We live in an interesting time. Of a digital age, we’ve become accustomed to staring at glowing screens for hours on end. With heavy workloads, we often don’t immerse ourselves in the light of day until that ever anticipated vacation time. For many, our connection to nature has dwindled down to reading about it on the internet or watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Some may argue that this disconnect is causing mental stress, damage to our health and a skewed perception of the real world and our place within it. The idea of reconnecting to our ecosystem is precisely what Sylvie Rokab proposes is her latest documentary film, Love Thy Nature. With breathtaking cinematography and an inspiring tone, Rokab’s beautiful documentary explores the history of the Homo sapien sapien (that’s us!), the co-existence of other organisms, and the potential behind biomimicry. We caught up with Rokab to learn more about her inspiration for the film and her outlook on the environmental crisis’ that we currently face today.
Prior to Love Thy Nature you worked for networks like CBS, HBO, the Travel and Discovery Channels. How did you get your start in the industry?
It all started about 20 some years ago. I’ve always liked photography and cinematography and videography. I love cameras. I started playing with cameras even when I was pretty young. It just developed into a hobby and then eventually I decided that besides just going on trips and taking photographs and videotaping friends and creating fun things, that I wanted to take it a step further by going back to school to pursue documentary filmmaking. School helped me get a background in storytelling, techniques of filming and composition and all that good stuff, but ultimately I started getting involved in doing videography for other companies and other groups and television.
“I decided that besides just going on trips and taking photographs and videotaping friends and creating fun things, that I wanted to take it a step further by going back to school to pursue documentary filmmaking.”
In the beginning I was doing editing gigs. I worked for a particular show at the time when high definition cameras were just coming out and I had the opportunity to work on a Gloria Estefan concert, a multi-camera editing project that was really challenging but also delightful, that we were creating for HBO. I got a real crash course in editing and how to edit music and creating a piece in the editing room that was very musically inclined. That was a great learning experience. Then I began to pursue cinematography and doing camera work for different television stations some of them were local. At first I was working mostly with local stations in Miami and eventually started working for the travel channel on a travel series and with the Discovery channel on a multi-part series about natural childbirth with 26 episodes which was really a wonderful opportunity for me to direct and shoot and edit and write. I was wearing a lot of hats for that particular program.
Would you say you were able to bring all of that experience along with your passion for documentary film and the environment together to create Love Thy Nature?
Yeah, you know I’ve always had a desire to sort of ignite in people a reverence or connection. I’ve always felt connected with nature and I’ve always felt that that was what was missing from most people’s lives. I kind of felt sad for people that didn’t have that kind of experience and I also felt sad because I felt that nature was really being destroyed because people don’t have a relationship to it. We only really protect what we love, right? What feels close to us.
“I felt that nature was really being destroyed because people don’t have a relationship to it.”
There was not a film out there that was about our connection with nature. I mean there are so many films that deal with environmental issues which I think is great, you know, the fact that we are raising awareness in terms of what we are doing to our planet and to nature and to all the species. All these films from An Inconvenient Truth to The Cove and The Eleventh Hour and Racing Extinction. All these films are extraordinary in that they really are eye opening films that are very well done and really hit a nerve.
But I felt what was really missing was a film that was really inspiring, that was about celebrating us as a species that has the potential of being so conscious and aware. I wanted to do something that was about celebrating nature and our place in it. I really didn’t want to get people angry or upset. I felt like there are enough films out there that do this job and they do it really well. I feel that my job was really to inspire people and get them sort of ignited, energized, moved, awed and in a place of wonder about nature and our potential really because our potential is phenomenal. If we were just to embrace letting nature teach us what it already knows technologically, in terms of the biological revolution, I think we have tremendous potential to step into a new era beyond the Industrial Revolution into a revolution aligning ourselves with the workings of nature.
You mention that you have always has a strong connection to nature. Can you share an early memory of the connection you had with nature as a child?
I don’t remember when it started, but my parents were nature lovers. From a very early age, I remember that my mother would just point to us anything from a beautiful tree in the middle of a busy city, to cloud formations, to butterflies or the occasional rainbow, any excuse to show us something to be appreciated. I grew up in Brazil playing with lizards and we had a lot of critters in the city. It was not so unusual that you would go to a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, and open your window to find a toucan, or a macaw, or the occasional small monkey.
“Some people were really scared of bats. I was fascinated by them.”
In our neighborhood we had the little tiny monkeys that would jump from tree to tree. And bats at night! Some people were really scared of bats. I was fascinated by them. So I think I was lucky in where I grew up because it was very conducive to being observant of nature. My family and I would spend weekend in very special places like mountains, beaches. We’d swim in rivers and waterfalls. That really made a difference in my life.
So, In your opinion what’s giving us the greatest disconnect from nature in our society today?
Gosh you know I think it’s really a combination. It starts from so long ago, right? In the film we show the evolution of our disconnection in a sense. From the time when we realized we couldn’t manipulate the seasons in terms of agriculture. Then we entered the industrial revolution. I mean that really played a number on us in terms of the realization that we could manipulate matter and all these factories were built. Today we are living in the full on digital revolution where we most of the time we are staring at computer screens and mobile devices and don’t take me wrong there’s nothing wrong with that per say. We need our gadgets- they are phenomenal inventions. The fact that you and I can have a conversation on the phone or I can be on skype with someone in Brazil or China, or someone who has a rare disease can connect with someone on the other side of the world who is struggling with the same issues.
“We’re nourished by [nature], we are hydrated by it and it gives us a sense of meaning and wonder and the sense that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We just can’t get that from our digital devices.”
It’s not about giving up technologies, but allowing them to be our tools and not our masters. The moment we become enslaved by technology and the moment we deprive ourselves and our kids the opportunity to spend time in nature and discover nature- which is the real world- we are really missing on on being fully human. We are sort of dimming ourselves down. This not only affects our health physically, it also destroys the world around us. If we don’t have a relationship with the natural world we won’t really care if some coal company might be blowing up a mountain that’s in our backyard. It’s both because we want to have nature, because we need it for our sustenance, but also because it provides us with such a great sense of well being. We’re nourished by it, we are hydrated by it and it gives us a sense of meaning and wonder and the sense that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We just can’t get that from our digital devices.
I really admire the positive tone of your film as opposed to others out there that use shock factor or scare tactics. Do you personally feel optimistic in our species’ potential to handle environmental crisis?
I tend to be an optimist in life in general. Although there are scientists I really respect that are already saying that we are past the tipping point in terms of climate change. Like James Lovelock is one who wrote a book recently that talk about the fact that it’s not about avoiding climate change it’s how to mitigate it so that it is not at a level that is terribly catastrophic. The way that I look at it is that there are many stages to our crisis. Our crisis is already happening. There are islands in the Pacific that have already been flooded and there are already communities of people who are climate refugees. We now have record temperatures- 15 out of the last 16 years have been the hottest years ever recorded. I happen to live in California where we are having record droughts to a point where fires are getting increasingly out of control and there are certain communities actually in central California that have literally ran out of water.
“…we have the possibility to restore and start anew and live up to our name of Homo sapien sapien- the species that knows that it knows and is highly intelligent.”
We are already living climate change, the question is how bad are we going to allow it to get. That’s why I think it’s so critical that we have this conversation. We can also cuddle up in a cocoon and pretend it’s not happening but we have to be brave and say hey- this is the crisis of our time. Humanity has faced so many crisis in the past from the plague in Europe to other kinds of disasters that have happened in our history. Certainly this is the first crisis that faces our entire planet so it can be overwhelming. But like I’ve said to you, I’m an optimist and it’s not going to serve us to be pessimistic and say it’s too late let’s just forget about it. We can reverse this we just have a lot of work to do, some people are doing it with fear. The media and news are showing us a lot of very very scary data and we have to listen, but we also have to do it from a place of inspiration, from a place of potential, realizing we can do this and roll up our sleeves. Because if we were to really create technologies that were in alignment with nature, like the science and technologies of biomimicry- the constant simulation of nature’s genius. Looking at nature’s technologies,because nature has been doing it for 4.5 billion years and there have been organisms for the last 3.8 billion years on this planet. If we look at what the other organisms are doing, replicate that and observe nature, we can completely revolutionize our world and guess what? It’s going to create an enormous amount of jobs and it could be a new economy. It’s a win-win situation every way you look at it. We create a cleaner world, we allow nature to restore itself. If we do this in time, we have the possibility to restore and start anew and live up to our name of Homo sapien sapien, the species that knows that it knows and is highly intelligent.
So how can we be less of the problem and really start making a positive impact on the world when it comes to the environment?
The one thing that I always tell people- the very first thing to do is to build a relationship with nature. Put time aside for nature. Everyone needs to exercise right? Spending 30 minutes every day outside. Go to a park or spend some time somewhere where there is nature. And it can be as simple as opening a window in the morning and listening to a bird’s song, or taking a deep breath. Once you start building that relationship and nurturing that relationship on a daily basis- in whatever way is right for you – I think that everything else just start falling into place. If you have a relationship with the park near you you’ll be mindful that you don’t want to see trash in that park and you’ll want to make sure that nature is preserved. It starts with that relationship, which is really premise of the Love Thy Nature film. Again it’s what we love, we protect and building that relationship is critical for our wellbeing and for our planet and our future generations.
“When you give a child the opportunity to connect with nature, you’re giving them the opportunity to be fully alive.”
When it comes to kids it is so important to encourage kids to spend time outdoors. I hear so many parents telling me “my kid doesn’t want to let go of their video toys”, just like you tell your kids go do your homework , you have to tell them to spend time outdoors. Usually kids will do what their parents do, if the parents are starting to spend time outdoors or take public transportation to a beach nearby and dodging waves and running from surf. One of the most delightful pastimes for me, since I live not too far from the ocean, is spending time at the beach and watching the toddlers dodging the surf it’s the most delightful experience. Talk about a spectacle- it’s better than Broadway. Those little kids laugh, they jump, they crack up, they get scared- a whole range of emotion. I think every child should have that experience even if it’s once in a blue moon. Let them climb trees, watch birds and chase lizards. When you give a child the opportunity to connect with nature, you’re giving them the opportunity to be fully alive.