Wildlife Film Fest: How nature can inform new designs

April 21st, 2023
By Sierra Cistone

This article was originally published here on the Missoulian website.

Kicking off this year’s International Wildlife Film Festival is a documentary that celebrates the genius of nature and offers hope for the future of both people and the natural world.

The full-length movie “BiocĂȘntricos” takes the audience deep into the world of biomimicry and the innovative ways it is being applied. Biomimicry is the practice of learning from nature and applying those lessons to design and human invention.

It is a field that was popularized in part by Montana local Janine Benyus, a science writer who also doubles as a biomimicry consultant.

In 1997, Benyus wrote a book titled “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.” The book’s popularity turned into a movement, inspiring Benyus to later found the Missoula-based Biomimicry Institute. The institute works with companies, innovators and scientists around the world to help them adopt and incorporate biomimicry into their work.

“Once an engineer or an inventor has learned in this way,” Benyus said in the film, “they will always turn to the natural world for ideas.”

The natural world as the ultimate innovator is the theme at the heart of the film, which explores how it is the best place to look for inspiration when it comes from science to infrastructure.

The film features people from different disciplines including Eiji Nakatsu, the Japanese engineer who redesigned and modeled Japan’s bullet trains after the kingfisher. By copying the beak of the bird, the bullet train’s design is now faster, more efficient and more economic.

The work of an Indigenous community in Brazil, designers and Benyus herself are also included throughout the film. The stories are woven together to paint a picture of the multitude of ways that nature can inspire better human designs and therefore, more sustainable societies and infrastructure.

One of the companies that Benyus has worked with is a major cosmetic company based in Brazil. The company’s use of biomimicry became the subject of an episode for a television show that Brazil-based filmmaker Fernanda Figueiredo, the co-director of “BiocĂȘntricos,” was working on.

Figueiredo became profoundly interested in biomimicry and given her experience in filmmaking and environmental education and communication, she became inspired to make a documentary about it.

To get started, Figueiredo remembers spending an entire month perfecting an email to Benyus. English is not Figueiredo’s native language and she was worried about her imperfect English. But Benyus replied quickly and agreed to be a part of the documentary. It was the start of an eight-year-long project.

A limited budget plus the pandemic made the filming process slow, according to Figueiredo. It also kept the team from including stories of how people around the world are incorporating biomimicry into their work. But Figueiredo said that it was important to her to focus on work being done in Brazil.

“We wanted to show the potential that Brazil has for developing biomimicry because of our biodiversity,” Figueiredo said.

Starting this year, the film has been playing in theaters in Brazil and Figueiredo has been surprised by the positive responses from especially young people. She did not make the film with young people in mind but has been approached by many who have been inspired to study and incorporate biomimicry into their work.

“My intention was to show people that there is a different way we can do things and to bring hope,” Figueiredo said.

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