Can’t be tamed
Wildlife explorer-filmmaker brings passion for conservation to life
On the phone from the Vashon Islands in Puget Sound earlier this month, Filipe DeAndrade was sipping cold brew coffee—“It tastes like I made out with a dragon!”—and preparing to set sail in search of orcas, an animal he had yet to experience in person. He was super excited, which seems to be the normal mode for this globe-trotting conservationist, explorer and filmmaker. After a series of winter storms pummeled the Pacific Northwest, his timing seemed to be perfect.
“I hope the weather stays,” he said. “It’s glorious right now. It feels like Mother Nature’s birth channel. It’s where life happens!”
As usual, DeAndrade was stoked.
He has reason to be: He anchors a web series, Untamed with Filipe DeAndrade, for the Nat Geo WILD network and is traveling the country talking about it on a tour produced by National Geographic, coming to Chico on Wednesday.
DeAndrade, 32, was born in a Rio de Janeiro favela, or slum, and recalls camping in the Brazilian rainforest and exploring the Amazon as a young child—memories that shaped his life’s journey. In search of opportunity, his single mother moved the family to Cleveland, where his exposure to the great outdoors was limited to catching frogs in backyards and urban parks. He later attended the University of Florida, where he earned a degree in wildlife ecology and conservation.
As a self-described “child of the Jackass generation,” DeAndrade spent time goofing off with his friends, making videos that mimicked the MTV series, but he soon realized that videography could help him share his view of the world in a way that past generations could not—at least not on a student’s budget.
Technological advances have put professional-grade equipment within reach for nearly everyone, something that revolutionized DeAndrade’s ability to make films.
“Twenty to 30 years ago, you couldn’t grab a quality camera and capture these images,” he said, referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Gladwell argues that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ success is partly due to growing up near one of three computer servers then in the country, and also points to a seemingly bizarre prevalence of NHL players with January birthdays (grouped by birth year in youth hockey, the incrementally older kids were larger and stronger, leading to more attention from coaches). He says people of his generation are the “outliers of film,” but for future filmmakers, the world is wide open.
On a recent marine wildlife outing near the Costa Rica/Panama border, where he’s currently based, DeAndrade remarked that his students all had cellphones with the ability to shoot high-definition video, despite coming from very low-income families.
That kind of access has leveled the playing field—now everyone has a story-making tool in their hand. Almost anyone can film bull sharks or romp through Costa Rica’s ecologically rich Osa Peninsula with a camera.
The key, he insists, is telling a good story. That’s where the magic happens.
“There’s always going to be another piece of gear,” he noted. “But the things we remember the most are great stories.” His advice for young filmmakers: “Work on your stories. Write as often as you can.”
In 2015, DeAndrade parlayed his storytelling and video experience into the short film Adapt, winning National Geographic’s “Wild to Inspire” competition at the Sun Valley Film Festival. That led to the gig hosting Untamed, where he has been able to pursue experiences such as staking out sea turtles and trekking across land and water to find a mountain lion. He maintains a do-it-yourself ethos and mostly works on a shoestring budget. The series’ upcoming third season will focus on Central American marine ecosystems.
In the Vashon Islands, DeAndrade was taking a few days off before flying to Toronto for another round of inspiring talks about his work on Untamed. The cold brew might have been kicking in, but it was obvious he’s exhilarated by the upcoming show dates.
“The live tour is my absolute, 100 percent favorite part of what I do. [Nat Geo] Live is a very infectious setting where you get to see the impact of your work immediately,” he told the CN&R. “The kids treat you like rock stars. They’re incredibly passionate about wildlife.”
He said young people ask the best questions, frequently stumping him with scientific queries.
Fostering the passion within his audience is an important component of his conservation work. National Geographic recently awarded DeAndrade a grant that will pay for environmental education in Costa Rican public schools. The program will bring nature into classrooms and help students develop a love of their unique ecosystem.
DeAndrade is understandably stoked to help lay a sustainable groundwork for the future—and it all comes back to personal connections with the wild.
“People protect what they love. They love what they understand. And they understand what they are taught,” he said. “It’s our job as conservationists to teach people about what we’re experiencing in a way that they’ll fall in love with it and want to protect it.”