Watch John’s films on his website at www.heminway.net
John Heminway is a writer and filmmaker, with a focus on nature, science, history, and Africa. He is completing his sixth book. His filmmaking career spans four decades and includes many prestigious awards, including two Emmys, two Peabodys and a DuPont Columbia Journalism award. His recent “Battle For The Elephants,” produced with Katie Carpenter and JJ Kelley, was voted the year’s Best Conservation Film, at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. In 2013, Dr. Richard Leakey appointed him Chairman of WildlifeDirect. John Heminway lives in Montana.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
JH: It was another way to make my writing come alive. I think that writing is perhaps the most useful task that you can set yourself to, because it leads you into so many other professions. The world needs people that can express themselves and put their thoughts down on paper. I minored in English in college, but writing was really always my passion. When I graduated I got really lucky, because I met an editor that signed me to my first book, The Imminent Rains. I drove across Africa for six months, and met with some of the last pioneers. Someone from ABC sports ended up reading it, and I was invited to join the team as a writer for The American Sportsman. The essential thing about writing for film is that you only want to write about the things that aren’t physical on camera. The more words you use, the less successful you are. I’ve balanced my life between books and films, and the greatest difference is that you’re all alone when you write a book and you’re never alone when you make a film. With film you’re as good as your team.
TERRA: Tell us about your film recent "Battle for The Elephants". What were some of the challenges and successes?
JH: Filming undercover in the company of some seriously bad people was an exciting challenge. In China, if our true intentions for filming had been discovered, we would have been thrown into prison or have had the film confiscated. Also posing as ivory buyers, while at the same time not wanting to stimulate the ivory market was another challenge. I think the greatest success of this film is its story telling. Almost everyone we showed Battle for the Elephants to wasn’t aware of this poaching epidemic. It amazed me how many people didn’t know this story, but the film ended up really taking off. I’ve never had so many opportunities to take a film out on the road. We’ve showed it in 30 cities and it’s up for some big awards. Also, the U.S. State Department ordered 3,000 copies for distribution to consulates around the world. Its impact still flabbergasts me, but it’s a result of working with an exceptional team and good timing.
TERRA: What has been a rewarding moment for you in the field?
JH: I think landing great interviews— and weeding through nonsense to get the one inspirational moment of truth. All this is really satisfactory. Then, I don’t mind being in a helicopter and discovering what we set out to find.
TERRA: What are the 3 things you would never go into the field without and why?
JH: Notebook, sunblock and dependable shoes.
TERRA: What is your spirit animal?
JH: Now it has become the elephant.
TERRA: What's next for you?
JH: I’m hoping to do another film on elephants, but I’m not at liberty to give specifics. I can say that my next film will go much deeper than Battle for the Elephants.