We reached out to our World Wildlife Day Film Showcase filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
Q: What inspired this story?
Filmmaker Ben Fiscella Meissner: Memories of the Future was actually inspired by a lecture of the same name, given by Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra. I had the good fortune to attend it once, at a university in Villahermosa, Mexico. Over the course of several years I had been documenting an ongoing study of mangroves across the Yucatan peninsula--but Dr. Ezcurra, one of the principal investigators--unraveled the timeline of natural history from this present day research, back hundreds of thousands of years. His captivating lecture put their discovery of a relictual ecosystem in perspective, as a surviving piece of the past that has endured massive changes on a geological timescale, only to be confronted with eradication by overzealous present day civilization.
Visiting this marvelous and ancient once-coastal forest that has now fully integrated with today’s surrounding tropical rainforest ecosystem, is a remarkable experience. Plants that are found growing specifically on the coastal red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), in this case had integrated with surrounding rainforest plants, and vice versa. This hybrid ecosystem brought together species that one would never expect to find thriving in cohabitation, and while the origins of this evolutionary story reach beyond the time of humans, witnessing the present moment is like holding a magnifying glass up to the spearpoint of evolution--a decisive moment that ends in their continual co-growth or eradication.
Q: How did you approach telling this story?
BFM: I have no singular appraisal of my approach to storytelling. To me, a documentary project must in some way offer itself to be told, and then it becomes my responsibility to resonate with that, and learn along the way how to make it speak. But I suppose one element or another of my experience inspires me and a path begins from there; sometimes I can follow with little effort, other times it’s like having to chisel it into existence very deliberately. Memories of the Future was a mixture of these two approaches, in that a fascinating mystery brought me along for the ride without anyone knowing what to expect. Retrospectively, we had to piece together material gathered somewhat haphazardly along the way that could somehow convey our own sense of wonder and discovery.
Q: Were there any surprising or meaningful moments / experiences you want to share?
BFM: Though Memories of the Future recounts the scientific process of investigating an ecological anomaly, I don’t feel I’m exaggerating in saying that the greater journey involved countless surprises and meaningful experiences. I will share one. After one sampling expedition, we took a few days to journey along the San Pedro River downstream visiting other sites interacting with the river system. From the remains of bustling cities of trade from the Mayan empire, to crafty fish traps built in the eddies and outflows of the San Pedro, we eventually reached the rivermouth, where we were stunned by the enormous scars of razed mangrove forest being removed for an oil refinery project called the Dos Bocas Refinery.
It was surreal traveling through history to arrive at such a particularly visual and violent present moment. Sometimes, intellectual debate on environmental issues gets lost in theory, broad geopolitical contexts, themes of economic growth and national security--but when you stare at a bulldozed forest, watching trucks haul away soaked earth as factory plans are laid--there is a visceral sense of regret--that there was some other way to have acted, and there should be some better way to act now.