Capturing Louisiana’s Disappearing Wetlands
Photographer Ben Depp’s quest to chronicle the disappearance of Louisiana’s wetlands is beautifully documented in this film, “On a Wing and a Prayer.” You are taken flying high with Depp as he pilots his powered paraglider—an ultralight aircraft consisting of a paragliding “wing,” a harness and a motor attached to his back.
Director and cinematographer Dominic Gill’s biggest challenge in making the short documentary was filming Depp at work, soaring above the coastal region like a bird. Instead of relying on a drone, Gill hired pilot Matt Minyard to shadow Depp in a tandem paramotor. “One thing I definitely knew I couldn’t do is fly a paramotor and film well at the same time,” says Gill, who runs Encompass Films with producer Nadia Gill, his wife.
“It’s very, very difficult to steer through bumpy air,” Gill points out. “Matt was instrumental in finding those smooth zones and keeping up with Ben.”
Gill shot the scenes with a RED Dragon. “My biggest priority was ensuring that we could convey the beauty of the wetlands. Without doing that, you can’t convince people they are worth protecting. So rather than get a small camera that would have done an okay job, I used a RED Dragon, which, by the time you’ve got all the paraphernalia attached to it, is a fairly large camera,” he says, noting, “But the weight adds to the stability of the shot.”
The filmmaker, who edited the film with Adam Tiller, kept “On a Wing and a Prayer” to 10-minute runtime. While he had an abundance of spectacular aerial footage, Gill resisted the temptation to go overboard with it. Noting the old filmmaking adage about killing your darlings, Gill says, “We never want anyone to get to the end of the film and feel like they are bored by what they’re seeing, or like they’ve been looking at the same thing over and over.”
Gill has a degree in biology and worked as an environmental scientist before he became a filmmaker. He hopes people will watch “On a Wing and a Prayer” and understand that we all have a stake in protecting our environment.
“The Mississippi River is one of the most important pieces of economic infrastructure in this country, if not the world. And if that becomes dysfunctional in any way, the price of our gas changes, the ability to get money from grain exports, all of that will change. And with that, the economy of every household in the nation will change,” Gill says. “It’s an important thing to realize.”
When we’re not making films, we’re watching them. Introducing “Great Big Spotlight,” Great Big Story’s latest series highlighting our favorite documentaries from some of the best filmmaking talent out there. Dominic Gill’s “On a Wing and a Prayer” is one of a five-part series of short documentaries on the Louisiana wetlands. For more information on the “Last Call for the Bayou” series, visit the website: https://www.lastcallforthebayou.com .
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