In Sonora, Mexico, local cattle ranchers have feared and hunted the most northern population of jaguars in the Americas for decades, but with a new solution bringing hope, this film begs the question – can they coexist?
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Sara Matasick
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I made Rancheros del Jaguar for my Master's in Wildlife Filmmaking at the University of the West of England. This story in particular stood out to me though, because it is so hopeful and positive. It's easy to find stories of problems, but I think that showing solutions is what motivates people more.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Viewers of Rancheros del Jaguar will definitely learn something about jaguars and a special conservation strategy, but will also get to know a Mexican community in a way that isn't often shown - these cattle ranchers are real, warm, and passionate. As a positive story, it can really leave audiences feeling hopeful for the future of jaguar conservation, wildlife management relations, and the ability to change.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
This story is not one-sided, and the themes of survival, change and unity apply to many of its diverse cast of characters. Ranchers struggle to survive in the remote, mountainous deserts of Sonora while jaguars struggle to survive decades of hunting. There's change from traditional attitudes cattle ranchers held towards predators to new-found pride and respect, and there's also change in how the audience might view these ranchers now that they get to know their stories and faces. And unity comes in through it all. The jaguars, ranchers and biologists are all tied together because they all need each other (though the jaguars might not know it). This story wouldn't exist if two very different groups of people couldn't help each other meet their needs and goals.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
From the beginning, I knew that it would be a difficult story to put together, with so many different potential characters that I couldn't meet in person ahead of time, and with several perspectives that I needed to show. I decided to try and use that large cast instead of try to hide it, and just make sure to find links between people so I could give voice to the community as a whole. However, with a limit to how long the film could be it became clear in the edit that there wouldn't be enough time to introduce each character enough. I had to pare it down to a few main speakers, with the other ranchers coming in together towards the end. I also ended up inserting some voice-over narration to link bits of the story together even though I had been quite determined to let the ranchers tell their story without any narration. In most ways, though, the film has the same feel and effect that I set out to create, which is the most important part.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Film festivals, industry professionals, and audiences have all found it moving and insightful. The best feedback, though, is from the Northern Jaguar Project organization and the ranchers themselves, who all see it as a very good representation of this conservation story and the people involved (themselves!). Through the whole process, what I wanted most was to make a film true to the people, so for me, knowing that they love it is the best part.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and though that wasn't necessarily a surprise, it was a relief – especially when it came to the ranchers themselves and the Northern Jaguar Project organization that works with them. I think some more traditional documentary filmmakers might prefer a film with just one clear subject, but I like that I took a risk giving a voice to the whole community by weaving different individuals together. It's this group effort that is making the difference, and I didn't want to make any one person the hero.
In person, I've been able to attend a couple of the screenings at festivals and it's always fun hearing where people react. There's tension and laughter, and the looks and comments I catch among the audience afterwards make me feel like I've really reached them.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
It seems that the people who seek out the diverse stories and storytellers that We Are Moving Stories presents are people who enjoy taking action and thinking about how positive change can be made. It would be great to reach these people, to inspire more creative, community driven conservation strategies, and to also guide more support for the Northern Jaguar Project's ongoing work.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
For the future of Rancheros del Jaguar, I am open to all kinds of collaboration. It would be great to delve deeper into the story, so any producers or distributors who are inspired to tell the full story on a larger platform would be welcome to get in touch! I'm also always happy to work with film festival directors and journalists to spread word about the film and the Northern Jaguar Project to new audiences.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I hope Rancheros del Jaguar can impact how people think of conservation strategies. I come from a wildlife ecology background, so I love that the collaboration shown in this film could potentially inspire other bespoke programs for communities and wildlife around the world. I also hope this film helps viewers relate to the ranchers themselves, and see that stories of conflict are never black and white. Seeing that gray area and common ground is how we'll find solutions like the one presented in this film.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Something people often debate is, “what should money's role in conservation be?“
My opinion is that oftentimes, we want people to be involved in conservation just because they should, when in reality it might take a more practical approach to get them involved in the first step. Whether that's money or another incentive, finding common ground and not ruling people out just because they have different priorities won't help any cause. For these ranchers, survival is their priority, but through the Viviendo con Felinos program many have grown to really care about the wildlife around them.
Also, I hope that after watching the film people ask where else can this cross-cultural, cross-discipline strategy be applied. It would be amazing if this story could help people brainstorm ways for other communities to come together to find conservation solutions.
Would you like to add anything else?
I just want to emphasize the incredible work of the Northern Jaguar Project. They're taken the time to get to know this community, see what it needs, and help the people come around to seeing the value in preserving wildlife. Many of these ranchers are now the best spokespeople for predator conservation and every year, more and more ranchers want to be involved. Aside from jaguar conservation, the Northern Jaguar Project also works with the ranchers and local schoolchildren to conduct environmental outreach and education about sustainable practices that benefit everybody.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Right now I'm working on expanding my filmmaking skills by being involved in many projects, but none of my own at the moment. Call me!
Interview: January 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Rancheros del Jaguar
In Sonora, Mexico, local cattle ranchers have feared and hunted the most northern population of jaguars in the Americas for decades, but with a new solution bringing hope, this film begs the question - can they coexist?
Length: 11:32 minutes
Director: Sara Matasick
Producer: Sara Matasick
Writer: Sara Matasick
About the writer, director and producer:
SARA MATASICK: I am a wildlife filmmaker and ecologist, and love telling positive stories that inspire a respect for nature and culture.
Assistant Producer: Alessandro Molina
Original Music: James Waymont
Looking For: producers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists
Facebook: Rancheros del Jaguar
Other: Visit https://www.northernjaguarproject.org/ to see how you can help support this conservation program.
Funders: Thanks to my Indiegogo funders and to the Northern Jaguar Project for support in the making of this film
Made in association with: Northern Jaguar Project and the University of the West of England
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? It is currently available to watch on vimeo, and this month it will be in the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.