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'We all love this land': Planned documentary to showcase beauty of the Midwest

Dr. Anant Deshwal (middle) with filmmakers David (left) and Melissa Rohm.
Jody Holtz
Bradley University's Dr. Anant Deshwal, middle, with filmmakers David and Melissa Rohm.

A Bradley University professor is teaming up with a pair of filmmakers to showcase the beauty of the Midwest through a multi-part documentary series planned for PBS.

Dr. Anant Deshwal is a community ecologist and conservation biologist. He has extensive research experience through the work conducted in his own research lab focusing on wildlife behavior, interactions between different species and the response of wildlife communities to climate change.

“So for me as a researcher, it is very important that the voice of conservation gets out, get people involved as much as we can. And that is what actually makes the conservation very sustainable in itself,” explained Deshwal.

This is what Deshwal hopes to accomplish as host in the upcoming documentary series, “BioDiversity: The faces of Nature with Anant Deshwal.”

“I can publish a million papers and if it does not help save a single species…as a conservation biologist, I think that's a waste of time…through documentary, what you're able to do is you're able to show the beauty of nature, of the land that people are living in and help them connect with the land. And you can then touch (the) heart of so many people, and when you can do that, the possibilities become limitless,” Deshwal said.

Wild Excellence Films, a production company with a natural history, science and conservation angle, will produce the series. The company is led by Melissa and David Rohm.

“We just feel that films can tell a more complete conservation story than still pictures can a lot of times,” said Melissa Rohm.

The most recent film released by Wild Excellence Films is "Golden Eagles: Witness to a Changing West". The film aired on WTVP last June.
Wild Excellence Films Facebook
The most recent film released by Wild Excellence Films is "Golden Eagles: Witness to a Changing West". The film aired on WTVP last June.

Prairies, wetlands, agriculture, urban parks and wild creatures around the Midwest will be highlighted throughout the series, while also examining cutting-edge conservation science.

Deshwal said another key component of “BioDiversity” is including humans in the conversation surrounding climate change and conservation, that according to Deshwal, has not happened historically.

“Over a period of time, I started realizing that humans and nature are very intricately linked together. You cannot have one without the other,” he said.

Deshwal is originally from India where he worked with various tribal communities he said have a familial relationship with the land similar to how farmers treat the land here in the Midwest.

“The more I heard these stories, the more I realized we need to expand our horizon to encompass as many people as we can to get a truly holistic conservation effort going on where irrespective of our sex, our color, our race, or whatever, we are Midwestern people. And we all love this land. We all care for it. So let's all be involved in saving this,” Deshwal said.

Throughout the series, Deshwal will speak to a diverse group of individuals, from African American, Native American, and female scientists, to educators, historians, farmers and ecologists.

While filming hasn’t started yet, the trio plans to hit the ground running as soon as they are able to secure funding from PBS.

However, Deshwal said they will move forward with the documentary regardless of whether the funding comes through.

“What really matters is the species, the birds that are declining rapidly, the productivity that is declining rapidly, be it in agriculture fields, or be it in prairies. So, how can we help mitigate those crises? How can we help mitigate the challenges that the farmers would be facing more and more from the ongoing climate change, and how can we help them stay ahead of the curve?” explained Deshwal.

David Rohm added they want to show others that the Midwest is a natural treasure.

“We're gonna see an influx of people in this area because of climate change,” said Rohm. “And I don't think too many people realize that, even the residents here, and it's strategically very important for our country as well to keep the Midwest as healthy and as productive as we can.

"And we want to work with farmers. We want to give them a voice. That's very important to us. Native people have a very rich history here. We want to give them a voice. And we do and we let them have their own voice. As filmmakers, it's very important to us.”

When asked what he hopes audiences take away after viewing the series, Deshwal had a simple answer: Beauty. He recalled a time where he was standing amongst tall grass prairies and saw bald eagles flying over a river.

“And a million snow geese immediately fly up to escape this predator, this majestic predator. And there are so many, a million of them, that they block your view completely of what is behind," he said.

"When I saw all of that, I really had to pinch myself. Am I this lucky to be here? That…joy, that unbridled excitement that I felt when I saw this, and I experienced all this. I want the future generation, we want the future generation to be able to experience that. We want the people over here to take pride in the land.”

Melissa Rohm wholeheartedly agreed.

“That's why we want to do this series with Dr. Deshwal, that passion right there,” Rohm said. “It just brought a tear to my eye when he described those snow geese and the eagle. That's exactly what we want to do.”

David Rohm said they hope to launch the website for the series soon and expect to begin filming this year. He said they might have something ready to air on PBS late this year or early next year.

To keep up with the proposed series, you can follow Wild Excellence Films on social media.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.