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Maja Zonjic

"We all knew that the Kanahau team would be the right choice in terms of their exceptional knowledge base, but also the perfect fit due to their conservation ideals and personalities, which matched ours"

Maja Zonjic

Name: Maja Zonjic, M.F.A., B.Des.

Nationality: Croatian-Canadian

Postcards from Utila Documentary film

In the Land of the Swamper Documentary short

I have met Steve and Andrea several years ago while I was completing my Master of Fine Arts degree research in Utila; specializing in the exacerbation of environmental and social issues on the island due to unsustainable tourism development. Both Steve and Andrea have been instrumental during this research period; in allowing and encouraging me to become acquainted with various complex facets of Utilian society, and the land. They had provided not only advice, but also contacts that have further helped me solidify some of my ideas in the process, as well as formulate additional fields of study that I wasn’t cognizant of. Even though I had defended my Thesis in 2011, the Postcards from Utila work continued to garner attention, and I had decided to evolve the work into a format more accessible to a wider audience. With that in mind, I brought several people on board in order to turn the initial stage of this project into a feature-length documentary film.

Working with a team of talented, young, creative, and incredible passionate individuals and conservationists, has so far been key in this work’s success. Utila’s mangroves (and the ecosystems within them) play a key role in the film as they do on the island, and the crew knew we needed experts in the field to help us explore them properly. Without hesitation, we all knew that the Kanahau team fronted by Steve and Andrea would be the right choice in terms of their exceptional knowledge base, but also the perfect fit due to their conservation ideals and personalities, which matched ours. We hoped they would agree to become Production Coordinators on the film, and we were elated when they had accepted.

Steve and Andrea had arranged the transportation and the tour of the first mangrove area we visited; Little Byte, specifically chosen for its high population of the island’s endemic Swamper Iguana and one of the species Kanahau works to track, and protect. We were able to film several other species that inhabit the mangroves as well, and we watched in awe the amazing methods that Kanahau implements in order to find, capture, tag, and finally release the iguanas back into their natural habitat. During an additional field trip to study the island’s vast flora and fauna, we learned of the island’s different species, as well as their behaviors. As an experienced film crew we expected to film for days without finding certain species, but Steve and Andrea knew exactly where to look, and we captured things on camera with the level of efficiency unparalleled in the documentary world on such a tight time frame.

When a secondary opportunity had presented itself to create a short educational documentary film specifically about the Swamper iguanas, Steve and Andrea were willing to switch around their schedules to take us on an extremely last-minute tour of a mangrove area closer to town. Again, we were able to film several Swampers and further document the work that Kanahau does, since it is featured prominently in the short film, In the Land of the Swamper. As a professional connection, I would not hesitate to recommend Kanahau, and I encourage potential volunteers or researchers to work with them. Having been involved in numerous conservation movements, initiatives, and NGOs in the last few years, I firmly believe that the most positive experiences came from those where the key people were not only unapologetically passionate about their work, but also personally and actively involved. Steve and Andrea are definitely in that group and I am looking forward to many more mangrove explorations with them during the final production stage of the film.

In closing, I do want to make a personal point as well, because I believe the character of the person is inextricably linked to their values as a potential colleague, advisor or supervisor. Having personally known Steve and Andrea for a few years now, I have shared much time with them beyond the hours spent in Thesis research, or film production. So when our film crew got stuck in a forest on a poorly-prepared hike up to Pumpkin Hill (Utila’s highest point) in a torrential down-pour with nothing but our canvas bags to protect our expensive equipment, Steve met us in the middle of a mud trail, and took our equipment on his back – biking back to his house as fast as he could to protect it from the weather. When we reached the house, Andrea had prepared us all warm coffee and we were invited to stay as long as we liked to warm up. And that’s when I knew that our relationships went much beyond a professional one. Even though they are the Production Coordinators on the film set, they are first and foremost, our friends.

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