A Review by Brandon Navratil

Bright Spots is an effort from filmmaker Jilli Rose in answering the question of how to encourage kids to get involved with conservation science and the natural world. Populations around the planet with privileges such as technology, the internet, and other influences are faced with a growing separation of the youth from nature. Rose uses her animation and story telling qualities to visually express the passion and concerns of scientist Nick Holmes for just under 8 minutes, but leaves us with lasting ideas to consider.

Jilli Rose has zeal for making things move and developed this into a career in animation. After co-owning Phleschbubble Productions for 15 years and working as a director, producer, and animator, she began Bespoke Animation in 2012. After making some initial films, the charitable organization Island Conservation approached her. IC focuses on islands with a great potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species among other tasks, such as removing invasive species and conducting research for future conservation action.

Nick Holmes is the main character and narrator of the film. He is the science director at IC and has more than ten years of experience in conservation science. His expertise is in seabirds, endangered species recovery, population modeling, environmental impact assessments, human-wildlife interactions, and monitoring programs. With his passion for the work he is involved in, the motivation he feels behind those causes, and Rose’s animation story-telling abilities, Bright Spots brings audiences into the world of island conservation science.

Keep exploring, be curious. Find a place that makes your heart flutter. Whether you read about it in a book or hear somebody talk about it. And you need to get to that place. And you need to give yourself time to let it speak to you; what does the land tell you, what does the sea tell you. That’s where connections will happen, that’s where you will really hear the stories that count, and you’ll really see what this world is and what it has to offer, and what we have to lose.

– Nick Holmes

As part of the opening quotes, these statements set the tone for the film. From inspiration to wonder, curiosity and connection, to concern for loss. I think all ages can relate to these statements invoking the imagination. Most of us have envisioned a place we have not yet been to and here Holmes describes how we can connect with that place. Yet not only connect, as the last words allude to, but lose with how the world is changing.

During this opening quote the animation gives a setting of wonder. Creating imagery that can capture a child’s attention, the main character goes spinning through a multicolored vortex to rowing a canoe down a magically lit waterway. Right on cue as the quote refers to the land speaking to you, human hands are shown in the sand as the ocean rolls in around them. The nighttime setting expresses the beautiful scene of bioluminescence on the ocean shore.

After the title screen we follow human feet up a wooden staircase to a cabin fit for any researcher or explorer. A shelf of books, diving suit, a desk, chair, microscope, and large map on the wall above the desk make up what could be a kid’s ideal picture of a scientist’s cabin. Holmes, as the scientist and character we are following, rolls his finger down a collection of slides and places one in the microscope.

In words directly relating to many childhoods, including mine, Holmes describes adventures as a child exploring the natural world around him. This portion of the animation is shown through the view of a microscope as the reflection unfolds. “What’s over there? Let’s find out,” are words that resonate deep inside of me. The simple ideas of exploration, discovery, and wonder are wrapped in these quick words expressing a foundation of being young. Holmes follows that with, “there was never anything that made as much sense as when I was outside being among the natural world.” Imagery of young feet dangling over a creek setting, then splashing in the water give a wonderful vision to a child’s wandering. I consider with the changing world how much these feelings, wonders, questions, and connections exist in a child’s world now. Do they still feel the same desire to explore the natural world? Are they still going around the corner, over that hill, or into those trees to see what’s there? Are they encouraged by their parents or environment do so?

Holmes transitions into growing up as his character climbs up a stack of books into an imaginary world in the clouds. He had a personal desire to explore places where people didn’t dominate and, “it was as it should be, as it always was,” implying the absence of human influence. Backing out of the reflective world through the microscope to the cabin, his hand pulls through documents with drawings of plants, bugs, and other natural scenes on them.

Nick goes on to explain how islands like Hawaii, New Zealand, and others have developed without a mammalian predator, so they became dominated by birds. These birds have grown in size and filled many roles that would otherwise be occupied by other animals if they weren’t on an island. Beautiful animations of flowers and birds give the viewer a stunning colorful representation of this diversity. Then, as feathers start to fall on the screen, Holmes describes how these places changed with the introduction of invasive species like cats and rats. A notable visual appears when all the feathers come to the ground around a small blood pool and a cat laying out. The cat looks at the camera and a small dribble of blood comes pouring out of its mouth onto the ground. Without directly showing it an audience of all ages can gather the concept that the cat ate a bird, which tales right along with Nick’s narration of their effect on islands.

There’s nothing so remarkable and just so persistent, and veracious, as a rat. When you see them and what they’re capable of, you have nothing but respect for how efficient they are at killing.

– Nick Holmes

The cartoon rat is running through vegetation chasing a dragonfly when it snatches the fluttering insect just as this quote finishes. But the words and idea continue as he explains their efficiency in changing whole systems. The effective and creative animation shows the screen shatter like glass when he says this. Rats eat seeds of plants, baby birds, and essentially everything edible they can as imagery of items go floating by.

Getting towards the ecological explanation of rats’ impact Holmes describes how they will try everything. On various islands where the bird life hasn’t evolved with mammalian predators like rats, there is essentially no competition. The rats will simply eat the birds. Animating this scene are five rats hoarding together over a pool of blood as a ghostly outline of a bird flies over them.

In a very engaging dream-like sequence where two characters together explore an island and pages of a book, they begin to remove pieces of the puzzle like rats as green starts to flow back into the landscape. Holmes gets into the beauty of working on islands explaining how they’re an opportunity for inspiration and hope to the rest of the world. Islands create ecological opportunities that are not necessarily as practical or possible on mainland. Nick’s source of hope is giving threatened species an opportunity to survive instead of going extinct. It drives him towards the future and wanting to try it again in a new setting. This feeling is his love.

In a fitting conclusion to the video the viewer zooms through the cabin as Nick throws a pack over his shoulder and heads out onto the next adventure. The shot zooms onto an open page of a book as marching birds cover a beachfront. As the waves roll in, they wash away human footprints and leave only the birds behind, as if it is meant to be. A limited trace as animals continue to dominate their home ranges. Nick cruises through bird nest mounds, passing by eggs, and up a hillside looking over the seascape surrounding the island. An image of wonder and amazement as he gazes over nature conclude the video.

This video sparks a lot of emotion in myself as someone with a curiosity for nature as a child. I did not live in an especially natural setting, however my curiosity led me to the only natural places around, such as the creeks and woods I could find. Bright Spots invokes feelings of wonder, exploration, and curiosity, to concern and worry. I can only hope these still resonate through children to the natural world today. This film has two key messages in it for the youth, which are a sense of wonder for nature and concern for how it is changing. It is key to keep them and everyone involved as a growing separation from the outside seems to be occurring. Nature needs people to care, to pay attention, and to stay curious as they were as children. This film is a part of that and another step in the direction of maintaining our connection to science and the outdoors as we all develop into the future.

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