USF student and filmmaker advocates environmental education in documentary
Motivated to spread awareness about environmental preservation in Florida state parks, senior mass communications major and filmmaker Alexis Yahre knew she wanted to create a film that would encourage the public to interact with Florida wildlife.
Having grown up in Florida, Yahre said she has fond memories of visiting various state parks with her family as a child. During her sixth grade year, her visit to Nature’s Classroom — an outdoors education program required by most middle schools in Hillsborough County — set a foundation for what would later become the subject of her filmmaking passion.
“As I got older, I started to find out that we aren’t taking care of the [environment] as well as we should be,” she said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to get behind this cause that I really believed in and make sure we protect what I love.”
After meeting with the principal of Nature’s Classroom during her visit, Yahre didn’t hesitate to join an associate program, the National Future Farmers of America, to learn about the scientific components of Florida’s wide range of biodiversity and natural species.
Yahre’s award-winning documentary “Nature’s Secrets: Florida State Parks” premiered at the Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) in Tampa on March 13. Since its release, her film has achieved various awards on the festival circuit, including a nomination for “Best Student Film” and a win for “Best Young Director” at the Cannes World Film Festival.
The documentary’s contents take viewers on a trip to a variety of parks in Florida, such as Hillsborough River State Park and Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, to showcase their wildlife as well as speak to each parks’ respective experts about their experiences.
“When making the documentary, I knew that I wanted to study parks specifically because of how underutilized they are,” she said. “There are a lot of different things in Tampa that receive attention. You have the Riverwalk, cool underground scenes and fun food trucks … but you never hear the word ‘state parks,’ and we have them all around us.”
Given that the documentary discusses subjects surrounding climate change, Yahre was initially concerned that those in the audience would perceive her film as being overly political in nature.
However, she said her commitment to filmmaking authenticity and love for the environment aided her in promoting environmentalism as a noncontroversial issue.
“This film is about making people connected and making people feel respect and love for one another,” she said. “In my opinion, environmentalism shouldn’t be controversial because we all live on this planet. We all have to live together and share this space and so it just makes sense to want to protect it.”
She is proud of the scale of the support she has received given that the documentary was her first professional film, but her work wouldn’t have been possible without the love of her father, according to Yahre.
While Nature’s Classroom served as the catalyst for her interest in environmentalism, Yahre said her love for cinematography started after her father downloaded her first editing software program on her computer when she was 11 years old.
Despite not having a strong interest in filmmaking at the time, her father continued to attempt to teach Yahre different editing techniques such as green screening and performing basic cuts.
After advancing to more complex film techniques, Yahre said she was able to finally understand the beauty of cinematography her father wanted to impart upon her.
“He has never once failed to believe in me, and he always knew what I needed before I even needed it,” she said. “He was always one step ahead of me when I was younger, and he made sure that I could become the best person that I am today.”
She later added that ensuring production for “Nature’s Secrets: Florida State Parks” was finalized in a timely fashion was particularly important as her father suffers from a terminal illness.
Considering his role in shaping her passion for filmmaking, she said she hopes the documentary serves not only as an educational resource to its viewers, but as a testament to her appreciation for her father’s continued support.
“I was so worried that he wasn’t going to get to see the end result of this film as he has always been one of my biggest supporters and helpers with getting access to necessary resources,” she said.
“It was really special to me to get to share the process with him and show him that final viewing at the film festival.”
Yahre’s boyfriend Dylan Walsh accompanied her and her family at the GIFF. Given the amount of time she has invested in the documentary making process over the past year, Yahre’s work finally coming into fruition was well-deserved, according to Walsh.
“Seeing her be so driven and inspired motivates me a lot … She’s doing her thing, and it just makes me excited because her excitement is contagious,” he said.
“Being around her makes me more excited about the things that I’m doing in my own life, and watching her accomplish her goals makes my goals seem even more accomplishable.”
Having worked as a K-12 science educator for Hillsborough County Public Schools throughout her college career, Yahre hopes to be able to pursue a career in education alongside filmmaking after graduation.
For those interested in visiting Florida’s state parks, she said while she encourages people to find beauty in biodiversity, it is also important to consider the threat climate change could pose to environmental preservation and education in the future.
“Working on a film like this, I really didn’t want to try to lecture people, change their mind or attempt to preach science to them,” she said. “What I wanted to show people was the beauty of nature and let people start to think about that, and what it is we have to potentially lose.”