Jérôme Dolbert

Jerome Dolbert had a limited budget for making his documentary about the deforestation in the tropical forest of Peru. Despite this constraint, Jerome wanted the pictures to be top quality as this was a topic which was very important to him.

With the help of 9 sponsors and a lot of motivation Jerome was able to achieve his goal. He spent 25 days shooting in the tropical forest in order to capture the activity andtraveled more than 700 kms (430 miles) to a remote part of Peru with 80 kg (180 lbs) of equipment. Jerome left Los Angeles on October 28th to reach Puerto Maldonado after a connection in Lima and finally arrived at the Taricaya Ecological Reserve, Amazon Rainforest onboard a small boat. The Taricaya Ecological Reserve is approximately 1000 acres of ecological reserve on the shore of the Madre de Dios River.

We interviewed Jerome in November 2014 after his return to Los Angeles.

“The Peruvian tropical forest host extraordinary ecosystems, with a large number of animals, birds and plants that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. These ancient forests are part of the impressive variety of natural environment in Peru. However, many years of deforestation and poaching practices are putting that fragile ecosystem in extreme danger.

Very impressive footage

For that documentary I wanted to bring back very impressive footage: go everywhere I could go even in dangerous parts of the forest where the mafia, often protected by the local authorities, take the wood and gold without caring for the forest habitants and plants.

In the area called “La Pampa”, mercury is used along the shores of the Inambari River to collect the gold. This is a huge problem because there is widespread mercury pollution, the water is no longer drinkable and the people can’t eat the fish. People working at the mines breaths the mercury fumes and get sick and it even pollutes the nearby forest. Just for the Pampa area, 100,000 acres of forest disappeared in the past 8 year due to the mercury pollution.

The local people don’t want to talk about that problem because they are afraid of retaliation.
There are approximately 40,000 gold miners in the Madre de Dios region.

I planned my work in 2 parts: first working on the issue with the animals at the Taricaya Ecological Reserve where Projects Aboard, an NGO based in London, is very active. Since 2004 several scientists from Project Aboard including biologists, veterinarians, zoologists, forest engineers and environmental engineers have been working there. It’s the first research center doing reintroduction of animals which has an official recognition in Peru.

They cure sick animals and reintroduce them in their habitat when they are in good health. They also study them when they are in captivity at their center. They have tapir, monkeys, jaguars, black panthers, parrots, toucans, turtles and wild dogs injured or without parents. They also help the local population to develop sustainable and ecofriendly agriculture (acajou, coffee, banana, and cacao).

Second plan was to work on the deforestation in Peru. Although it was a very dangerous part of my journey, I got a lot of nice footage. I was able to shoot from far a military operation where 1,500 soldiers went into La Pampa to destroy the equipment used for illegal gold mining (pumps, digger, etc…).

I had to hide for shooting that operation. It may have been easier to do that with a mini- camera, but I was successful using the Red Epic with the 30-76 Optimo Style lens.
My camera package weighed around 12kgs (25 lbs). I had the Red Epic camera and its accessories, the two Optimo Style 16-40 and 30-76 (under 2kg or 4.2 lbs each), the 2x extender and a light tripod (around 5kg or 11lbs). The Optimo Style zooms are very light and compact and were ideal for that kind of work. With both I was able to get a lot of nice shots and was very pleased having them for that documentary. If I had chosen to use primes I would have needed several of them to cover the same range of focal lengths. The Optimo Style lenses are of excellent quality and I was impressed by their sharpness, the easy way to frame the subject and the fast way of swapping both of zooms on the camera. I used them to shoot both the devastated landscape of La Pampa and monkeys climbing in the trees. They have remarkable performance features and are so easy to use.

I did all the shots in 5K with a 3:1 compression. The camera had a 512GB memory card, so I could shoot a total of 30mns on the same. I used an 8TB hard drive to store the footages and ended up with a total of 15 hours of footage.
A very hostile environment

The environment was very tuff and hostile. The temperature was at an average of 37°C (95°F) with humidity at 75%. There were a lot of aggressive insects like mosquitos and flies. I remember one day I had probably around 80 flies biting my legs during an important shoot that had to be completed. The lenses worked perfectly in that environment. They were always ready to do the job even after carrying them several hours in the forest. I always kept them in my bag when they were not on the camera and didn’t experience any condensation or moisture on the optics. I only had moisture on the LCD screen of the camera. We had only 2 hours of electricity per day at the campground, so I shot mainly in natural light. We had to go out very early in the morning to see the animals at dawn with a very little amount of light available at that time of the day. I worked at T: 2.8 on the lenses which provided enough light for the camera. I worked mostly on a tripod except for some scenes shot from a car in the dangerous areas.
I used the extender on the 30-76mm to shoot the monkeys in the trees and the same optical configuration to shoot the gold miners from a distance. I primarily used the 16-40 for the scenes shot in La Pampa.

I really liked the smoothness of the rings on the Optimo Style lenses. The focus is smooth and precise. I played a lot with the iris in order to adapt the exposure of the sensor as the light changed often from bright to gray when a cloud was suddenly hiding the sun. I used the camera LCD screen to adjust the aperture of the lens.

Since being back in Los Angeles, I have gone through all of the footage I got from Peru. I’m very happy with the result. I can see amazing details on the images like the hair of the monkeys shot from far away and clear water drops on bananas. I’m working now on the editing in order to have a 60mns documentary. I would like to get additional testimonials from international experts on environmental issues. I’m hoping my documentary will be selected at film festivals. Looking back to the 25 days spent in Peru, I believe that shooting was a great success, but there was a big part of luck on that. Without the help of several valuable people and generous sponsors it would have been difficult to achieve what I did in such short period of time.”