National Geographic explorer and cinematographer Federico Pardo traveled to the Amazon during the height of the pandemic. Pardo’s mission was to capture video on some of Colombia’s most endangered species. The video was part of an immersive multimedia project called “Vanishing Primates.” We caught up with Pardo to learn more about the project, his experience filming during the pandemic, and what was like filming in the jungle with his Cartoni tripod, the Focus 22.
Q: Can you tell me more about what “Vanishing Primates” is about?
Pardo: Vanishing Primates is a storytelling and conservation project aimed to save Colombia’s most endangered primates -and their ecosystems- through an immersive multimedia experience that connects audiences with wild places and generates tangible conservation actions on the ground. The species are the Brown Spider Monkey from the Magdalena river valley’s lowlands, the Cotton-Top Tamarin from the dry forests of the Caribbean coast, and the Caquetá Titi and Colombian Woolly Monkey from the Andean foothills of Northern Amazonia. Vanishing Primates is supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society. It also seeks to articulate businesses, academia, NGOs, governments, and citizens interested in creating a better planet while restoring ecosystems and saving species.
What was the biggest challenge in shooting this eco-documentary?
When filming wildlife and monkeys in particular, there are inherent production challenges that include traveling to remote locations, finding the animals in the jungle, carrying heavy and expensive gear, shooting up into trees and the sky, etc… But besides these, the most challenging moments during the field production of Vanishing Primates resulted from hungry mosquitoes and ticks, insane heat and humidity, and huge floating grasses that would block our canoe for several hours, making the journey in and out of the forest a complete nightmare.
What are you hoping people see and recognize as a result of “Vanishing Primates?”
I want to bring the jungle to the city and create an intimate and emotional bond between citizens and endangered monkeys. Often we hear about critically endangered species and ecosystems, but we rarely have the chance to connect with them in a meaningful manner and actively support their conservation. Additionally, the images that we captured are meant to delve into what it means to be a monkey and the subtle behaviors of wild animals. Ultimately, I want people to realize that life forms around the planet are deeply interconnected and that we can all help build a more sustainable future for everyone and everything.
Where was the shoot, and how long did you shoot?
Vanishing Primates takes place in two big regions of Colombia, the lowland jungles of the Magdalena River valley and the Andes-Amazon foothills of northern Amazonia. We were lucky enough to complete 50 shooting days that included ten days of filming atop tree platforms that we built at 80ft above the ground.
How big was your crew, and what gear did you bring?
On average, we were five people: 2 camera operators, one camera assistant, one sound person, a photographer, and one local guide. The main camera was the RED Gemini 5K, but we also used a Panasonic GH5s, two Sony a7iii, two DJI drones, three camera traps, two GoPros, and one 360-degree camera. Support wise, we had two Cartoni tripods, a Focus 22 SDS and a Focus 10 Red Lock, a DJI Ronin, an automated slider, and we also built a custom cable cam 60ft long.
Why did you choose the Cartoni Smart Deployment System (SDS) Tripod, which sets up and folds in an instant, for this shoot?
I’ve had a professional relationship with Cartoni for several years, and their tripods are the perfect compromise between performance and cost. When running through the jungle to film the monkeys, it’s very beneficial to have a tripod system that works easily and smoothly.
Did you use long lenses, and was the SDS Tripod able to properly balance the camera and long lens?
My long lens camera kit included the RED Gemini 5K, the Sigma 150-600mm with a follow focus, a 7″ monitor, and V-Mount batteries. This set-up can be rather heavy, so it’s important to have a video head like the Cartoni Focus 22 that can produce soft pans and tilts.
Finally, as we are still in the midst of the pandemic, did you have to get tested or follow any COVID protocols before or during your shoot?
Yes, we had to follow strict Covid protocols to be able to travel to the filming locations. Once there, given that we were in the middle of the jungle, it was pretty easy to stay safe and avoid social contact.