National Geographic filmmaker and photographer Filipe DeAndrade is a person who wants to get to know his subject on a personal level.
In his own words, “If it’s living, if it’s breathing, if it’s wild, I want to read its birth certificate. I want to have a margarita with it, get to understand it, and see how I can tell its story on a big screen.”
DeAndrade, a 20 times New York Emmy award winner, will be giving a talk at the Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 9.
He said he has been drawn to giving a platform to the voiceless, highlighting their own unique stories so people can listen. He has chosen this mission because of his adolescence — he sees himself in these animals and wants to give them what he never had.
“Empathy is one of the most powerful tools you can utilize as a storyteller,” DeAndrade said. “What keeps me motivated as a conservationist is the empathy I share for others that suffer injustice and discrimination. I empathize with wildlife because I know what it’s like to go unheard.”
DeAndrade is also known for his National Geographic show, Untamed with Filipe DeAndrade, streaming on Disney+, where viewers can dive deeper into his mission and follow along the journey with him.
Mustang News reporter, Abigail O’Branovich, spoke with DeAndrade about “giving a voice to the voiceless” and sharing their stories in a light that can be heard. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You were raised in poverty and surrounded by addiction and abuse. You felt voiceless, and I’m curious to know what your childhood was like from that and then how you grew into your love of photography.
I think a lot of times maybe it’s my own intention. It may come off harsh or sad, but that’s not how I intend it to be at all. I’m just speaking the truth of what it is.
I come from a pretty precarious upbringing. I was born in Brazil in the countryside, displaced from a flood, and had to move to Rio de Janeiro, the most infamous ghetto in the world [the Favela’s] where there was nothing but poverty and drug use and abuse all around me. It was pretty weird to not have someone you knew die on a weekly basis or a family member get caught up in something.
But, that was just the situation and to be honest with you, I like to think that that was almost an advantage because when the bar is so low, just coming out of it, you’re already successful.
At what age did you build this relationship with animals? Was it at a young age? Or was it always there?
I think it’s always been there.
The first time I saw wildlife, I remember holding a camera and hitting the shutter button and it just, metaphorically, clicked. It just made sense. And to this day my fascination hasn’t dwindled, it’s only become more intense. With every new species I meet and with every new country I travel to, every new storyline and every new conservation challenge I come across, I’m more and more invigorated to learn more, to do more, to see more, to capture more.
What I learned was that if I feared something, I should probably lean into it. A lot of people stay away from their fears. But because of my background, I learned to question my fears. And I found that a lot of times when I questioned my fears that turned into curiosity, curiosity to a passion and a passion turned into a beautiful love story.
The best example of that is my favorite animal in the world, which is the jaguar. When I was a young kid, the first thing I feared was the jaguar. In early trips into the Amazon or into the Pantanal or into the Brazilian jungle, you just hear, “don’t go too far, don’t go out at night too far from your tent, because the jaguar is going to eat you” so my first fear in the world was the jaguar. And now it’s my favorite animal in the world. And because people protect what they love, I fell in love with these animals, and I now feel the need to protect them.
I think the reason why I connected so much with animals is because I realized they’re not voiceless. A scarlet macaw will let out a cry that can pierce your ears if you’re too close. You can hear it from miles away. Howler monkeys can be heard up to over four miles away. When a jaguar wants to make his presence known, you’re gonna feel it in your chest, no matter how far you are away from it. So it’s not that they don’t have a voice. It’s just that we’re not listening.
What’s the craziest situation that you’ve put yourself in to capture a photo?
I moved to New York City after hiking the Appalachian Trail. So spending six months in the woods, having only 17 cents to my name, and then having never been to New York City and moving there and having to spend the first night in a tent in Central Park… that was probably the craziest situation I’ve ever put myself in.
Everybody always wants to know, “What’s it like to film wildlife? What’s the deadliest animal you’ve ever been around?” I’ve been bitten by a stranger on the subway in New York City. I’ve had to break up a night fight in my apartment. I’ve gotten turned away at airports because certain countries thought I was a spy. I’ve swam across borders. I’ve had to evade police in several areas and the cartel. There’s a lot of stuff that comes through with the job that you can’t exactly break down into a risk assessment because if you did, nobody would commission the work. So to be honest with you, I really don’t have any horror stories from wildlife or nature. It’s being around people in cities that scares the hell out of me. Give me a jackal or venomous snake. Give me sharks any day of the year. I’ll take that over people. Because at least with animals, they’ll tell you their true intentions. People pretend to be your friends first.
Lastly, is there anything significant you want the audience to know?
I would encourage them, if they’re inspired, to follow along with what I’m doing now, because things are drastically different [than before the 2-year hiatus from live shows]. And I’m trying to take my work as a reflection of changing times. There’s a lot happening on our planet and we’re all a part of this. And it literally takes everybody getting involved, to understand the threats and then to be able to do something about it.
We need people to evolve to care. Because apathy and only looking at the world around you as worth fighting for or preserving, is gonna make this world a really challenging place for future generations. If we don’t do something about what’s happening right now. We’re not leaving people a very nice place to live, and we’re also inheriting a really challenging place.
I’m literally looking out the backyard in my house in Costa Rica right now, and I see the home oil plantations. And I see development happening at a mass scale in one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. That’s not sustainable. We need people to care. We need people to evolve, to care and to take action because it’s kind of all hands on deck right now.
National Geographic Live – Filipe DeAndrade: Untamed
DeAndrade is the second show of the 3-part “National Geographic: Live!” series.
Tickets can be purchased at calpolyarts.org. Cal Poly’s students are eligible for a 20% off discount with proof of ID.