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Monkey Film Premieres to Promote African Biodiversity

April 09, 2013

A still image from the trailer of the Drill Project film

Turtle biologists with digital SLR cameras may be on the verge of something extraordinary: Empowering a nation to save endangered monkeys and the idyllic island ecosystem they call home.

The very unusual nature documentary the biologists produced will have its U.S. premiere at Drexel University on April 15.

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The film, entitled “The Drill Project,” features stunning, never-before-seen footage of endangered drill monkeys on Bioko Island, in the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea, interacting naturally in family groups.

This up-close behavioral footage is unusual: Bioko Island’s drills are extremely elusive. Even primate researchers who study them in the wild rarely catch more than a brief glimpse while the monkeys are running away. Scientists rely on fecal analysis to make inferences about the foraging behavior of these monkeys, which are among the rarest in the world.

The filmmakers themselves are unusual: Dr. Shaya Honarvar, a research associate at Drexel, primarily studies sea turtles that come ashore on Bioko’s black sand beaches to lay eggs, but became the film’s producer. Justin Jay, a biologist volunteer on several of Honarvar’s field expeditions who had a background in photography and film, directed “The Drill Project.”

The film is unusual, as nature documentaries go: With the visual backdrop of Bioko’s verdant jungle, diverse fauna including sea turtles, duikers, reptiles, amphibians and numerous other monkey species, the film rivals the most beautiful nature documentaries that are produced by professional film crews and televised internationally. But “The Drill Project” isn’t meant for an international audience (at least not in its present form). It is also not meant primarily to entertain. “The Drill Project” carries a very specific educational and conservation message tailored to the needs of the people of Equatorial Guinea.

“The Drill Project” has aired repeatedly on national television in Equatorial Guinea since December 2012 and will have its inaugural U.S. screening on April 15, 2013, followed by a panel discussion with the biologists and filmmakers. The screening will take place at Drexel University’s Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Mitchell Auditorium (3140 Market Street, Philadelphia), from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

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Panelists will include Honarvar and Jay, as well as Dr. Gail Hearn, a professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program, and Jake Owens, a Ph.D. student in Hearn’s lab who studies Bioko’s drill monkeys.

The full 30-minute documentary will become available to view for free online at following the U.S. premiere event.

“The Drill Project” film was edited by Megan Pollin, an undergraduate student in Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, as a co-operative education project.

More information about “The Drill Project” and conservation and biodiversity on Bioko Island at the following links:

  • Selling Their Future”- Drexel Magazine story behind the story of “The Drill Project”
  • The Campaign: Information about the ongoing outreach efforts to bring the documentary to villages across Equatorial Guinea
  • Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (BBPP): Website for the academic partnership between Drexel University and the National University of Equatorial Guinea