POV: Could you give us an update about Richard?
Eric Daniel Metzgar: After screenings, everyone asks “Where is Richard now?” and “What is he doing?”
I can appreciate the desire to know what became of Richard after his tremendous ordeal, but I usually give a very brief and frustrating answer: “Richard is still in New York, and he’s slowly putting his life back together.” And that’s as far as I take it, and my rationale is as follows: Fictional films end, and we aren’t conditioned to inquire about the afterlives of the characters. But because documentaries record “reality,” I think we feel obliged to be apprised of the real subject’s afterlife. But once you film someone for years and exhibit his life to strangers around the world, you feel differently.
Every documentary film is different in regards to the subject’s privacy. Some subjects are incredibly forthcoming, while others carefully reveal only pieces of themselves. Certain subjects, upon completion of the film, want to travel to festivals and speak to audiences. Others do not. During the filming of “The Chances of the World Changing,” Richard was radically generous. He trusted us immensely, and to be the recipient of such trust is to receive a fragile gift. It can’t be mishandled. Our understanding was that Richard would expose his life to us during the period of filming, but once the filming was finished, he would return to his private life, and his “subjecthood” would conclude. Thus, the producer and I would not “track” him eternally, seeking updates.
But perhaps more importantly, I know where he is and what he’s doing, and I don’t think his current circumstances are relevant to the film. If he were in the process of trying to build another turtle institute, I might feel differently, and I might beseech him to open up again.
So, we have happily granted Richard a return to (relative) anonymity, though “granted” is hardly the right word. Richard, as always, will do as he feels, and we’ll always be grateful for the time he allowed us to tag along.
And I feel I should mention that I offer the above explanation not because Richard has rejected or disassociated himself from the film in any way. He has not. He is in full support of raising awareness about the turtle crisis, and he still feels as he did in his final interview when he stated that the film’s existence is justified if it serves to improve the welfare of the turtles and tortoises.
POV: What has been the reaction at screenings?
Metzgar: Documentaries are thick with complexity, so viewers react on countless levels to countless layers of meaning. I’m always surprised at the things people choose to tell me about their viewing experience. After the film, some people have come up to me crying, wanting a hug. Others have approached me with open wallets. Occasionally someone will march up to me angrily and tell me that the film had too many intimate close-ups.
Many people, after festival screenings, have told me how glad they were to see a film about non-humans amidst the endless films about human sociopolitical issues. Overall, the people who usually approach me after the screenings seem to be thoughtful, patient, calm and caring. I think there is something about the pace of the film that speaks to a certain kind of viewer — frankly, one with a longer attention span. Many people have said to me, “Thanks for letting me really look at the turtles.”
There is nothing overtly cool about turtles or a film about turtles, so “The Chances of the World Changing” doesn’t really attract hipsters looking to include themselves in the cult of a fashionable film. I’ve found that the youngsters that really like the film seem to be deeply concerned about the state of the world. They appear to me to be loners, sort of lost and frustrated amongst the majority of their peers, who seem to be enthralled with violence, technology and celebrities.
And of course, viewers respond differently to Richard himself. He’s too intense for some folks, but others happily jump into his pocket and are thrilled to take the ride with him. To some, he’s a saint, and to others, an eccentric. But everyone wants to label him. Some want to reduce his actions down to trite psychological incentives, while others recognize in his eyes a deep, universal, but indescribable panic at the state of things. I used to try to defend him from those who judged his efforts, but eventually I gave up. I remembered that people were responding to a portrait of a man in a 99-minute film, while I was defending Richard, the human being with whom I had spent years.
POV: What is the state of the Asian turtle crisis?
Nell Carden Grey: At the end of May of 2007, Great Britain’s The Guardian reported that an abandoned cargo of 5,000 of the world’s rarest animals had been found off of the coast of China. The cargo included a number of rare turtle species as well as numerous other kinds of creatures. This most recent occurrence is a good indication that the illegal trade in endangered species — turtle and non-turtle alike — is still going strong, and poses a major, ongoing problem for animal conservation in Southeast Asia. According to the organization Traffic (which monitors the illegal trade in endangered species), turtles and other animals face a far bigger threat from illegal trading than from habitat loss, and that while China has made certain commitments to regulate trade and to curb smuggling, much work remains to be done. As Chris Shephard, senior program officer with Traffic Southeast Asia, told The Guardian, “vigilance on the border has to be improved, cooperation with source countries needs to be strengthened, there should be better monitoring of dealers, and the people violating the laws must be penalised severely.”
POV: How can people get involved in turtle conservation?
Grey: There are a number of ways that people interested in turtle conservation can get involved. The Turtle Survival Alliance is an affiliation of private conservationists and institutions that works toward the conservation of endangered turtle species, especially those from Southeast Asia most affected by the trade. They run a wide variety of conservation projects across Southeast Asia, including a lot of educational outreach. The Turtle Survival Alliance is a nonprofit organization that takes donations. The wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic also relies on individual donations to maintain its activities; please visit their website for more information on how you can get involved.
In addition, with China set to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the public can use this opportunity to voice their concern about the continued decimation of Asian wildlife due to unregulated consumption in China.