Grizzly bear

Film Field Trip Gives Students a Wild Experience

November 16, 2020

In early October, Professor Hans Rosenwinkel, MFA, who teaches film in the College of Arts & Media, took his class on a field trip—and it was a wild experience. Literally. Because Rosenwinkel and his students filmed animals at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.

Celebrating 40 years in 2020, the 789-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS) rescues captive wild animals and relocates them to large natural habitats. According to sanctuary founder Pat Craig, “Just in America, an estimated 30,000 large exotic animals live outside our zoos.” To put the scope of the captive wildlife crisis in perspective, he added, “More tigers live as pets just in the state of Texas than currently live in the wild all over the world.”

tigers and bears
The 789-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO rescues captive wild animals and provides large natural habitats.

Because Rosenwinkel has filmed at the sanctuary before for various television programs, including National Geographic for PBS and Nat Geo TV International, he and his students were given special access to the animals. “This experience to film at wide open habitats is a new experience for students, which opens their eyes to the captive wild animal crisis, which in turn empowers them to help make positive change like the TWAS group does globally to put a dent in this problem,” he said.

The FITV 4050 Advanced Cinematography students were able to film on location because The Wild Animal Sanctuary is so large that Rosenwinkel was able to get university approval by submitting a detailed safety plan that met COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Students worked in small groups to film African lions, tigers, grizzly bears, and other species. “The students sure appreciated getting outside to film,” Rosenwinkel said.

Nicky Wolff, a Film & Television major who wants to pursue a career in wildlife video, really enjoyed the experience of filming at The Wild Animal Sanctuary: “I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have access to these animals. I love to observe animals and follow their actions.” What was Nicky’s favorite animal? “I have always had a huge soft spot for bears, ever since I was a three and saw my first one. So of course my favorite shot was of a very curious brown bear who was posted up at our first parking spot. He was right next to the fence, so we had the chance to film him from less than 20 feet away as he sat on his haunches examining us.”

CU Denver film students at The Wild Animal Sanctuary
In October 2020, students in Professor Rosenwinkel’s Advanced Cinematography class filmed at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.

Each student had to then create a two-minute video practicing various editing techniques. They were able to get great footage, thanks in part to a generous gift from Sony Corporation, which donated high-end telephoto lenses. Sony’s Retail Technology Manager Jeff Van Scoyk joined the class during the shoot. The Denver-based camera/film production group Peak Media also helped facilitate the project.

Rosenwinkel wants people to forget the hype about the Tiger King Netflix series and truly understand the plight of captive wild animals, some of whom live in basements, apartments, garages, and other unnatural places: “Currently, The Wild Animal Sanctuary has 39 tigers (and counting) from the infamous Joe Exotic (from Tiger King) that were confiscated and have been brought back to health.” He added, “The sanctuary gives these wild animals a new lease on life.”

elevated walkways at The Wild Animal Sanctuary
TWAS offers 1.5 miles of elevated walkways.

TWAS founder Pat Craig does offer some good news: “While the number of captive large carnivores continues to increase, states have finally begun to impose regulations to slow the trade … Colorado banned big cats as pets almost 30 years ago, and in 2004 adopted some of the country’s toughest regulations and standards for big cat sanctuaries.” Unfortunately, there are roughly twenty accredited sanctuaries in the U.S., “and only about a dozen take in big cats, bears, or other large carnivores,” Craig said.

While CU Denver class filming projects don’t benefit the sanctuary in terms of providing footage (TWAS has in-house videographers), it does increase awareness of the captive wildlife problem. “The exposure that our sanctuary gets from all the places and ways the students disseminate their productions is always very helpful,” Craig said. “We are very grateful for their interest and hard work while shooting here,” he added.

Watch Student Wildlife Videos

Here are a few edited video examples created by some of the cinematography students who visited The Wild Animal Sanctuary. Each one is short, so take a moment to relax and watch some beautiful animals enjoying their freedom.

Video by Nicky Wolff, a cinematography student in the Department of Film & TV Production in the College of Arts & Media.
Video by Rae Johnson, a cinematography student in the Department of Film & TV Production in the College of Arts & Media.
Video by Dylan Matzke, a cinematography student in the Department of Film & TV Production in the College of Arts & Media.

About The Wild Animal Sanctuary

The Wild Animal Sanctuary’s mission is “to prevent and alleviate cruelty to animals which are abandoned or were subject to deprivation or neglect, by providing care and boarding.” The COVID-19 pandemic shut down TWAS for a month. “It also created an issue where we lost 90% of our food supplies for 6 – 8 weeks,” Craig said. The sanctuary is once again open to visitors, offering a unique wildlife viewing experience with 1.5 miles of elevated walkways.