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Interview with James Suter - Filmmaker and Private Photographic Guide.

October 14, 2018

Interview with James Suter - Filmmaker and Private Photographic Guide.

James Suter, a private field guide and game ranger based in Cape Town, captures his clients’ exploration of Africa through high-quality photography. He is also the Director and Producer of Black Bean Productions, an independent film company that highlights and educates on key issues facing conservation. Gorilla Socks got in touch to learn more about James’ work, and the fantastic projects already created by Black Bean Productions

James Sutter Image

Image courtesy of James Suter/Black Bean Productions


How was your father responsible for sparking your interest in the outdoors?


My love for wildlife, particularly when it comes to birding, is something passed down from my father, who taught me bird names and calls from a young age.


How did that interest lead to a passion for conservation?


This passion for the outdoors started at this young age and I have always thrived on learning about the complex natural world – and every element that makes up an ecosystem. I then gained much of my experience working for the world-renowned Singita Game Reserves as a Field Guide / Game Ranger after studying conservation.


What is your main goal from promoting conservation?


My main goal, and that of Black Bean Productions, our film production company, is assisting in creating awareness and raising funds for teams working on the ground. We want to be a voice for the voiceless and affect change in Africa. We want to do this by highlighting issues, educating people around the world and urging them to get involved. Without an understanding of these complex issues, people won’t feel called to help – and the teams on the ground can only continue the work they are doing with our support. It is challenging work, funding is always an issue as there is such a need out there as are resources in general. I also love Africa and want to share it with the world – it’s where it all began, it is all of our heritage and we should celebrate and protect it.

 James Sutter Image

Image courtesy of James Suter/Black Bean Productions


What does a typical safari in Africa look like?


I believe that everyone should experience a safari in Africa. Not only is it a chance to immerse oneself in the pristine beauty of the African wilderness, but it is also a chance to embrace the raw sense of adventure that comes in losing yourself in the unexpected magic that waits around every corner. Africa is a place of miracles and wonder, a place of stillness and primordial beauty. It is everyone’s heritage and responsibility. But more importantly, everyone should celebrate this unique continent, and take whatever opportunity they can to experience it and take time to soak up the wild places of Africa – it really will have an impact on your life.


There is no standard safari – each and every experience is unique – you are visiting wild places and so even if you have been somewhere before – the experience of it will never be the same. But the safaris I host include exploring true untouched wilderness areas with my guests in various African countries. Exploring these places includes incredible wildlife encounters on game drive. It also includes walking in these areas and experiencing these wild places on foot. On most safaris we also visit communities or villages that live nearby these wilderness areas and get to know the people of Africa. I like to give my guests this experience – seeing a different way of life, experiencing it and spending quality time understanding various cultures and projects underway in these various communities. Other exciting parts of a safari include hot air balloon rides over the vast Serengeti, trekking endangered mountain gorilla in Rwanda, helicopter flights over Victoria Falls and visiting conservation organisations that work with orphaned elephants and rhinos. There is so much to experience and as I said – every trip is unique and memorable.

 James Sutter - Safari

Image courtesy of James Suter/Black Bean Productions


Do you have any highlights from your trips through Africa?


The most exciting, the most beautiful, or perhaps one that was especially worthy of the dangers encountered? I have so many highlights – being on foot with wildlife such as elephant, rhino or lion is always an intense experience of course, but with experience and training the situation can be managed well and the animal given their space. I have encountered these animals from a safe distance and these moments have been amazing. To be on their level, in the wild, is breath-taking and very exciting.


Which of your encounters with an animal in Africa has been particularly noteworthy?


I can’t say that just one stands out. So many do. But I have to say that spending time with mountain gorillas is really one that I do tell so many people about. They are so humanlike and formidable with an amazing presence. The terrain that they inhabit is also so unique – and so the whole experience is adventurous – you are not in a vehicle and can trek for many hours before locating these wild animals. They are also critically endangered and so sighting them so close and spending time observing them in quiet is just such a privilege.


Fiona La Mendola, a primatologist, specialises in gorilla conservation. Read our interview with her to learn more about the incredible work she’s undertaking to ensure their species’ continued survival.


Tell us more about Black Bean Productions. How did the company originate and what is it aiming to do through film?


In 2011 I was faced with a very tough decision and that was to move back to the city due to unforeseen circumstances after working as a guide for many years in the Kruger National Park. The first year was a real struggle. I had to deal with a sudden change in my new environment and decided very quickly that in order to be happy, I needed to pursue my dream. This was not only through private guiding but through Black Bean Productions – a company I founded with one of my close friends from school – talented cinematographer and filmmaker Oli Caldow. We spent a large amount of time in Africa filming wildlife and were able to capture some incredible moments – this was made easier in that I had a background in guiding and was experienced in walking in these wild areas. Black Bean Productions soon became very much a part of the private photographic safaris I was hosting in that we were able to offer video safaris to my clients – a video of their holiday and intimate encounters with wildlife delivered to them at the end of their trip. And it has grown from there. Our passion to educate people and create awareness around conservation issues led us to filming stories on rhino poaching and amazing people working to fight poaching on the ground. We do both commercial and documentary film and most of our work is centred around conservation, human empowerment and important causes.

 James Sutter Image

Image courtesy of James Suter/Black Bean Productions


What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced?


Reaching a critical mass. In South Africa access to big networks is not easy – we are a small team and have found it challenging to find broadcast partners that will share our films and content – platforms with a large following / audience. It is so important when you put time into creating content like this that it reaches people – we are slowly getting there but it has been tough. We hope one day in the not too distant future to be working with platforms like Netflix and filming stories that matter and make a difference.



What are your greatest conservationist achievements to date?


I am not sure I can call myself a conservationist – I document the work of many amazing conservationists and work to help them through the content we create, creating awareness, raising funds. I am passionate about wildlife, conservation and people but there are so many people on the ground doing so much more than I am for conservation – in the thick of it everyday – the boots on the ground – these are the real conservation heroes. 


Do you have any long-term goals as a conservationist?


Again – I am not sure I am worthy of this title but I do have long term goals. These would be creating content that educates people, that creates change and makes a difference and that reaches people all over the world. I would like to reach people outside of the typical ‘wildlife conservation audience’ – people that would not normally watch films about wildlife and conservation. I want to create content that they find engaging too and reach a younger audience – as they are the leaders of tomorrow and need to realise how important it is to look after the animals we share this earth with, and the wilderness areas they inhabit. So many people do not know what is happening, the threats our natural world is facing – and so it is important to get this message out there.


So my long term goal would be continuing to do this, doing it better and reaching more people. I also want to help people in Africa – as the world changes and issues like human-wildlife conflict get worse – so many communities need resources and support, so I hope through our content and longer format documentaries we can garner support for people too.


There is so much more we as a team at Black Bean Productions are striving to do, and many projects underway – but too much to say here!

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