|Jonathan Ali Khan|
|Written by Kathleen Swalling|
|Sunday, 18 September 2011 15:36|
What is your name? Jonathan Ali Khan, Wild Planet Productions
Where are you based? Dubai, United Arab Emirates
What kind of films do you make?
Natural history and conservation based multiple episode series for the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region as well as international TV markets. I follow the films up with educational outreach strategy to give these projects life beyond their TV moment.
My main passion is working underwater. I am obsessed with the science and wonders of the natural world around us and I have dived and filmed every nook and cranny along Arabia's coastline. I've seen some amazing sights, have witnessed distressing changes and am passionate about sharing my knowledge of this region and peoples through my films and education materials.
Who inspired you and why cover nature and conservation?
While I started as a photojournalist and commercial photographer, I grew up on a childhood diet of Jacques Cousteau and the magical world of diving. Underwater photography/videography gave me the opportunity to align my profession with my love of the sea.
It was the oil spill disaster after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait which was the catalyst for me to plunge into filmmaking and I set out to document the state of the marine environment from 1992-1998. No one had done the level of underwater exploration of the entire Arabian coastline as I did before, through my first project called "The Arabian Seas Expedition" and during the making of "Arabia's Cycle of Life".
Natural history TV is the key to safeguarding Arabia's natural world. The more people learn about their own natural world and the remarkable links between all living things, the greater the chance that people will become interested and motivated to reflect on how this aspects their own lives.
What is the favourite film you have worked on?
My favourite project to date is my current Sharkquest Arabia project which explores the relationship between sharks and the people of Arabia seeking to understand the challenges for the preservation of these apex predators in Arabian waters.
My most satisfying completed project is the 12 episode series; "Arabia's Cycle of Life". Two years in the making, travelling extensively throughout Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the UAE and Jordan exploring and discovering unprecedented sites and even discovering a new species of fresh water fish. We covered more than 40,000 km filming mountain, desert and marine wildlife and ecosystems in the most comprehensive series ever conducted in the Arabian region.
What has been the biggest challenge?
As for many filmmakers funding is our most challenging issue. The Arabian culture has long-held a connection with the animals they relied on prior to the regions relatively recent wealth gained from oil, tourism and finance.
The significant influence that advertising and media sales has on TV content means we work hard to create awareness about our services and ideas with regional and international broadcasters. More recently, we are using social media and new media platforms through professional networks and other popular online social networks.
In the field, the extreme conditions create both significant logistical and physical challenges.
How has technology changed your job?
The quality of HD and ultra HD now being available in smaller and more affordable systems. Size and weight play important role in our expedition oriented projects. We have got the best out of SONY's EX XDCAM formats for our underwater work and topside with the interchangeable lenses. I am especially grateful for the ease of the fully digital workflow, cutting out the headache caused by tape. Social media platforms and viral broadcast platforms have also opened up fantastic opportunities to get more conservation information out there.
What is your favourite place in nature?
10 meters under the sea hanging suspended in clear water over the edge of a reefs steep drop off peering into the blue! The sense of wonder and joy of being immersed in a wild and unpredictable environment is heightened by the feeling of vulnerability and the unknown. In terms of place, it would have to be the Southern Maldives or the remotest offshore reefs of Southern Sudan.
What is your biggest concern about the environment?
My biggest concern is that people are disconnected from their natural world in this region (MENA), which means the drive for progress is favoured over the need to protect this fragile ecosystem.
As the world reacts to tackle global environmental issues, this region is beginning to participate in tackling some of these issues. Awareness of these issues in the MENA region is increasing.
The Arabian Peninsula has much to reveal about the natural world and I see this as an exciting time for filmmakers!
How do you think media industry should be addressing environment and conservation issues?
The Arabic language media plays little attention to the environment and conservation issues as a whole, giving priority to regional conflict issues and socio-economic news. The English language media here is very interested and keen to promote conservation or feature environmental issues. There is still a remnant of censorship being applied (whether self-censorship or state driven) in this region as the influence and power wielded by the oil and gas sector is omnipresent.
The real transformation in the international media and natural history world is the need for more conservation information within the films being made. I'm not a big fan of ‘grab the wildlife for a reaction' style of programming.
If you could give one message to the world's leaders about climate control, what would it be?
Listen to the right scientists! Stop letting the corporate sponsored lobbies cast doubt on the seriousness of the problems facing us. This is a time when decisions need to be based on the accumulated knowledge of mankind. Not driven by scales of economy.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a 3 part series and 2 part blue chip documentary featuring Arabia's shark story called "Sharkquest Arabia". I am also in development for a 3 part natural history documentary on the Sultanate of Oman's marine life called "Oman - The Realm of Light" and a 12 part series on the UAE called "The UAE's Last Wilderness".
What advice do you have for someone looking to break into the industry ?
Enjoy your formative years in the industry by getting out in the field at every opportunity, even if it means working as an intern for a while or taking a cut in pay! Nothing prepares you more than field experience. Learn field craft, study your wildlife, practice your writing, watch as many documentaries as you can and learn your camera inside out! But most importantly, treat this job as the greatest privilege in the world! That's exactly what it is!
What would you want to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as someone who cared enough about Arabia's wildlife to have tried to make a difference for the good of all by using whatever skills and means I had learnt from a full and challenging life. My wife would also like me to be remembered as someone who loved his wife, family and 9 cats! Which of course I do! Life just isn't worth living if it's not worth fighting for!