The rounding up of Dartmoor ponies on horseback for what could be the last time is beautifully captured in a documentary by natural history filmmaker Kathy Stringer in her film Dartmoor Ponies: The Final Round Up. But as with all filmmaking, the evocative close to her movie on the plight of Dartmoor ponies was not without its problems.
“The last sequence was quite stressful,” she says. “It was 6am on Dartmoor and it was so foggy that we couldn’t see anything.” Couple this with a threat of rain and a fear of not finding any ponies, the whole shoot was nearly cancelled.
Even when they were setting up the static cameras, the only thing they could see was the less hospitable side of the moor.
But just at the last moment, Dartmoor pony farmer Steve came up trumps.
“Out of the blue he managed to find nine ponies to round them up -it was amazing to watch. We were very lucky,” says Kathy.
It was worth it – it’s a wonderfully evocative scene that captures the essence of the Dartmoor ponies and how they interact with the moor. And it was ideal that up-and-coming natural history filmmaker Kathy, with her long love for all things equestrian, was able to capture it.
It was that passion combined with shock headlines of the development of a Dartmoor pony meat trade that caught Kathy’s eye.
“We were told at university to start thinking about final film ideas. I know there’s a niche market of people who want to see horsey films and there were huge headlines about Dartmoor ponies, so I decided to make a film about that,” says Kathy.
But once she got on the moor her ideas changed.
“I was going down meat route -developing pony meat trade seemed quite controversial. When I went to Dartmoor to speak to farmers and experts, the story was so much more complicated than as portrayed in the media, so much deeper, affecting life and livelihoods. I wanted to make a film showcasing the reality of Dartmoor right now,” she says.
Kathy managed to bring the ongoing, complicated issues surrounding the future of Dartmoor ponies together in one short film.
“I wanted to make a film that was completely unbiased, and it got people talking about the issue,” she says.
Kathy had always been interested in animals and natural history, but the desire to film came quite late. It was during her undergraduate degree in Zoology at Nottingham University that Kathy got interested in film through her biology photography module. This was followed up with an inspiring lecture from a natural history filmmaker Alex Tate, who had taken moved from Zoology to natural history filmmaking. So she applied to the MA in Wildlife Filmmaking at Bristol UWE. Ideal for someone who loves nature and goes pale at the thought of a 9-to-5 job stuck in the office while the outdoors beckons.
As well as her Dartmoor Pony film, which has raised issues and created a buzz, Kathy also teamed up to make a film project called British Garden Birds.
Kathy describes the set-up: “We had two cameras and we set them up either side of a bird feeder and then we captured in slo-mo garden birds coming towards the camera but from two different angles. So you’ve got the slo-mo bird coming towards you â€“ you can actually see their flight movements as they approach the camera.”
The 90-second film was nominated for cinematography category at the Wild Film Fest and also nominated for the wildlife in HD category in the BWPA awards this year.
But as a filmmaker Kathy’s been gaining skills and experience in all areas: she’s worked on filming a slapstick comedy festival in Bristol, did promotion videos for a festival of nature, and helped out on films for other people on her course, including script development, filming and editing, travelling to Scotland and taking a night-time walk to discover glow worms.
“I’m yet to work on a big blue chip wildlife series,” says Kathy, “which is a big ambition of mine.”
â€¢ Dartmoor Ponies: The Final Round Up has been accepted at the Equus Film Festival New York City, which takes place November 20, 21 & 22, 2015
Read more about the film and the issue of Dartmoor Ponies on the PRSD.