When I was a teenager and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d say “I want to save the world.” But at some point along the way I stopped believing that was possible.
I first met Manoj Gautam in 2008 when I taught a filmmaking workshop to him and his friends from Roots & Shoots in Nepal. I was struck by his renegade, guerrilla style combined with vision, commitment, and charisma. He had just rescued two leopard cubs from being killed and was keeping them in a bedroom in an apartment in Katmandu. With no resources, he was scrambling to find them a safe home. (Eventually he was able to get them haven in an Indian zoo.) I had a powerful feeling that he would make an important impact on his country, the people, the animals, and environment. Something about him reminded me of the youthful idealism I had lost so long ago.
I knew I wanted to go back to tell his story someday. When the opportunity arose in January 2011, I was thrilled.
As a filmmaker, using the medium as a cultural anthropologist, and to satisfy my own curiosity of how one person can create meaningful change, I am compelled to follow Manoj’s story. He is young, wild, and still finding his way, learning diplomacy, fascinated by wild animals and still discovering how he can be of service to them and avoid being their captor. He’s learning to delegate, understanding that the broadest, most effective change happens when culture changes, and that ultimately it is others who must do the work. Overwhelmed by problems, pollution, poverty, ignorance, the phrase he said throughout our trip was “slowly, slowly.” He is in it for the long haul.
I filmed in a verité, fly on the wall style, trying to stay out of the way. From confronting abusive zookeepers, rescuing cobras from snake charmers, observing the abuse of baby elephants and reporting to PETA, (and much more) I am amazed by what transpired in those 11 days.
I hope that Manoj’s story has the power to inspire other’s to pursue their dreams in spite of obstacles, be they poverty, adversity, bureaucracy, or doubt.