Film-maker relishing Otago's wild places

Dr Gianna Savoie is enjoying being so close to nature while based at the University of Otago....
Dr Gianna Savoie is enjoying being so close to nature while based at the University of Otago. PHOTO PETER MCINTOSH
From documenting the lives of wolverines to underwater filming, Dr Gianna Savoie's professional life has been diverse - but she has never been based as close to the wilderness as she is at the University of Otago.

The Emmy-nominated US documentary maker, who has a PhD in ocean science communication, is bringing her skills to Otago's science communication centre, where she is the new film-making director.

She was enjoying the "hands-on" teaching at Otago as well as the "wonderful natural wild locations".

"Every week they're going out doing something very practical - whether it's filming on a boat, or filming in the wild."

The closeness of the university to the NHNZ studio also worked well for the centre, she said.

Dr Savoie, who teaches one paper and co-ordinates others, said she initially trained as a scientist, and began her career in documentary film-making in the late 1990s as an intern on the Nature series of documentaries at PBS in the United States.

"I was just getting my master's degree in environmental science and then decided maybe I liked telling the stories, more than doing the science."

She worked her way up to producing and writing the programme, where she worked for nine years.

In the intervening time she had also worked for NHNZ, National Geographic, Discovery, and the BBC but said the Nature programme was still her favourite.

"I loved working with Nature, it's my second family," she said.

She received an Emmy nomination for the film Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom , which had involved about a year of fieldwork and then several months of editing.

In addition to her film-making work Dr Savoie had also taught at Montana State University, and she is the founder of the Ocean Media Institute, a non-profit collective that produces and distributes visual media.

It was early days at Otago, but Dr Savoie was interested in introducing a "science of science communication" to the university, looking at how to evaluate the efficacy of science communication - and potentially introducing shorter, more intensive weekend courses and summer courses.

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