Eco-Hack!, a short film documentary, shows us the world of desert tortoises living in the Mojave desert. These tortoises are endangered, fighting for life against one of their biggest predators: the raven. Starring Tim Shields, a conservation biologist, Eco-Hack! explains that our world is worth saving, even if we won’t be around to see the final product. Shields’ efforts to save the desert tortoises include creating 3D printed, fake tortoise shells, laced with an artificial grape flavor that ravens hate, to deter ravens from attacking tortoises. Although they are also dousing raven eggs with oil, to prevent them from hatching, most of their efforts are not meant to kill ravens – simply to scare them away from preying on tortoises. Shields teams up with Frank Guercio, an engineer, to manufacture these creations, like the fake tortoise shells, or a green laser that is meant to spook the raven flocks.
The film’s direction, by Brett Marty and Josh Izenberg, gives us a clear vision of the theme of the film itself. Having both interviews one-on-one with the camera, but also narration overlapping shots of the team working on their project, creates a captivating short film. With the mix of the two types of interviews, it doesn’t get boring. We can tell that the directors truly cared about this story and wanted to give Shields the opportunity to share it. Shields himself is quite eloquent with his words and intriguing to listen to as he discusses this topic many might not be knowledgeable of. Eco-Hack! effectively introduces viewers to the desert tortoises’ struggle, and creates a connection between the animal and viewers in a short amount of time.
The cinematography and lighting (Phil Briggs) is also quite beautiful. Obviously, the Mojave Desert is stunning, but Briggs captures this wonderfully, especially with the added drone shots. He takes care to not only highlight his subject, but also the setting around them. There are amazing close-ups of both tortoises and ravens scattered throughout the film, but we also see them from afar, the animals in their natural habitats. The natural lighting lends itself to the subject of this documentary, making the film feel candidly realistic, and more like the true story it is.
Eco-Hack! discusses how the raven has been drawn towards the Mojave Desert as more towns pop up around it – because, at its root, this problem was created by humans. “More humans – equals more ravens – equals fewer tortoises,” Shields explains. We begin to care about this small animal quite quickly through learning about Shields’ efforts. Shields explains the issue brilliantly, he doesn’t place the blame on the audience, but simply relays the problem in a way that feels like he’s telling us a story, drawing us in and pulling empathy from the viewers. Shields tells the camera that he picked a problem he felt was manageable to start with, before tackling other predators to help the desert tortoise thrive. He tells us, “People started building cathedrals, knowing this thing isn’t gonna be done for 200 years. I’m laying bricks here. I’m never gonna see the finished project. But it’s alright being a bricklayer.” From these simple words, we grow attached to Shields and his work. Eco-Hack! took on a little-known story that could one day inspire. . . change in our world.