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Episode 178 Saturday January 27 at 11:00 am Eastern, The Rwanda Wildlife Film-making Course: Documenting Mountains of Gorillas

In 2007, David McGowan from Chicago was in Uganda filming a documentary about Envirovet, an organization that brings veterinary medicine to wildlife health. A Ugandan veterinarian shared with him a story about the death of silverback gorilla and the subsequent mourning rites exhibited by the other gorillas. It was a behavior not seen before among the other veterinarians nor recorded in the literature of gorilla behavior. The veterinarian told McGowan that if he had had a film camera and knew how to use it, the incident he witnessed would have been international news and an incredible find for science.

McGowan understood that this was one of the missing pieces in the global effort of wildlife management. It is critically important that the people who work closest with wildlife; rangers, trackers, and guides, should have access to the knowledge and equipment of filmmaking.

McGowan met Greg Bakunzi through mutual friends at Gorilla Doctors based in Musanze, Rwanda. Bakunzi offered his eco-tourism compound, Red Rocks, as a location to teach the first class in 2022. Bakunzi shares McGowan’s passion for conservation and also looks to conservation as a way to help the surrounding communities supplement their farming incomes. He invited McGowan to conduct the wildlife filmmaking course at the Red Rocks compound in Musanze, Rwanda.

The first class, August 2022, was a stellar success. Ten students attended ten 4-hour sessions and produced two films: One Health Rwanda and Birding in Rwanda. The next class, September 2023, attracted 12 new students. Students from the 2022 class helped McGowan teach the new class. The 2023 class is working on two films, Virindyana, Traditional Healer and Planet Birdsong. One of the advanced students, Roger Irakoze, has used his new skills to produce, for pay, a film for a local business.

More about our guests after the video

David McGowan is an Academy Award nominated filmmaker who has dedicated the last 30 years of his career to conservation and environmental films. His clients include government agencies; US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service, USDA Forest Service and many state agencies, also included are non-governmental organizations; The Nature Conservancy, Bat Conservation International, Envirovet, among others. McGowan began his filmmaking career in 1979 as a grip on “The Blues Brother” feature film. Throughout the 1980s, he worked as a grip, camera assistant, sound recordist, and editor. The variety of filmmaking roles provided the requisite skills required for documentary production. McGowan began his own production company, Ravenswood Media, in 1989. McGowan has enjoyed a career full of adventure and curiosity. He has filmed mountain gorillas, stood at the foot of Angel Falls, dragged cameras/lights miles into caves, and climbed Devils Tower. However, the best part of his job is advancing the goals of conservation and imagining a new, nurturing relationship between humans and the environment.


Greg Bakunzi has gained experience working as a Rwandan tour organizer and guide for various international tour operators. His professionalism and reliability, along with his exceptional understanding of the needs and desires of international visitors, have gained Greg much renown among clients and respect among the members of local communities. He is a co-founder and president of the Ruhengeri Community Eco-Tourism Association, a local association of people collaborating to enhance tourism development in Rwanda. He relies on a network of contacts in the area, all of whom are happy to take part in his project. As he notes, “With my experience, know-how and contacts, l am able to make your bespoke visitor experience memorable, while also benefiting the locals as much as possible. I work with an experienced and highly motivated local staff team responsible for client contacts, as well as tour development and facilitation. I achieved great honor and milestone when Red Rocks was awarded a certificate for being a TOP 100 mid-sized company for the year 2012/2013. The certificate was presented by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) Business Excellence Awards.”

He adds that his philanthropic efforts have also not gone unnoticed. He molded Red Rocks Rwanda to be community-based organizations, where the local community can gain from tourism activities, and in the process, have a sustainable income. Red Rocks brings under-served communities into the tourism supply chain and supports community development projects that help people help themselves through our initiatives (

In August 2015, Greg’s name was added to the A- Team for Wildlife ‘Wall of Fame’ for his contribution during their Giving Grid Fundraiser. A-Team is an organization that fights to save endangered species of animals. In 2015, on the occasion of the 36th edition of the International Tourism Fair of Madrid (FITUR), the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), FITUR and Casa Africa jointly organized the 7th edition of the Tourism Investment and Business Forum for Africa (INVESTOUR) on 21 January 2016 in Madrid, Spain. He was invited as a panelist in the second roundtable and shared with the audience his experiences on the topic, Africa-The future is now. Greg has been recognized by several Rwanda based organizations for my efforts in promoting responsible tourism and community development agenda. In January 2019, at the International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, Spain, an event that was organized jointly by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), FITUR and Casa Africa, he was awarded in recognition for Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development activities to promote tourism, conservation, and community development in and around the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. Recently, he was appointed by African Tourism Board to be in their steering committee representing the interest of African members on the platform.

Wonjung Bae is a non-fiction storyteller/documentary filmmaker/news producer. Bae made her first film, Grand, Father and Me, at age sixteen and has won numerous awards for her work, including the 38th Student Academy Award, the 16th Annual Directors Guild of America Student Film Award, and the Kodak Cinematographers Scholarship, among others. Before joining Johns Hopkins, Bae was the Seoul Producer for BBC covering stories including the South-North Korean division on land and mind, Korean women’s emerging voice against sexual violence, and the unprecedented challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic for the last seven years. Her team’s investigation on the Gangnam sex scandal was a winner at the Asian Academy Creative Awards for Best Single News Story/Report of Korea, 2019. Before joining BBC, Bae led a production company specialized in international co-productions for character-driven social justice films. One of its features Dollar Heroes was shown at the European Parliament and the UN, and broadcasted through more than 70 public stations including BBC Panorama and Storyville as well as numerous international film festivals. The film was nominated for a 2019 Grierson Documentary Award for Best Documentary Series and won the 59th Monte-Carlo TV Festival Golden Nymph Awards for Best Documentary. Bae completed her MFA in Film and Video at Columbia College Chicago and her internship at PBS Frontline, WGBH Boston. Bae cut her teeth in Chicago as a documentary editor for Emmy Award-winning producer Tod Lending and Kartemquin Films. Born in Busan, South Korea, Bae studied political science at Korea University for her undergraduate degree and is an aspiring flutist.

Roger Irakoze lives in Musanze in the northern province of Rwanda. He is a passionate tour guide and a wildlife filmmaker who works at Red Rocks Culture Center, a place located in Musanze, Nkotsi village in the valley of the volcano’s mountains. His daily work at Red Rocks is all about conservation of the mountain gorillas and the local community who live around the volcanoes national park through community-based tourism. As Roger notes, “Here at Red Rocks community comes first, whatever we do is to make sure that the community is benefiting from the tourism activities that take place at Red Rocks through different programs such as women guiding association by where the local women get engaged in tour guiding, also there is an art for conservation program where the women and the youth make different handcrafts and bring them to the art gallery to be sold and the money that have been paid for the crafts goes back to the owners of those crafts a hundred percent.”

Rwanda wildlife filmmaking is a program that was introduced in August 2022 in cooperation of red rocks initiatives and Ravenswood media a company based in Chicago in the USA. The mission of the project is to promote the conservation of wildlife, nature, and community through providing the trainings to the tour guides, rangers and other people who have relationship with conservation by teaching them the basic skills of filmmaking by where they can be able to deliver the message of conservation through short movies and videos that they have been taught to do. In this program Roger works as a film director and editor as he is one of the students who attended the first class, and the trainings are still taking place with new students who are committed to learn about wildlife filmmaking.

Roger Irakoze has a bachelor’s degree in travel and tourism management. In addition, he is a certified Kivu belt bird guide and have attended the 6 months training of inspiring managers program provided by African management institute in cooperation with Mastercard foundation. He has advanced skills in information technology where he received his international computer driving license (ICDL) certificate. The way he got to know red rocks was from an internship during the completion of his bachelor’s degree. After three months of internship, Red Rocks offered him a chance of working there as a volunteer in community tourism and nature conservation from 2019 until today. He points out that there are a lot of benefits of being a guide whereby he gets paid when conducting various tours with tourists. Roger adds that tour guiding is the best way of interacting with various people from different countries and through tour guiding as he gets the chance to promote the culture and the beauty of his country in general. It is also the best way to interact with nature and participate in the conservation of nature, wildlife, and community. He definitely enjoys it.

Final Note: For those who are inspired by this particular episode of Silver Lining for Learning and would like to help out, Ravenswood Media has created a filmmaking course for national park rangers, trackers and guides. Check out ‘Rwandan Wildlife Filmmaking Course’ on Indiegogo. Crowdfunding Website.