Student documentary wins Best Film Award

While they're often described as being pests, bats actually contribute to the pollination of rainforests. Some of our native bats are experiencing significant population declines.

Five UWS students recently entered a documentary on bats titled Hanging in the Balance into the Cause Film Festival (opens in a new window) and won the Best Film Award. The Cause Film Festival encourages entrants to submit a skit, short film or feature film about a cause that they support – and 50 per cent of profits raised go to the winning charity.

Produced by Melissa Salihi, who is studying her Bachelor of Communications, and directed by Ben Dessen, studying his Bachelor of Natural Science, Hanging in the Balance (opens in a new window) provides an insight into the lives of bats.

Dispelling the most common myths and misconceptions about bats, the film also showcases some of the passionate and dedicated people who are fighting for bats' protection, giving the audience a better understanding of how important these animals are for a sustainable and healthy environment.

The film involved other School of Humanities and Communication Arts students in its production including Ben Clarke (camera operator), Myriam Kassis (sound recording), and Emily Maynard (editing). 

Juan Francisco Salazar, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, oversaw the project as Executive Producer.

"This has been an exemplary experience within the Documentary Media unit that I coordinate and teach," says Juan. "When the students first pitched the idea I was very happy and moved, not only because I knew of Ben's previous involvement in a very important documentary film, but because I personally have a passion for bats myself. I did a fair bit of work on bats during my undergraduate student years back in Chile. Students worked very independently and were always open to take on my advice. Interviewing well-known experts, securing archival footage from TV networks, approaching volunteer self-funded organisations, and submitting the film to a festival were all parts of the learning experience, which Ben and Melissa handled masterfully as part of a team that worked collaboratively to develop an engaging story with empathetic characters."

"Having been a wildlife rehabilitator for almost a decade and during that time rescuing, rehabilitating and raising orphaned bats, I was always fascinated by these incredible animals," says Ben. "What saddened me was the fact that so many people had pre-conceived negative opinions that bats are disease-ridden, smelly, disgusting pests. I wanted to help showcase the beauty of these creatures, their important environmental roles as well as highlight the issues they face to try to gain public support for their conservation."

A documentary Ben was involved in called Rise of the Eco Warriors has been screening in selected cinemas around the country – and the world – this year.

Melissa says she has taken a lot away from this experience. "It has illuminated a passion for production and documentary film that makes me want to aim high in every project I work on in the future," she says. "I feel that Documentary Media allowed us all to put the theory of media production into a practical environment and watch as our ideas evolved."

Melissa is currently working as an intern for ABC documentary series, Redesign my Brain.