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THE LAST STAND

Peter von Puttkamer has executive produced, written, directed, photographed & edited dozens of international award-winning documentaries, docu-dramas, reality TV series and specials worldwide over the last 40 years. His production company, Gryphon Productions Ltd. has created factual programming for Discovery Channel US, Animal Planet US, History Channel, BBC, CBC, National Geographic, Sony Pictures/Columbia Tri-Star, Discovery Channel Canada, ITV, TLC, PBS, etc. These programs, created by, directed/produced by Peter, have won more than 80 international awards.


Creatively, whether working on heart-felt personal stories, historical, crime, socio-political issues, scientific, ethnographic, wildlife, environmental or broad adventure-based entertainment documentaries, von Puttkamer is able to combine high quality filmmaking, cinematic expertise with great storytelling and viewer grabbing programming. Peter is a 4-time Emmy Judge and Jackson Wild Medica Festival Judge. He has been featured 4 times (2006-2020) in the prestigious American Cinematographer (Hollywood) Magazine- Journal of the ASC- American Society of Cinematographers. In 2020, he was recognized by FUJIFILM Corporation on their 2020 TESTIMONIAL SERIES Poster and in social media worldwide. Peter was just named a Fellow of the prestigious Explorer’s Club in New York.



Produced with Ecoflix, THE LAST STAND is about saving the world's last remaining ancient forests. Using the flashpoint of British Columbia's "Battle for the Trees" at FAIRY CREEK- the documentary examines the importance of keeping intact forest ecosystems: here in North America, the Amazon and around the world. Experts like Author/Ethnobotanist Wade Davis and Amazon Watch's Leila Salazar-Lopez speak about the impact trees/plants have on our atmosphere, including carbon sequestration and providing Oxygen for us to breathe. Incorporating unique-access footage at the front-lines of Fairy Creek protests, to block Logging of the last 3% of BC's old growth, the film does not pull punches...and we hear the impassioned words of front-line forest defenders, as well as global forestry experts. The film reveals the complexity of issues facing the world: the need to protect habitat, while balancing economies & jobs while also recognizing the rights of First Nations/Indigenous people controlling resources in their territories. Finally, The Last Stand looks at solutions...both from cutting edge Silicon Valley companies building carbon-retaining technology, to things average citizens can do, to help save jungles/forests and the Planet. Created for non-profit streaming service, Ecoflix. It is our pleasure to speak with Peter von Puttkamer. Peter is currently Head of Creative Content for Ecoflix, a new non-profit streaming service.



What makes you fascinated with the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?


I’ve been making films almost 4 decades. I work primarily in the factual genre…and began making my first Super 8mm films in a very progressive Canadian (Vancouver) Highschool. We started making Claymation films and experimenting with live action stop motion: we once got some amazing sequences of “escaping bank robbers” sliding along with their feet on a railway tie for miles. Eventually I would make films for each of my school subjects- storylines for French, History and Biology classes.


In making my social/cultural films with/for Native American/First Nation communities early in my career, I was able to work with hereditary chiefs/mask makers to create cinematic sequences combining modern day recreations of real and spiritual journey in fantastic forest settings…not attempted before. That film was The Spirit of the Mask- soon to be re-released on streaming.


What inspired you to work on The Last Stand and why was it important for you to direct this project?

The Last Stand was produced for an amazing new non-profit streaming service called Ecoflix. The channel features original productions (which I produce/direct) and films gathered from around the world that celebrate wildlife, and environmental projects that are helping the planet. For The Last Stand I was invited by CEO founder David Casselman to travel to Vancouver Island and present the story of logging protests at Fairy Creek. These protests were created to stop the logging of ancient old growth by a logging company Teal Jones. This area was in fact part of the last 3% of old growth trees left in the province of British Columbia. The story was a complex one involving First Nations communities, the logging company and protesters who came from far and wide: in the film, their views, really represent the feelings of many British Columbians and Canadians who do not want to see our country’s last ancient forests disappear.


This protest would become the greatest civil unrest in the history of Canada… so it was a significant event. I was delighted when David asked me to direct this and include a greater vision of how we protect ancient forests and other parts of the world. So, while Fairy Creek was the flashpoint of this story: we were able to address our ever-changing understanding of how ancient forests are created, why they matter, how trees communicate with each other, and how you can't just consider individual trees as supplies for the creation of toilet paper and buildings.


I was very pleased to bring in my old friend Wade Davis who's a Harvard ethnobotanist and world-famous author who was able to address the importance of ancient forests; as a student logger himself, Wade also shed some light on the history of logging in British Columbia. I also contacted leading Rainforest NGO, Amazon Watch whom I'd work with before. Founder Atossa Soltani connected me to current head Leila Salazar Lopez, and we spoke in San Francisco about the importance of Amazon rainforests and the impact of soy farming and the recent fires on the future of the Amazon. In addition, Ecoflix founder David Casselman was interested in presenting solutions, so we spoke about such complex issues as carbon credits but also about some of the cutting-edge developments that are going on in Silicon Valley.


Thanks to my associate producer Michele Gonda’s research and suggestion: we were able to feature a new company in Silicon Valley called Living Carbon. We spoke to the founder Maddie Hall who was just selected as one of Forbes magazine top 30 under 30 executives. Maddie and her team described to us how they were creating, in a botanical laboratory, trees which could grow faster and store more carbon and thus help stop the greenhouse effect on the planet. So that was fascinating. While we started with Fairy Creek protests, we ended up looking at this from a global perspective. In addition, I was able to bring in my experience with First Nations people in the province and show that the issue of “protecting raw resources” can be complicated. Clearly First Nations have inalienable rights to exploit resources on their lands and particularly, if they're able to do it in a sustainable fashion (as the featured Huu-ay-aht tribe is doing) we need to recognize that.


One other note- I was delighted that legendary actor/narrator Peter Coyote (who has narrated all of Ken Burn’s documentaries for years) agreed to come in and voice The Last Stand.


What was the most challenging aspect of working on this environmental genre?

Well filming The Last Stand in Fairy Creek was not simple. This area had been blocked off by the RCMP (police) and the terrain was difficult to navigate. At one point we ended up climbing down a 35- or 40-degree slippery, dusty log covered slope to find one of the protest camps. We covered more than two miles up and down a slope that included swinging off a rope on a small cliff with our equipment on our backs and getting as close as we could. We ended up covering a lot of that with drone shots because it was so dense, and it became late in the day but nevertheless it formed an important part of the show; in the film, you can now see the area that we're talking about— a massive collection of valleys covered in old growth trees all of which are now threatened by logging.


In addition, working with the rainforest Flying Squad leadership like Kathy Code, we were able to get access to protesters. Many of them had been there for months and were subjected to a barrage of violent police actions and were naturally suspicious of any newcomers bearing cameras. But we were welcomed into the camp and were able to conduct interviews and gain valuable information from a diverse group of people from Southeast Asia, Canadian First Nations, and local people about the importance of protecting the fairy Creek forests.


As a general note: creating environmental films- it’s important not to get bogged down in facts and figures and just bore people or pack your film with so much gloom and doom that people just don’t want to hear it and turn it off. I believe these kinds of films can be adventurous, truly engaging- particularly when presenting the heart-felt emotions and feelings of stakeholders: people whose lives will be truly affected by changes to the land and environment in their region.



What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?

Well working at Ecoflix, I’m very pleased to be creating various important subjects around the world that help animals and the environment.


Since The Last Stand I've been working on a film on saving sloth bears in India. That's about an organization. an NGO called WILDLIFE SOS and the work of their founders Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani who helped stop a 400-year tradition of exploiting bears from the wild and cruelly training them to become street dancing bears. So this film called Saving the Dancing Bears is remarkable in that it's not just about Wildlife SOS saving wildlife, but it’s actually a social engineering project. Wildlife SOS realized that the gypsy indigenous community that are featured in this film needed help: that they had passed this Bear tradition on from fathers to sons over the years and Wildlife SOS was able to create new jobs for the men, was able to educate children and was able to empower women. All the while they are helping to save these bears (some of whom have bad injuries through their muzzle where the rope was placed) and essentially stopped this practice. That film's already won awards. I'm also working on a another Ecoflix project called Remaking Wolf Connection part one and part two; it’s about a sanctuary for rescue wolves that also helps troubled youth in the Los Angeles area. Our founder David Casselman and Ecoflix have helped finance the rebuilding of this facility and supports it in many ways. Many more shows in the works…including one about a whale reserve.



What is the most difficult aspect of distributing environmental projects?

Well, it’s true, distribution has been a problem in the past with environmental films. Of course, with streaming services like Ecoflix in the mix now, there are more venues than ever. What works well for the major SVOD channels- is shows with a personal storyline-such as WILDCAT which I saw on Amazon Prime. This excellent production combines the environmental story of protecting animals, like Ocelots in the Amazon Rainforest- but tells the parallel story of the Harry, a young veteran, and his deep personal issues.


Ecoflix has a unique show called FREE BILLY (now on Ecoflix)- that’s also a very personal one to founder David Casselman. It’s important to know that David has owned a large elephant sanctuary in Cambodia for many years, as well as backing another (Elephant Nature Park) in Thailand (with the famous “Elephant Whisperer” Lek Chailert). Here in LA, there’s a 35-year-old male elephant named Billy that was taken from its jungle home in Malaysia as a youngster and has spent its whole life locked up in a zoo. As a former attorney, David has been trying to get Billy freed from the Los Angeles Zoo for over decade- taking on both the state and city to try and achieve this. The film works so well, because it is a deep personal story, you care about the individuals involved and Billy of course. Billy needs to be freed and transported to David’s sanctuary in Cambodia…just as Cher recently did when she saved another abused elephant (Kaavan) from a zoo in Islamabad and brought it to the Cambodian sanctuary.


Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why?

Yes of course. While documentaries, don’t typically employ this “Language of Cinema” as much as fictional dramas do, visual style is very important to me as a filmmaker. And whenever given the opportunity, I will combine, gorgeous, even spiritual visuals with powerful music to impact people watching my films about nature and protecting it. We were very luck in The Last Stand to get both the music of Canadian composer Michael Richard Plowman and a hit rock song. Legendary Canadian songwriter and singer BRUCE COCKBURN agreed to let us use his “When a tree falls in the forest” hit song in the documentary. When combined with images of huge ancient old growth trees crashing to the forest floor, it’s very powerful. Once you understand the importance of ancient forests, and how trees communicate with each other- powerful visuals and music like this can really impact people, even in an environmental film.



Why do you make films and what kind of impact would you like to have on the world as a filmmaker?

Well from an early age I wanted to present aspects of the world that maybe most people don't think about in their daily lives. I wanted to take people to fantastic distant lands, see spectacular scenery and wildlife, meet indigenous people or just experience those things in their own backyard.


By presenting parts of the world and storylines that people think might be in the realm of fiction but are actually fact can have an impact on people. A good example was: I did a film called the real lost world (that's available on Amazon Prime) and in that expedition film we took a cast and crew of 23 (plus the help of many native porters) on a journey throughout Venezuela from the wetlands to the Savannah to the jungle up a 9000-foot plateau and into a new cave system.


The purpose of the story was to show how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original 1912 book (“The Lost World”) was inspired by a real place. real people and real animals. And although that book is considered in the realm of fantasy in that it features dinosaurs and ape-men (Bigfoot like creatures) it's actually based on a real place: the mythology and stories of the indigenous people in an extremely unusual landscape. I wanted to visit the top of the three-billion-year-old were Roraima plateau in Venezuela and see how its windswept features that look like Dragons and peculiar animals…also all helped inspire the stories in that original book.


I was able to combine 3 storylines- of past expeditions, a fictional book, and a group of modern-day explorers. So, our film combined that storyline with a modern-day expedition and scenes from the Lost World films and books. all of which led to movies like King Kong and Jurassic Park. We found some amazing things inside those caves- including clues to how life might form in outer space- NASA and JPL Labs would send one of our scientists back to study that. We also presented wildlife struggling to survive in present day Venezuela.


I think we're the first people to show that this entire genre of Dinosaur-led fantasy literature and film was in fact created from a real place in South America. That's why I make films.


Watch the trailer:



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