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Max McLachlan talks importance of filmmaking and ‘The Mystery of the Gnaraloo Sea Turtles’

For centuries, artists have used their crafts to shed light on some of the world’s most pressing issues, from painting a telling picture to writing a powerful song. Filmmakers are constantly creating content with a purpose, aimed to not only entertain their audiences, but educate them as well. Australia’s Max McLachlan, an internationally sought-after cinematographer and Steadicam operator, sees it as his duty to use his talents to make a positive difference in the world, and one of his latest projects allowed him to do just that.

McLachlan is best known for his work on the horror movie The Furies, the award-winning music video “Like People” for the Australian rock band DZ Deathrays, and the stunning opening sequence for the latest season of The Voice Australia featuring the iconic celebrity judges, but when he had the opportunity to help create The Mystery of the Gnaraloo Sea Turtles, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, informing viewers of the dangers surrounding this stunning species and the importance of protecting the environment.

This stunning documentary features 'never-before-seen' underwater footage as we track the mysterious journeys of the Gnaraloo loggerhead turtles. In 2015/16 in remote Western Australia, scientists attached satellite trackers on the backs of ten females for the first time to plot their top-secret routes. The results - and the amazing cinematography - will astound you. Dive in and learn about life after the nesting beaches. Witness incredible shots and fascinating discoveries.

“It is a great feeling knowing the documentary has been such a success around the world. I think it is a testament to how important this story is and how it needed to be told. I hope that its success will have a positive impact on the loggerhead sea turtles themselves, in ensuring they are protected, and the relevant organisations receive the funding they need to keep protecting these threatened animals. The more people that see the documentary, the more awareness there will be about the plight of these sea turtles and other species of animals due to global warming,” he said.

McLachlan travelled to Broome, Western Australia to film the documentary, capturing loggerhead turtles laying eggs on a remote beach, something that most people will never witness. As with any wildlife filming, he and his team had to be patient with a lot of their setups. He vividly remembers walking along a remote beach with his full kit, which weighed about 50 lbs, for two hours in the middle of the night with only a head torch and the full moon to help him see. There were millions of these small ghost crabs scampering along the water's edge that they had to be careful not to step on. Once they arrived at the stretch of the beach where their guide said they would find the turtles crawling up the beach, they set the equipment down and quietly continued until they found their first loggerhead. McLachlan had to be very quiet setting up and wasn’t allowed to use his torch as he didn’t want to disturb the female as she dug a deep hole in the sand with her rear fins.

“Once I was set up, the female started laying her eggs in the hole and all of a sudden I had this surreal feeling that I hadn’t had on a shoot before. It sort of dawned on me what I was filming and where I was: we were capturing a natural wildlife event rarely caught on camera before, on a remote Western Australian beach, under a full moon,” said McLachlan

McLachlan knew he had to nail every shot on the first go, because unlike a human actor, he wouldn’t be able to get the sea turtle to do a second take. This is essential when filming wildlife as sometimes there is only one opportunity to capture something. The egg laying process is very quick as well, so he had to be vigilant while filming. He and his team filmed until the sun began to rise over the horizon and the last shots he captured were of the loggerheads returning to the ocean.

The Mystery of the Gnaraloo Sea Turtles was globally distributed by Journeyman Films, United Kingdom and is featured at MonRepos and the Hawaiian Centre for Marine Studies. It also had great success at many prestigious film festivals around the world, as it was an Official Selection at the International Wildlife Film Festival 2018, International Ocean Film Festival 2018, Wildlife Conservation Film Festival 2018, Thunder Bay Film Festival 2019, and the New York WILD Film Festival 2019. On top of this, it took home the award for Best Scientific Documentary at the Fremantle Underwater Film Festival 2018. McLachlan could not be prouder to have contributed to the success of such an important film.

“I wasn’t just there to film a product or service; I was there to capture a part of nature that is rarely captured on camera. Loggerhead turtles are very shy, and scientists still don’t know a lot about their behavioural patterns. Thanks to this documentary, the scientific community and the general public now have a better understanding of these creatures. Knowing that I have played a role in that is a great feeling and something I will cherish for the rest of my life,” he concluded.

To get a glimpse into The Mystery of the Gnaraloo Sea Turtles, check out the trailer.

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