity examples include an excursion to the floodplain meadows to study biodiversity there, filling in worksheets during their observations, participation in bird watching days in spring or autumn organised by the Latvian Society of Ornithology, visiting natural parks where the stories were filmed, attending lectures given by experts who helped to develop the films and visiting the Museum of Pharmacy in Riga, Latvia with the aim to learn more about the use of herbs in medicine.
While these educational films were created for use in biology class and environmental studies in the 10th to 12th grade (15-18 years) in relation to the different ecosystems and their management, the material is now also being used in primary school, in geography classes (explaining for example coastal processes, development of marshes, and processes in the floodplains) and with 1st year university students in subjects like biology, geography, environmental studies and forestry. The materials are used on the ongoing basis and teachers can also contact experts from the Latvian Fund for Nature, who prepared the methodological materials, for the latest updates on a specific topic.
What the judges said of this entry:
The judges thought this documentary series was very appealing: aesthetically beautiful, with young actors, and no technical drawbacks. It could be seamlessly integrated in a lesson as it includes very nicely produced materials, covering aspects of wildlife and nature reserves in Latvia and is produced with schools in mind and involves young people as they explore the various aspects of nature.
It was described as a well-produced entry that shows linear video at its best. The judges appreciated that there is also a set of teacher notes, exercises and very good still images included with the documentary series, and would have loved there to have been even more teaching resources. The documentary style is very suitable for this context and it shows fauna that are difficult to see otherwise. While quite traditional in its approach, it is very fit for purpose and records natural phenomena in Latvia itself - making their own country's natural treasures known and accessible to young people.
About the creation of Exploring the Nature: Five Stories
Kaspars Goba, founder of ELM MEDIA (Latvia), gives us an insight into the background of Pieci stāsti par dabu: “While we do experience the results of climate change (rapid fluctuations of weather conditions and extreme temperatures, floods and storms and other unusual phenomena), most people in Latvia are not aware of the human influence in these environmental phenomena. We feel that environmental education is important for younger generation because decisions made today will affect the quality of their lives in the future. Our experience has shown that documentary film is one of the best ways to inform our society about biodiversity and the importance of environmental protection. To reach the younger audience, educational materials have to include a strong visualisation and short and easy-to-grasp messages, and with YouTube and social networks, youngsters enjoy watching clips and films rather than reading or listening to teachers. We believe film (cinema) is the most effective way to influence people’s views, beliefs and behaviours.
In 2007 we prepared a proposal for this project and requested funds from the Financial Instrument of the EEA of Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway.
For the film, we collaborated with the Latvian Fund for Nature, a non-governmental nature conservation and research organisation, and we used their expertise in identifying the most important issues for each biotope in terms of flora and fauna species as well as their approach to preservation and biotope management. Their experts were involved in developing the concepts that were used in these films as well as methodological materials for teachers and some of them also appear in the movies. ELM MEDIA contributed their knowledge on how to visualise these concepts in films appropriate to a younger audience. This meant that we combined the expertise of scientists and professionals from the audiovisual industry to achieve the best results. The filming and editing process took 1.5 years and in November 2009 sets of DVD and CD “Exploring the Nature: Five Stories” was sent to all Latvian schools and higher education institutions. The feedback received so far from teachers, university lecturers and students is very positive and they appreciate the contents, visual style of the films, and the comprehensive methodological materials. Several museums and higher education institutions have included these films in their programmes on the Museum Night in May 2009.
In the future, we hope to raise funding to make an international version of “Exploring the Nature: Five Stories” as we did with our previous educational DVD on coastal lakes “Engure. The Lake Given the Sea”, which was created in 2009 in cooperation with the Latvian Fund for Nature. With this international version we can then participate in international environmental film festivals.
About Kaspars Goba
Kaspars Goba is a documentary film director and photographer. His career in film making started in 1996 and he has worked as a director, scriptwripter and cinematographer on more than 10 documentaries focusing on social and environmental issues. One of his last documentaries Seda. People of the Marsh was co-produced with filmtank hamburg GmbH for ARTE/NDR; in Latvia this film received the prize at the National Film Festival „Lielais Kristaps” as The Best Documentary of the Century.
In 2005 he established his own production company ELM MEDIA with the aim of drawing society’s attention to social and environmental issues through filmed documentaries and colour and black-and-white photographic projects. The company’s core team, assisted by authors from various other companies, creates nature films whose main emphasis is on ecological issues, and social documentaries reflecting different processes in our society.
Kaspars main interests lie with social issues and environment, and he believes that both topics are mutually linked. Kaspars has a diverse educational background, which allows him to work on films covering topics from nature protection to social problems. While working as a professional photographer and free-lance journalist he graduated from the University of Latvia as a biologist.
Kaspars also works in the field of documentary photography. In 1995 he started working for the magazine Rigas Laiks (Riga Time) illustrating his own articles and those of other authors. During the last decade he has taken photos during trips to Iceland, northern Russia, Siberia, the Far East, Roma 'tabors' in Latvia and Lithuania, and Kurdish areas in Turkey. With the photo series Seda. People of the Marsh, Icelanders. Between Glaciers and Lava and homo@lv he has taken part in contemporary art exhibitions in Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden and United Kingdom. At the end of 2006 he published a photo album Icelanders. Between Glaciers and Lava, which received a prize from the Latvian Book Publishers’ Association as The Best Art Album of 2006.