The Firefox Guardians: A Film full of Love for Red Pandas

gunjan menon red panda forest guardians
Gunjan Menon is a student at the University of West of England, in Bristol and wants to produce her student degree film about the Forest Guardians in Nepal. Photo: Gunjan Menon

Red Panda Network’s Forest Guardians have an important role in monitoring and protecting the Red Pandas and their habitats. According to Red Panda Network 54 Forest Guardians are currently working in 35 Community Forests in Nepal.

Support on Indiegogo

Wildlife filmmaking student Gunjan Menon wants to produce her student degree film about these locals and started an crowdfunding campaign for The Firefox Guardians. Together with Second Camera operator Daryl Fernandes she wants to show the daily work of Forest Guardian Menuka and her relationship to the Red Pandas. “It’s a love story” promises Gunjan Menon on her Indiegogo page.

In an interview with Red Pandazine she explains, why she has chosen this topic and why she focuses especially on Menuka, one of the female Forest Guardians.

Red Pandazine: Since when are you a Red Panda fan – and why?

Gunjan Menon: My fascination with Red Pandas begun very bizarrely, actually. I was about 16 when Kung Fu Panda came out and we were going crazy trying to figure out which animal ‘Master Shifu’ was based upon. The manic wildlife lover in me couldn’t digest the fact that I didn’t know which animal inspired the character. Once I learnt about the Red Pandas, there was no looking back! How can one not fall in love with these adorable fluff balls?

Where exactly will you shoot “The Firefox Guardians“? Will you work in a special region?

Gunjan Menon: I will be filming with Red Panda Network in various parts of Nepal, mostly where the Forest Guardians actively work and monitor the Red Panda population. I will also be shooting some eco-tourists as they are major contributors to the Red Panda conservation model that I’m focusing on.

According to your Indiegogo page you will focus on female Forest Guardian Menuka and her work. Why did you choose her?

Gunjan Menon: While researching for various story angles, I read Menuka’s story in an article and was really inspired by how this young girl was breaking stereotypes in her village and fighting against community elders to work as a Red Panda protector. I wasn’t sure if I could get access to cover the story that time but I knew she would be a strong character in the film which could drive the story and inspire people around the world. I will be showing this with a very different perspective. I’m very excited to meet her and give her a platform to share her story with the world.

Do you also plan to film Red Pandas in the wild?

Gunjan Menon: Well, as you probably already know, it is extremely difficult to even see a Red Panda in the wild, let alone film it. Being able to build a sequence needs various shots of different magnification which will be very tricky when you can hardly spot one. Some natural history programs are shot over years and I’m hardly shooting for a few weeks for my student film. Having said that, my hopes of seeing one are really high as we’re working very hard. Very few people have been able to successfully capture them and if I manage to do this, I’d be very, very thrilled. I’ve never seen a red panda in the wild and I don’t know how I’ll react when I actually see my first. Just talking about it is giving me goosebumps.

“We will also use this film to inspire
more women to follow their dreams.”
– Gunjan Menon

In an interview we did last year, filmmaker Dr. Axel Gebauer said, that the Red Panda is one of the most difficult mammal species to film. What do you think?

Gunjan Menon: He’s not the only one who’s told me it’s going to be challenging. That’s the first reaction I get when I tell people what I’m planning to do. But Dr. Axel Gebauer has been very kind in giving me a few tips from his experience. I’m also consulting some researchers and filmmakers so that I’m able to do the best with the limited resources I have. Their wild numbers have declined tremendously making it very difficult to film for a continuous duration in the tough Himalayan terrain. But this is exactly why the film needs to be made so that we can do something to save the remaining ones. It’s going to be a tough one but I’m determined and I feel very positive about this. I will only be able to talk about the practical problems once I’m there but right now I’m focusing on the human side of the story which is equally important to share because the survival of wild Red Pandas depends on these communities and organizations working tirelessly to protect them. It’s about their very special bond with the Pandas and about locals who’ve reformed their ways of life to help protect them. This in itself is a very inspiring story which needs to be told!

daryl fernandes
Second Camera operator Daryl Fernandes is a specialist for steady cam operations and low light shooting – essential skills needed for “The Firefox Guardians”. Photo: Private

When do you think that your film will be finished?

Gunjan Menon: This film is a part of my final degree project for MA in Wildlife Filmmaking at the University of the West of England in Bristol. The film will be completed in September and will be first screened at a cinema in Bristol along with other student films for friends, family and professionals from the wildlife filmmaking industry in Bristol. I will then be putting the film online because the whole point of this film is to spread awareness and get maximum people to watch it and take action to protect these precious, endangered firefoxes.

I am also making an interactive documentary as supplementary content where viewers will be able to choose the stories they watch and be a part of the immersive story. This is an interesting way to engage the younger audience by making conservation topics a bit more approachable and fun. We will also use this film to inspire more women to follow their dreams. If young girls like Menuka can do it, despite various tribulations, what’s stopping us?

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You can support The Firefox Guardian on the official Indiegogo page. Get more updates about the film on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Red Panda Network’s website offers more information about the Forest Guardians.