UK (University of the West of England) BBC Studios Productions launch international wildlife filmmaking scholarships at UWE Bristol

BBC Studios Productions has launched a programme of fully-funded wildlife filmmaking scholarships for international students to undertake UWE Bristol’s Wildlife Filmmaking MA.

The scholarships build upon BBC Studios Natural History Unit’s successful 12-year collaboration with UWE Bristol to deliver the BBC Studios-accredited MA in Wildlife Filmmaking, and form part of Project Songbird – the Natural History Unit’s £1m investment over three years to nurture, diversify and attract new production talent in countries where the world-renowned unit frequently films.

For the 2023/24 academic year, the scholarships were open specifically to applicants from Kenya and bordering countries – where the NHU will be filming a number of productions over the next few years – to ensure the graduates have the best opportunity to build upon their skills when back home in Kenya. Following a robust selection process run by the UWE Bristol team, scholarships have been awarded to two emerging Kenyan filmmaking talents – Pauline Kyalo and Jeff Njuguna.

The hugely popular one-year UWE Bristol MA in Wildlife Filmmaking is widely regarded as the gold standard in wildlife filmmaking craft. Pauline and Jeff will experience the same learning process as all MA students on the course, with the additional support of an NHU production staff mentor throughout the academic year. The scholarship will cover full academic course fees plus additional expenses including student accommodation in Bristol city centre, a UK living allowance and travel costs.

Pauline Kyalo, a graduate of Environmental Science from Kenyatta University and assistant producer at Kenya’s WildlifeDirect, said: “I’m so excited to have received a full scholarship to the BBC UWE Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking. This is an incredible opportunity because it means I finally get a shot at building the career I have only ever dreamt of in impact filmmaking. It’s also so special that the course is set up in Bristol which is the Hollywood of nature films, and it means I’ll have access to people and resources that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I can’t wait to start.”

Jeff Njuguna, a professional photographer with a diploma in Wildlife Management from Kenya’s Wildlife Service Training Institute, said: “I have loved and been fascinated by natural history documentaries since a very young age, so to be awarded this scholarship to the BBC UWE Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking is a dream. I look forward to a year of learning, adventure and networking to build a successful career in nature and conservation filmmaking. This is a really exciting opportunity. See you in Bristol!”

BBC Studios Natural History Unit has a long-standing commitment to provide production and craft training, including over 50-years of camera bursaries that have launched the careers of some of the industry’s leading wildlife camera talent.

Jonny Keeling, Head of BBC Studios Natural History Unit, said: “For 12 years the NHU has partnered with the UWE Wildlife Filmmaking MA – a course that has developed some of the industry’s most skilled individuals. Fully funded scholarships will now extend that opportunity to emerging filmmakers based in the countries where we work. That is a hugely exciting prospect. Pauline and Jeff are exceptional talents. I can’t wait to see how they hone their skills as storytellers during their year at UWE Bristol.”

Lynn Barlow, UWE Bristol Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Creative and Cultural Industries Engagement, said: “We’re delighted to be further strengthening our long-standing partnership with BBC Studios Natural History Unit, in the city that leads the world in this genre. These scholarships offer an outstanding opportunity for talented filmmakers to engage with and to learn from the very best. We look forward to welcoming Pauline and Jeff to Bristol and, in years to come, seeing their work and local storytelling featured in wildlife filmmaking productions around the world.”

In future years, it is anticipated that BBC Studios will award up to two international scholarships to applicants in countries where significant NHU production work is planned.

Other initiatives so far funded by Project Songbird’s £1m allocation include training opportunities for locally based production talent in-country, which has already provided training for locally based filmmakers across a number of NHU productions on location including in Zambia, Madagascar and Kenya. The fund has also enabled local talent to attend UK-based training courses and on attachment at Bridgewater House, the NHU’s HQ in Bristol.

Building further on in-country collaborations, Songbird aims to make local language versions of NHU productions available for local viewings in communities who would otherwise have no means of access. Recently the programme funded a screening of Bears About The House, which highlights the illegal wildlife trade in South East Asia and the mission to build a pioneering new bear sanctuary in Laos, to the community living there.

The NHU has also partnered with Wildscreen on the first Wildscreen Nairobi Festival, a two-day event in the Kenyan capital, which runs from 30th June – 1st July 2023. Sponsored by BBC Studios Natural History Unit, the new mini-festival will celebrate and elevate the African filmmaking industry, featuring African storytellers and filmmakers sharing their expertise and experience alongside global industry peers.

Further placements and initiatives are planned internationally and in the UK over the coming months.