Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 7:33 pm | Fair 58º


‘Galapagos Life’ a Lesson for Planet Earth

For UCSB professor, filmmaker, environmental preservation is crucial

Kickstarter fund has been opened to help pay for film’s expenses.
Kickstarter fund has been opened to help pay for film’s expenses. (Kum-Kum Bhavnani)

UCSB sociology professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani has been called “a university professor by day and filmmaker by night.”


A documentarian, her latest film, Galapagos Life, profiles the people who live in what is arguably among the world’s most beautiful locations; and one that is also fraught with immense challenges.

Galapagos Life shows how the 25,000 residents there have formed a collective and societal bond, adhering to the credo that protection and preservation of the environment is a priority above all else.

“In order for conservation to truly take root and help reverse climate change, cynicism has to be overcome," Bhavnani said.

"People might think that it isn’t possible to adopt a matter-of-fact attitude toward systematic conservation efforts over a whole region. Galapagos Life, however, shows that it can be done, because it is being done,” she said.

The Galapagos Islands are 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. They are famous for their pristine natural beauty, endemic plant and animal species, and for being a catalyst for Darwin’s theory of evolution.

But, the Galapagos are also isolated. They do not have potable water. Access for supplies is limited. Food costs are astronomically high. The ecosystem is delicate; invasive species of plant and animal are a constant threat.

Revenue from tourism is critical, but the outside presence brought by welcome tourists also brings risk, necessitating rules, oversight and enforcement. One hundred percent of the island population lives on 3 percent of its land.

“These are unique parameters,” said Bhavnani. “When people choose to engage such levels of challenge in the face of great beauty, it creates urgency and with that comes an opportunity for people to rise to the occasion: they are environmental heroes.”

Galapagos Life will profile key individuals — guides, naturalists, a marine biologist, a tortoise rancher, long-standing residents and conservationists — who will take the viewer into the perspective that has resulted in a unified commitment bent on preservation.

Veronica Ampuero, one of those profiled in the film, said: "Everybody living here knows there is a balance where humans, animals, flora, and fauna need to all feel safe. We work together to keep that balance every day."

The film also will showcase the breathtaking landscapes and fascinating animals of the Galapagos. “They are everywhere and must be protected," Bhavnani said.

“But my film’s primary focus is the people, their mission, and the environmental successes they have had, while they continue to hold jobs, raise families, and live essentially normal lives," she said.

Bhavnani’s documentaries each relates issues and/or an injustice, and shows it being tackled.

Her earlier films include The Shape of Water (2006), selected as a centerpiece for the Human Rights section of the 2008 Middle East International Film Festival, narrated by Susan Sarandon.

Also, Nothing Like Chocolate (2012) which profiled Mott Green, an anarchist chocolate-maker from Grenada, who eschewed child labor to do things right in an industry that rarely did.

Lutah, Bhavnani’s most recent film, features Lutah Maria Riggs, the first woman in California to be named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Galapagos Life is my most ambitious undertaking to date,” Bhavnani said. “Protecting our environment is a huge, all-encompassing issue of great importance. The Galapagos is also quite an expensive place at which to film.

"This is why I launched the Kickstarter, hoping enough like-minded individuals and entities will share my vision, and help me make this film. I could definitely use some help.

"I am hoping human beings will collaborate on conservation issues more often, like the people in the Galapagos do. Then great things might happen,” she said.

To help raise funds to complete production and post-production of the film, Bhavnani has launched a Kickstarter (crowd-funding) campaign at

Those who make a pledge receive a reward, Bhavnani said. Rewards range from a copy of the film, a tote bag, and t-shirt to having their name in the credits, enjoying a private screening with the director, or even a producer’s credit.

— Howard Marks for Kum-Kum Bhavnani.

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