“Diving headfirst into the world of natural history filmmaking - especially completing a short film in five days - was a wild (no pun intended) and incredible whirlwind of an experience,” said Jane Macedo Yang, a cinematographer currently based out of NYC.
She came into the 2022 Jackson Wild Media Lab with loads of experience under her belt, having worked on political ads, stories of refugees, and much more. But the Media Lab was her first foray into the natural history space, and what better way to learn than through an intense production process surrounded by peers of all diffferent backgrounds and experience levels.
“Working with a group of fellows from all over the world was a reminder of how any type of filmmaking is such a team sport, and everyone’s different perspectives, from both seasoned filmmakers to first-time filmmakers and scientists and activists, added such rich and diverse layers to the storytelling process. The aspect of filming wildlife – in my group’s case, birds – was fascinating. Especially given our tight deadline, it gave me a deeper appreciation for wildlife and the patience that many natural history filmmakers must have.”
Jane, along with Media Lab Fellows Laura Pennafort, Luyanda Shabalala, and Jordan Chapman, created The Bird Ringer, a film about migratory birds in National Park Neusiedler See - Seewinkel. “Getting to know and learn from the fellows, as well as the program leaders from Days Edge Productions and Jackson Wild, was a reminder of the shared love of filmmaking and created lifelong friendships and connections,” said Jane about the emotional aspects of the program.
Though the Media Lab was her first time working on a wildlife film, Jane’s interest in the natural world is not new. “I’ve always loved the outdoors and nature, and once dreamed of being a marine biologist. Watching BBC’s Planet Earth had a large impact on me as a teenager, and opened up the possibility of natural history filmmaking. My love for film came around the same time, but I didn’t think about putting the two together until I was in college, when I double majored in film and ecology & evolutionary biology,” she shared.
“Unfortunately, I was told that ever being on a project like Planet Earth would be difficult unless you knew the right people. As a young queer woman of color, it felt like an impossible industry to enter in as I didn’t see others in the industry that looked like me, and it wasn’t until the Jackson Wild Media Lab where it felt like being a natural history filmmaker could become a reality. This is why highlighting underrepresented voices is so important to my work – both in front of and behind the camera. In both directly people-focused films and nature / science work, there are so many voices and stories that have not been heard, yet are so significant to the human experience and the world we live in.”
Jane’s prior work includes the documentary short Boyhood, a story about a family of Rohingya refugees, specifically focusing on 10-year-old boy Kamaruddin. She has also created short films for Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor, along with advertising for voting rights organizations in Georgia. She wore a lot of hats in the film production process before ultimately realizing that visual storytelling behind the camera was where she found the most joy.
“I’m able to be so present when filming, reacting to everything unfolding in front of me, being immersed in finding frames and working with light – especially in the spontaneity that documentary often brings, and being able to work with my hands to operate the camera and gear. One of the joys of filmmaking is building trust and camaraderie with the director, crew, and the participants (as you’re often the person physically closest to who is being filmed) too, and working together towards a singular goal of creating moving, authentic work. Cinematography and camera work felt like a natural fit to my love of films and imagery.”
Jane is currently working on Parastoo, the first documentary she started working on.
“My sister and the director of the film, Jennifer Yang, and I moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2017. There, we met an Afghan refugee theater group called Parastoo Theater, made up of first-time actors. We filmed the group’s journey as they rehearsed and performed one of their first shows. In the group, we met two young actresses, Farzana and Fatima, both incredible beings and whose stories are the focus in the film. Parastoo is about their years-long journey as they grow up and their lives diverge when Fatima and her family get resettled to Australia,” Jane shared.
“Present-day, we’ve brought on an incredible team including producer Justine Armen, consulting producer Amin Kamrani, and production coordinator Anisha Wadhwani. The story of the film has changed direction several times including expanding from a short to a feature, and we continue to be in production as we raise funds. Especially since it was one of the first films I worked on, watching the older footage from 2017-2018 to the most recent footage of 2022, it’s been amazing to see the growth of the quality of the footage and how far the team and story has come.
After joining the Jackson Wild community in last year’s Media Lab, Jane now uses the Collective to get more involved in the natural history space by connecting with others, learning about their work, and hearing about opportunities, including gigs, events, programs, and grants.
Speaking of connecting, she’s putting out a call for collaborators: “I’m looking for collaborators on documentaries and am open to all themes – natural history, environmental issues, social issues, political commentary, interwoven narratives of all of the above! Although I’m based in NYC, I’m open to travel. I work as a DP, camera operator, and AC and am looking to connect to other filmmakers and chat. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!”