New at the NHFU
In this blog, I interview Seetsele Nthomiwa, our newest camera operator here at the NHFU. Seetsele has been working with us for nearly a year now, working in the field to bring us the kind of remarkable footage that the NHFU is renowned for. As with all of our camera operators, it’s been a big adjustment, but that’s the exciting part! On top of being a wildlife videographer, Seetsele also oversees our community engagement project. Anyway, more on that later, and over to him!
Seetsele - the NHFU's newest camera operator.
So Seetslee, tell me why you wanted to get into wildlife filmmaking?
I grew up watching National Geographic religiously - given the opportunity I would watch all the shows from dawn to dusk, and before we had had access to Nat Geo I would watch the VHS tapes my mother bought for my siblings and I. The Savage Season film is one I particularly remember, and still own. I remember being in awe as they showed the majestic animals on screen. Striding in perfection. The true wild. Kill or be killed. Savage season is one of the first documentaries I loved and it still remains up there as my favourite documentary. Another of my favourites, was Africa by David Attenborough - that docu-series somehow made me feel so proud to be African. Africa has a rich wildlife biodiversity that is coupled with breath-taking landscapes and scenery.
"Africa has a rich wildlife biodiversity that is coupled with breath-taking landscapes and scenery"
In highschool, I joined a club called Cheetah conservation society which sought out to protect the timid cat in our country, so when I went to varsity (UB), I immediately joined a conservation club called UBWECS (University of Botswana Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society). By far, joining the UBWECS club was the thing that happened to me. It fuelled and properly cultivated the love I had for wildlife. We travelled the country volunteering to do maintenance in and around protected areas and that afforded us to have encounters with the various wildlife. We learned about the environment and we saw first-hand the magnificent wildlife found in my country. Coupled with the fact that I was studying Media studies, which had film as one of its modules, and I really wanted to do film, it seemed like a no-brainer. Upon completing my studies I had long made up my mind regarding the career I was going to pursue.
The animal that started it all.
After graduating from UB I went about looking for a way of joining the natural history industry. In my inquiries, I was directed to Dr. Flyman who worked at the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation, and Tourism in Gaborone. After having an interesting and lengthy conversation with him he recommended that I try my luck with the NHFU as it is, in his opinion, the best place to gain experience and proper mentorship. And he was right.
What has been the best, the worst, and the biggest adjustment to life in the NHFU?
The best part about working at the NHFU has to be waking up to a beautiful sunrise and going to sleep after a breath-taking sunset, as well as the accelerated learning curve as soon as you start working with the team. Chilling with and learning about the individual characters I’ve been following around is also great, and of course, getting to play with expensive toys! I wake up every morning to do the thing I love. I get to see amazing scenery and wildlife. I get to improve my cinematography skills more each day I’m out there. I have noticed a significant improvement in my skills from the time I started to date. The environment here encourages you to keep improving your craft and I really appreciate that.
From sunrise to sunset, the NHFU team is on the ground to capture the action.
Being away from family and friends for long periods of time is by far the hardest part. I grew up in the city, so getting accustomed to a totally new environment especially that I grew up can also be difficult - I had never been in the wild for more than a month at a time till I joined NHFU, so the biggest adjustment would definitely have to be waking up to lion roars instead of busy traffic.
Seetsele: from city-slicker to bush-boy!
What do your friends and family think of your life in the bush?
I think it is safe to say that my career choice didn’t come as a surprise to most of my family and friends. I was an outdoorsy kid, my love for wildlife was no secret and almost everyone supported my choices. My friends share the love for outdoor life as well. We were part of the conservation club in varsity (UBWECS) together and at some point, we were part of the leadership committee of the club. They are lowkey jealous because I get to see the animals they love more than they do - and I rub it in their face every chance I get!
My family has always supported my dreams from earlier on in life. Even if the things I wanted to do were ridiculous to them. So when I told them I wanted to pursue natural history they continued to support me. They don't like the idea of me being so far from them or being exposed to creatures that want to eat me (that's how they view the outdoors). Especially that none of them share my love for immersive wildlife experiences. They worry about me when I'm out filming and I can always hear the relief in their voice when I talk to them.
Staying fit in the bush - another adjustment!
Who do you most admire in the industry?
Brad. He has produced by far the richest wildlife documentaries I've ever seen and continues to innovate to reshape the industry.
What’s your favourite piece of kit you’re using and what are you desperate to get your hands on next?
THE RED! It has always been a dream of mine to home a Hollywood cinema camera and the RED camera was top of the list. The red, the Arri, and the Sony venice. The red is a beautiful beast of a camera. I would really love to get my hands on the Phantom to shoot super slow motion and to shoot some drone footage with the inspire 2 - if that happens I will be the happiest man ever.
Brad in action, filming a young male lion with a RED Helium.
Tells us about the community engagement project?
Wildlife documentaries can serve as a gateway to wildlife education, appreciation and conservation. Botswana, like any other country that has wildlife, has been battling with human-wildlife coexistence for countless years. There is a divide between communities that have been living peacefully with wildlife for generations and still continue to do so, and people who do not want to coexist with wildlife any longer. Wildlife documentaries could be an additional avenue that will encourage communities to understand wildlife more, appreciate them more, and to continue to see the value they bring to the country. Not only to the country's biodiversity but to our economy as well.
The trial run: screening 'Hippos: Africa's River Giants' to an audience in Nxamasere,
a village in the Okavango's panhandle.
The community engagement project is an initiative by NHFU to reintroduce wildlife consumption to Botswana communities in a new way. The documentaries shown to the communities will be dubbed in our national language of Setswana. The purpose of showcasing the documentaries in a local language is to reorient the local community's perception of wildlife, especially those that live with them. There is a constant tension between people and wildlife and we hope this at the very least, tries to mitigate that.
We believe a deeper understanding of wildlife through documentaries viewed in their native language is more impactful as it does away with the language barrier and appeals to more people. The initiative is yet to be officially launched, it has been temporarily suspended due to Covid restrictions but we are ready to get on in full force as soon as it is safe to do so.
Interview conducted by Hannah Gormley, blog written by Seetsele Nthomiwa