For a few months in 2003, Richard Ogust’s story was everywhere — on television, in newspapers, in magazines and on the Web. He had been dubbed “the turtle guy” … the man who was sharing his apartment with 1,200 turtles, most of them endangered. Unsurprisingly, most of the reports treated Richard’s situation as mere spectacle, newsworthy only because of its peculiarity. But when we read about Richard, we were drawn to him for other reasons.
At the top of the list of our countless queries, we had one principal question for Richard: What makes you care so much? We soon realized that the answer was unspeakable, and concluded that the most effective means of exploring the source of Richard’s compassion was to observe him.
The shooting days were exciting, as we were in the presence of two vast forces. The first was the turtles themselves. These dinosaur-like creatures seem to dwell in two places — prehistory and the fragile present. Looking on them with modern eyes, in square, heated rooms, we felt both gratitude and shame. The second force was Richard himself, whose energy and perpetual sense of awe astounded us.
The conservation of endangered species is an overwhelming and complex undertaking that will require the concerted physical and mental labor of a team of deeply caring global citizens over the course of several generations. We consider Richard one of the test pilots of this great mission. Observing his struggles deepened our perception of the thick personal, political and economic barriers that stand between the intention and the realization of saving our planet’s disappearing species. But we also realized that there is reason for hope.
It is far too easy to talk of extinction using a series of leaden adjectives. Extinction, of course, has tragic meaning, but the manner of one’s attempts to prevent extinction bears no such tragedy. In fact, a film about extinction is really a study of its opposing force: survival.
When one is faced with immeasurable responsibility, an excess of strength, not gloom, powers the day. And that strength, again and again, in the face of all obstacles, is what we filmed. We hope audiences will be, as we are, inspired by Richard’s efforts.
— Eric Daniel Metzgar and Nell Carden Grey, filmmakers