The making of our Whitley Award films

We delve into the partnership that produces an annual collection of impactful short films, introducing Whitley Award winners to an international audience.

In 2013 WFN and award-winning independent documentary production company, Icon Films, established a partnership. Since then we have worked together to produce films about the work of Whitley Award winners, narrated by WFN Trustee Sir David Attenborough and premiered each year at our ceremony – such as the brand new film below introducing 2022 Whitley Gold Award winner, Charu Mishra. Over the years Icon Films has produced 74 individual films, as well as 6 longer films to mark milestones such as WFN’s 20th and 25th anniversaries.

Icon Films’ Co-Founder, Harry Marshall, who oversees these short but immensely powerful snapshots, describes the process:

“We rely on a combination of video and stills generated by the winners alongside professional natural history footage, which we either provide ourselves or source from elsewhere to give a visceral feel for the various projects. Most of all we want to give a sense of who these inspiring conservationists are so arrange for an interview to be shot in-country with each winner, to better understand the challenges they are overcoming.

“By using our own in-house teams and resources we can keep costs down and share these savings with WFN, so Icon Films is further able to support the extraordinary work of the winners in the field.

“Icon produces natural history documentaries for the mainstream market – which are seen by millions of viewers – but these annual Whitley Award films pack a very focussed conservation punch and bring about extraordinary and tangible results.”

Alongside the funding provided by a Whitley Award, winners are able to use these personalised films to assist with stakeholder engagement, often using them as an introduction at meetings. There is no better calling card to donors, local people and national leaders, helping them understand important conservation issues and what our winners are doing to tackle them. 2014 winner Melvin Gumal reports:

“My Whitley Award video was amazing: it opened doors with politicians, reporters and even donors.”

Making the films draws on the breadth of Icon Film’s expertise, involving a dedicated production team as explained by this year’s director, Nadine Tayar:

“Working closely with the editor we chose the best footage available to bring the films to life, with carefully selected music to drive the emotion. A whole team of post-production experts then crafts the pictures and adds sound-design to make the films as seamless as possible – especially challenging when footage comes in from multiple different sources.

“For me, every single winner this year was a true inspiration. Their hard work, tenacity, and infectious energy motivated the Icon Films team to make the richest films we could, to act as drivers for action and change. We wanted viewers to feel fired up, motivated and to set their own ambitions as high as the winners.”

Watch the 2022 Whitley Award winner films

We are so grateful to Icon Films for their longstanding support of WFN, which helps us to put a spotlight on our Whitley Award winners as well as allowing these grassroots conservationists to tell their own stories to audiences across the globe.

Harry Marshall from Icon Films recording the voiceover with Sir David Attenborough
Harry Marshall from Icon Films recording the voiceover with Sir David Attenborough