Alumna profile: Bonné de Bod

Posted on June 21, 2021

Esteemed alumna and filmmaker, Bonné de Bod, must rank as one of South Africa’s most dedicated and passionate nature conservationists. Her heart-wrenching documentary film, STROOP – journey into the rhino horn war, which garnered over 30 national and international awards – attests to this. Several other awards recognising her filmmaking skills, also came her way, one being a nomination, alongside Dame Judi Dench, for ‘Best on-camera Host’ at the Jackson Wild Media Awards, known as the nature equivalent of the ‘Oscars’. Her life’s journey since graduating from UP with a BCom in Industrial Psychology is truly remarkable…read more:
 
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: After obtaining my BCom in Industrial Psychology from the University of Pretoria, I was scouted by a modelling agency and moved to Cape Town to model for three years. I was offered an international contract to model in London and instead chose to become a field presenter for South Africa’s flagship environmental and natural history television series, 50/50. I have always had a love for the natural world, and this gave me the chance to bring incredible stories about nature and wildlife into people’s living rooms. I was part of the show for seven seasons, doing award-winning stories in Southern Africa and throughout the Indian Ocean islands.
 
South Africa’s rhino poaching crisis started to escalate in 2008 and caught my attention when I first started reporting on it for 50/50. In 2013, I covered a story from the Kruger National Park with film director, Susan Scott, and the experience of sitting in-between two rhino carcasses to deliver my lines to camera moved both of us to make the independent documentary film ‘STROOP - journey into the rhino horn war’.
 
‘STROOP’ took four years to make and was lauded for showing the rhino horn supply chain, from poaching on the ground in Africa to final rhino horn user in Asia. Critically acclaimed by the media, the film has gone on to be officially selected to screen at over 40 film festivals around the world, winning 30 awards. On the film’s cinema release, the Sunday Times reviewed it favourably, saying, “it is De Bod and Scott’s ability to engage with people, whether vulnerable, dangerous or courageous, that gives the film its human depth”.  The Mercury called De Bod “tough as nails”.
 
My second film, also with Susan Scott, ‘Kingdoms of Fire, Ice & Fairy Tales’ premiered at the prestigious American festival, Jackson Wild in 2020 and has also gone on to scoop several awards and acclaim from the press. ‘Kingdoms’ was filmed in three of Earth’s natural wildernesses as the pandemic was breaking and was edited in lockdown. A departure from our investigative film making, it is a look at the wonder of the natural world and was conceived on the film festival circuit for STROOP in California. I did not do “to-camera” presenting in ‘STROOP’, so this was wonderful to do in ’Kingdoms’ and I was thrilled to get a fantastic review by notable film critic Leon van Nierop, “De Bod is the protagonist, an authentic, assured voice whose screen presence reflects the beauty of the environment she is exploring.”
 
Other television work has included the popular television series ‘Rhino Blog’ (known as ‘Rhino Planet’ outside of Africa) which first aired on People’s Weather in 2015 and is still flighting on the channel! I actually received my first presenting award for the series with the SANParks Kudu Award for Best Journalist in 2015.
 
Important career highlights:
  • My nomination alongside Dame Judi Dench in 2019 for ‘Best on-camera Host’ at the Jackson Wild Media Awards known as the nature equivalent to the ‘Oscars’.  
  • A SANParks Kudu Award for Best Journalist in the years 2015 and 2019.
  •  Two Impact DOCS Awards for Best On-Camera Talent and Best Narration/Voice-Over Talent in 2021.
  • In 2015, I was invited to moderate a discussion on illegal wildlife trafficking called ‘Cooperation, Legislation and Innovation’ for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) at the World Forestry Congress.
  • Over 30 awards as a film producer for my films ‘STROOP’ – journey into the rhino horn war’ and ‘Kingdoms of Fire, Ice & Fairy Tales’.
  • But the overall best highlight for me, must be ‘STROOP’. It was broadcast throughout Africa via MultiChoice’s platforms as well as in Asia on various channels. The goal was to get this especially important film about rhino poaching seen in those two continents and we managed to do it in a big way, which I am elated about!
 
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: While I studied BCom Industrial Psychology and subsequently diverted into another industry, I found that time and time again, I reverted to the skillset I was given through my studies. And for that I am truly grateful, for I feel it has given me an edge. Although the Television and Filmmaking world is a creative one, managing the business side of my production company, Scott & de Bod Films, is imperative for the company’s success. With each production comes a contract and a detailed business plan, including a budget. Thanks to EMS, I can tackle the paperwork and manage the business side of things just as well as the creative side.
 
Q: Can you single out a special mentor/trusted advisor who played an indispensable role in your life/studies/career?
A: I cannot single out any one lecturer as I learned and found inspiration from all. The passion through which they shared their knowledge in a specific field of expertise was amazing and it served as a reminder of how important passion is, in whatever career you choose.
 
In my Television and Filmmaking career I must single out one person who really showed me the ropes in deciphering natural science and making it entertaining for the viewers at home. Director and producer Phillip Lennon has played a big part in my career. We worked together on many stories for 50/50 and I have always viewed him as a mentor.
 
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Study hard and play hard…later! A university qualification is one of the most important things you can give yourself. Many of you will go into a career in the field that you are studying, but some may end up doing something different like I have done. Either way, the experience you gain while studying is irreplaceable and cannot be bought. Life lessons will show themselves but will most likely go unnoticed in the present moment, only looking back 20 years from now will they become clear. Your degree is a steppingstone to your dreams, be sure to handle it with care.
 
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: Learning from others who have gone before me. Their passion, combined with their success in their chosen field, motivates and inspires me daily. There is a realisation that success is a journey; it does not happen overnight. And yes, success is the ultimate goal we strive for, but it is the journey that we need to enjoy.
 
Q:  What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: Flexibility. To be able to ‘change’ when needed. The original idea for ‘Kingdoms of Fire, Ice & Fairy Tales’ was a TV series showcasing several wilderness areas around the world, but then COVID happened, and we spent lockdown looking at the footage we had already shot and then going, 'hey, there's a film in here', and the project morphed into a documentary, an expedition/nature doc, something more special I think than the original idea. For this to happen we had to be flexible to embrace ‘change’. The gloom and doom of the lockdown brought something really amazing out that we would never have had.
 
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc.) do you enjoy reading?
A: For me as a filmmaker, it is important to stay on top of the current trends in the industry, so I do spend a lot of time reading trade magazines and blogs. My go-to’s include Screen Africa, BizCommunity and the American entertainment trade magazines, Variety, RealScreen and several of the documentary wildlife newsletters and blogs. I also strongly believe in paying for good journalism, so I subscribe to The New York Times, Outside Magazine, Wired, National Geographic Magazine and Netwerk24.
 
And then, in my role as environmental journalist, I am constantly scrolling through my Twitter feed to read the latest scientific articles that get posted. The search function in Twitter is useful as it brings up scientists’ work that I might otherwise battle to find.
 
I also love listening to podcasts and watching TED Talks from inspiring people from all walks of life.

Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss? 
A: It will have to be the godfather of natural history, David Attenborough. Not only has he travelled extensively, but he has had a massive impact on how we humans view the planet that we occupy. He has, through his programmes, taken us to magical places and showed us the intricacies of all life on planet, big and small.
 
I would like to discuss the way forward in conserving our only home, planet Earth. There are so many environmental issues plaguing the world today…the earth is warming, the air we breathe is polluted, the desperation for drinkable safe water looks likely to cause the next world war…  how do we tackle these to sustain life as we know it?
 
And then… how does he keep those shirts so wrinkle-free when he is in the middle of nowhere! And most importantly…how does he view his role in purveying desperately bleak information to people watching who need hope from him? Those would be questions that I would ask him!

Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: To tell as many stories as I possibly can about the natural world, bringing the beauty of our planet onto people’s TV screens, and to inspire people against the destruction of our planet through investigative documentaries.
 
Q:  Since late 2019, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. What is the biggest ‘lesson’ you have learnt from this pandemic and to what extent did it change your mindset?
A: To stand still for a moment and just be. We are all part of this big machine that is moving all the time and which we must hold on tightly too, because if we do not, we will be left behind. It is a race against time, and it is race against each other. How sad is this? But with lockdown everything came to a standstill, and we all had to be still for a moment in time. And WOW, did I enjoy it! It is true when they say you don’t have to look far for that ‘something’… it comes from within. This is something I will be applying to life moving forward.
 
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for South Africa and its people for the rest of this decade...and beyond?
A: We live in the most beautiful country and continent in the world…well, in my opinion! We have landscapes and wildlife that exceed imagination.
 
We are all aware that the economy, as well as tourism, suffered greatly owing to COVID-19. Tourism in South Africa is the one sector that has the ability to stimulate economic growth and employment. And the funds generated by tourism, which go on to support some 23 million livelihoods, mostly dried up during the harsh COVID-19 lockdown period.
 
Back in 2013, wildlife-based ecotourism was estimated to be worth approximately R323 billion annually to South Africa’s GDP, much of which contributed directly towards the management of protected areas. So, the unfortunate reality is that without international revenue being directly injected into South Africa’s conservation sectors through ecotourism and even hunting, the biodiversity of our wildlife and the protection of their habitats are at serious risk.
 
Our borders have opened for tourists from low- to medium- risk countries with all the necessary protocols in place. But even when we get to the point where all international travel is allowed again from all countries it will still not be enough… there must be sustainable economic, social and additional environmental policies and protocols implemented to ensure the longevity of South Africa’s wildlife and environment for generations to come.
 
Connect with Bonné via her social media channels:
Facebook @BonnedeBodOfficial 
Twitter  @Bonne_de_Bod
 
 
Published by Nonkululeko Kubeka Moyo

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