Sunday, May 26, 2024

Janna Giacoppo on location in Meru, Kenya, in 2019 for “One But Many.” (Photo: Lorinda Hern)

Janna Giacoppo spent her childhood rehabbing injured ducks and squirrels at her grandparents’ Cambridge home. Those moments have come full circle – except now she’s helping larger animals you won’t find in Boston’s urban forests.

Giacoppo is director and producer of “One But Many,” a film examining human-wildlife conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The Cambridge native is raising funds for postproduction work before submitting the documentary to film festivals.

“We want as many people as possible to see it and be moved,” she said. “More people care then don’t care. They don’t feel connected, or they simply don’t know. Documentaries bring things that need a spotlight into people’s living rooms.”

In 2019, Giacoppo traveled to Kenya on a wildlife photography trip. While visiting the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, she learned that most baby elephants are orphaned because of human-wildlife conflict – the friction that arises when animals and people live in close proximity, competing for the same resources.

An image captured by Giacoppo in Kenya in 2019.

If a lion kills a single head of cattle or an elephant raids an acre of maize, it can be devastating for a farmer’s livelihood, she said. The result: Animals are often speared, poisoned or trapped in retaliation. “The average citizen feels like these animals only provide value for the government or for tourists,” Giacoppo said. “Tourism made them a commodity, but not for locals.”

Filmmakers have largely ignored these conflicts, instead focusing on extremes such as poaching and trophy hunting. Because of that, Giacoppo knew she had a story to tell – just not with still photography.

“I looked at it and said, ‘This has to be a film,’” she said. “It was completely grassroots, completely indie. It was grit, it was serendipity. I just felt like I had to make it. It has been the biggest ‘have to’ of my life.”

The trailer for the documentary:

Though Giacoppo attended film school, “One But Many” is her first time in the director’s seat. The pandemic gave her extra time for research, and once travel bans were lifted, she returned to Africa for additional filming. She’s also kept up with her photography business, all while taking writing and literature courses at Harvard.

Human-wildlife conflict is also an issue closer to home, Giacoppo said. “It’s happening in Cambridge, where we’re poisoning rats, and then those poisons enter the food chain. It’s happening in Marblehead, where officials want to kill habituated coyotes. It’s happening when a squirrel gets into your garden and eats your tomato plant. We’re experiencing these conflicts every day – maybe just not on the scale of an elephant trampling a field of maize.”

It’s also happening all along local roadways, which is why Giacoppo recently found herself scooping an injured possum into a blanket on the side of Soldiers Field Road.

“I had this feeling that I couldn’t drive by and not stop. It was the same with ‘One But Many’ – the feeling that I couldn’t not make this film.”

Giacoppo finished the documentary at the end of last year. The initial cut got positive feedback and a distribution offer from Los Angeles-based Freestyle Media, but she had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t done. Now she’s working with Rob Kirwan and Joel Olicker, editors with Powderhouse Productions in Arlington, to give the film another polish.

Her hope: that “One But Many” will better compete with big-budget documentaries after the last round of work, projected to cost $50,000.

“I knew it was never going to be a million-dollar film, and it didn’t have to be,” Giacoppo said. “But the reality is, that is what we are used to seeing. We want as many people as possible to see this film, be moved and spur change.”

For information, visit the “One But Many” website. Donations can be made via the film’s Indiegogo fundraiser.

The fundraiser video: