Ask the Filmmakers

POV asks: Many viewers have written in to ask about Richard's situation and his conservation efforts. Is Richard still involved with turtle conservation? Can viewers contact him and/or contribute to his institute, or any other conservation efforts? What can individuals do to help Richard?

Eric Daniel Metzgar: First of all, the producer (Nell Carden Grey) and I can't provide contact information for Richard. He has, understandably, removed himself from the public view. If viewers want to try to track him down on their own, good luck. But please know that we do pass your comments on to him, and he is always appreciative.

However, Richard still keeps a decent number of turtles. If viewers would like to contribute money towards the conservation and care of Richard's remaining turtles, or towards the conservation of turtles in general, they can make a special donation to the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), the organization holding the turtle conference in the film. Richard, the TSA and the filmmakers have created a special endowment called The Chances of the World Changing Fund.

We created this fund for two reasons. First, and most importantly, the fund can provide viewers of the film with a means to directly contribute to the work of the turtle keepers in the film. Secondly, as filmmakers, we can use the specific fund to gauge just how much support was generated by the creation and reception of this film. This measuring device won't serve as a means for self-congratulations, but as a tool in the promotion of documentary films in general, and as evidence that these films can, in some way, affect change.

We chose the TSA among many other turtle conservation organizations because we admire their multi-layered approach to species preservation. They are comprised of all kinds of people in all walks of life, with myriad attitudes and approaches. They are working at every level around the world, but singly united by their incredible compassion and tenacity. (Nell discusses them further in her answers below.)

I have a more philosophical suggestion as well about how someone can help Richard. Become his ally, not his admirer. Become personally engaged in the "service" of saving or improving the lives of others, whether human or non-human. In short, grab the shovel from the garage and excavate your compassion. Find and know your strengths, then deploy those strengths in the service of something larger than yourself. Of course, this isn't easy. Almost nothing in our society promotes such action. So to choose to be of service requires a shift of focus. It requires disregarding the bulk of useless information thrown at us in our schizophrenic culture. It requires listening to the quiet, powerful and steady voice within us, the voice that says, in the words of poet Rainer Maria Rilke, "All things, change them."

Jean from Maine asks:
I have a small collection of turtles in my home that I have rescued (they were injured or unwanted). How can I effectively network with other collector and conservationists to be more involved in saving different species and education people about conservation?

Nell Carden Grey: It's wonderful to hear from viewers who have personal experience with turtles. There are many resources available to people interested in getting involved. One organization that we are always happy to point people toward is the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA). They are a great group: an affiliation of individual, partnership and organizational members who are all extraordinarily committed to ending turtle extinctions around the globe. Anyone with a genuine interest in turtle conservation can become a member of the TSA-USA division, though to become an active partner doing specific kinds of conservation work with TSA turtles requires going through an application and approval process. Please also encourage anyone you know who is interested in donating to the cause to do so at their website.

As for other ways to network, there are also a lot of regional and local "Turtle and Tortoise Groups" that you could look into. Two that come to mind on the east coast are the Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Group and the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society. A lot of these groups provide an enormous amount of information about the various aspects of turtle care, and I never met a person with an interest in turtles who turned down an opportunity to "talk turtles" with other turtle lovers. Many of the people who care for these animals would probably be more than happy to communicate over email and help point you in the direction you'd like to go; in fact, all it took was my writing one simple email to a "turtle person" for me to get involved in this extraordinary experience.

As far as educating people about endangered turtles goes, I would like to digress into a more personal reflection on this topic. I have thought endlessly about what it takes to bring about deep change or growth in anyone, which is an important part of what "education" means to me when it comes to conservation. I want to know how caring emerges in someone else, as well as to make space for caring to come through in myself. It's sometimes not enough to simply rattle off a whole litany of statistics and facts and expect that such a list will bring about a change in the actions and hearts of people; while statistics and data are useful for understanding many things about the world, they aren't an end in themselves, and quite frankly I think in this country we are awash in information (and drowning in a lot of terrible information at that). One of the things we specifically wanted to avoid with this film was overwhelming audiences with "information" about turtles. Just allowing ourselves, and by extension, the viewers to really look at the turtles -- letting the camera linger on them to really see their faces and bodies and being -- was an act of faith; to trust that, if people could be given a few uninterrupted moments to look at something they may never have had the chance or the patience to look at before, they would be as immediately taken as we were with the animals. One of the comments we always hear from audiences at festivals is how they will never look at a turtle the same way again, which echoes the exact feeling I had the first time I stepped into Richard's sanctuary -- I never knew they were so beautiful, so individual, so unrelentingly present.

But a film about turtles is just a beginning, a dream and a whiff of the real work, of what may still be somewhat possible to enact: that in some corners of the earth, in surprising places such as lofts in Manhattan or small houses in the suburbs or undisturbed oases in fields and forests, a person will come face to face with a creature and see it clearly, in all the fullness of its being. So perhaps you can invite people to meet the animals you care for whenever you get the chance, if you are not doing so already, and provided you do so in a way that does not cause them unnecessary stress. Much of what is written about the diminishing natural world emphasizes this point; our remove and distance from the animals and the trees and the land is a huge part of the problem, our very blindness numbing us to their degradation. It's wonderful to be around them, as Richard says in the film, but perhaps for many of us in this country the "being around" is the first step. So anything you can do to help other people encounter the turtles first-hand is a way to counteract this devastating, disassociating trend.

I also think another important part of educating others about these issues is recognizing that sometimes all it takes is having one passionate, honest conversation with other people about our deeply felt personal motivations in regards to caring for animals. One of the biggest lessons I learned from working on this film was that people who are passionate and deeply committed to something larger than themselves usually convey an energetic generosity of spirit that is quickly contagious and difficult to forget, especially when they continue to be magnanimous in the face of the many reasons for despair. I remember that simply being in the presence of many of the turtle people we met filled me with a kind of love and gratitude that I hadn't often felt around people in other parts of my every-day, "non-turtle" life. Their commitment to the animals fueled and fired everything they did -- their actions, their words, even the look in their eyes -- and it was impossible to remain unaffected by the strength of their commitment and concern. So I would also say that a huge part of educating other people on these and other social/environmental issues falls in the "not hiding your light under a bushel" category. Speak with all the love you can articulate to anyone about why animals are important to you, why humans would be less than human if these animals were left to go extinct, how in so many ways the relationship that humans have had to the natural world and its non-human inhabitants has been the very thing that has shaped what it means to be human in the first place. They remind us of our proper scale. And if the love you feel cannot be spoken about then just try to inhabit it and I imagine it will come through. But I think if more of us opted to have conversations from our hearts, about the things we love best when no one is looking, about what relieves us on occasion from the burden of our solipsism and the endless biting of our own tails -- if we talked about this love in us instead of rehearsing our complaints about all the other things that draw us down and out of the world, then so much more energy could be released toward doing the positive world-mending work. As one person says in the film: it doesn't take anyone special, you just have to care. To that I would add: don't ever be afraid to care in front of anyone, and to always allow how and what you care about to fill your words and your life as much as it can.

Sharyn from Pennsylvania asks: In the beginning of the film, we see Richard rescuing his first turtle from the chinese restaurant; he named her "The Empress." Was Empress alive during the making of the film? Even though Richard gave up most of his turtles, did he take her or any other turtles with him in the end? Thank you for this film.

Eric Daniel Metzgar: Yes, The Empress is alive, and yes, Richard still has a decent number of turtles and tortoises in his care.

Betty from Texas asks: Can you tell me more about the song "Live Old," which was played during the film? How can I buy this song?

Eric Daniel Metzgar: That magical song, "Live Old" was created by a band called Faun Fables. You can find out more about them at the band's website. The song "Live Old" comes from their album titled Mother Twilight. You can buy the album from their website, or you can buy the song from the iTunes store.

Sharon from Delaware asks: In the film, one of the people who take the turtles suggests a conservation network of small "conservators" linked by an umbrella. I'd like to know more about this idea and whether anyone has pursued it. I am interested in fostering endangered turtles. How can I get started?

Nell Carden Grey: The Turtle Survival Alliance is one organization that partly functions as an affiliated group of people all doing "small" conservation work wherever they might be geographically located and yet who share findings, knowledge, and experiences all of the time through the umbrella of their member-based organization. If you are interested in beginning to be involved with endangered turtles then I would strongly recommend that you contact them.

Taking care of turtles specifically for conservation purposes demands a certain expertise and specific kinds of knowledge, as well as the commitment of space and resources, such as having appropriate housing for the animals, knowing how to feed and provide proper veterinary care for them, etc. But many of the people we met along the way started by having just loved turtles at some point in their lives and having ended up for various reasons making a more significant commitment to their welfare, and once the interest and the commitment were in place, the expertise followed. And as I said in as an answer to another viewer, there are many people out there who are willing to help you if your interest is genuine. The turtles need all the human allies they can get, as does every other living thing on this planet. Who are we if we are not able to help in some way? I wish you all the best in getting further involved.

Shane from Alaska asks: This film really moved me. How big was your crew? What kind of camera did you use to shoot the film?

Eric Daniel Metzgar: The crew was the producer and I. We shot on the Panasonic DVX100A.