Has the quest to find the ‘extinct’ Tasmania tiger been thwarted by a lack of thylacines or a lack of funds? What drives those looking for the creature the hardest – a desire for fame or fortune … or both? We may soon find out. Neil Waters, the founder and head of the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia (TAGOA) and one of the best-known seekers of the thylacine, has been awarded a $50,000 grant by winning the Pitch Australiana competition and will use it to develop and shoot a documentary on his hunt for any of the creatures still in hiding. Is this the incentive he needs?
“The winning project Searching for the Tassie Tiger will be directed by Naomi Ball and produced by David Elliot-Jones and Louis Dai. It will explore new evidence and a growing civilian movement that are challenging the long-held belief that Tasmanian tigers are extinct. The documentary will follow Neil Waters, a middle-aged gardener in remote north-east Tasmania, as he quits his day job and commits his life’s savings to search for the ancient beast.”
Pitch Australiana is an annual contest sponsored by Screen Australia and the VICE Media company. It’s open to new or fairly new Australian filmmakers who have at least one documentary production credit to their name. The $50,000 prize is to be used to pay for a short form documentary to be released on VICE.com as part of the digital documentary series Australiana, which is seen in 35 countries, and eventually broadcast on the air on SBS VICELAND (an Australian free-to-air television channel). The winners (four altogether) were announced at the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) in Melbourne.
“What we're focusing on is the search as it ramps up... It is more sophisticated than ever before and Mr. Waters has been able to fund a fleet of trail cameras.”
Director Naomi Ball sounds excited, but probably not as much as Neil Waters. He purchased land in Tasmania in 2010 and claims to have twice seen a thylacine and now has a series of motion-activated cameras set up on the land. In addition, the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia puts him in contact with other witnesses, some of whom have already provided him with videos of alleged thylacines. While there are rumors the creature has been seen on the mainland, it’s expected that Waters will limit his documentary search to Tasmania, where it’s rumored that at least 100 breeding pairs exist. Do they? Will Waters finally get the definitive proof he’s been searching for?
"If that happens, I'm going to be absolutely blown away. But we're really focused on the search, the people that are searching and the characters that they are, the reason why they've come to the search and why they've made it their fight."
It’s always good to have a backup plan and one of the reasons Ball, David Elliot-Jones and Waters won the grant is because they will focus the documentary on the hunters as well as the hunt. As Waters told ABC Australia, their secondary goal is to show the "importance of what we're doing" on “international level, where it really deserves to be."
Does it? They hunt for the Tasmanian tiger has long been a minor scientific endeavor coupled with a major quest to assuage the guilt of the rapid extinction of one of the largest known carnivorous marsupials that lived near the top of its local food chain for 4 million years until it was replaced by humans who helped wipe them out in a matter of decades. Yes, there were other contributing factors, but humans only recently determined them and made no attempt to stop the demise of the thylacines as it occurred. While the documentary will focus on the possible survival of a few that managed to stay hidden, there have been other groups attempting to resurrect the species using DNA samples. Would the thylacine even want to come back to such a world? Have we changed?
Some of those questions may be answered when “Searching for the Tassie Tiger” is released next year. As for the rest? That depends on whether guilt is a more powerful force than fame or fortune.