Celebrating Earth Day with South Carolina Wildlife Films

In celebration of Earth Day we are highlighting the South Carolina Department of Wildlife Films Collection. The collection, which contains over a thousand rolls of 16mm film in several hundred cans, was shot by the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department* from the 1950s to the 1980s. The majority of the materials are pre-print elements including original camera footage, work prints, answer prints, outtakes, and sound tracks. The footage consists mostly of local animal species and locations, and was used to create TV spots, educational films, and PSAs. MIRC volunteer Jesika Brooks, who has been working on the collection, tells us more about it.

The SC Wildlife Collection paints a subtle portrait of the natural world in South Carolina. Given the scope of the collection, with hundreds of cans filled with hundreds more reels of film, it’s like a longitudinal study of the state’s flora and fauna in the ’70s and ’80s.

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Frames from an edited work print for “Ducks on the Wing.”

Footage was shot across South Carolina, although the focus of the films shifts between natural sites and the wildlife itself. There are rolls upon rolls of ducks, the breeds carefully cataloged. There are reels devoted to explorations of ponds, marshes, and lakes. There are outtakes of South Carolina landmarks in their natural state.

While some of the films in the SC Wildlife Collection are narrow in scope—for example, the large number of elements used for the production “Ducks on the Wing,” a film intended to teach viewers to identify various species of ducks—other films are less discriminating. The description of one can of film mentions ospreys, cougars, elk, red foxes, doves, cardinals, black bears, and more. That single can is only a fraction of the collection, but its images showcase a veritable menagerie of South Carolina wildlife.

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Frames from roll of film labeled “Baby Turtles”

Peppered throughout the stacks are rolls of film filled with shots of baby animals such as turtles, pelicans, and ducks. One film is even called “Wildlife Babies.” Baby animals have the lion cub’s share of attention on- and off-line, so it’s not difficult to imagine how this footage was later incorporated into wildlife TV shows. Animal Planet’s “Too Cute!” is a testament to the overwhelming popularity of young wildlife.

Animals aren’t the only subjects of the collection, although they get top billing. Some of the films showcase outdoor sports in South Carolina. A number of films are about fishing, unsurprising given the number of people in the state that like to fish. The titles of these films range from “Saltwater Fishing” to “Trout Fishing” to the enthusiastic “Fish On!” It’s interesting to see how this pastime has retained its popularity even through the decades.

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Still of a peregrine falcon from “Endangered Species.”

Some of the films in the SC Wildlife Collection paint a less than flattering portrait of man’s interactions with nature. One film in the collection depicts illegal turkey hunting. Another one depicts an illegal deer kill. These films stand alongside “Hunter Ethics” and “Endangered Species,” which documents local species considered threatened in the early 1970s.

The footage in this collection is a vibrant record of a particular location at particular point in time, and will only become more significant as South Carolina landscapes and ecosystems continue to evolve. Whether viewed for purely entertainment purposes or employed to help illustrate the importance of environmental conservation efforts, the South Carolina Department of Wildlife Films Collection is a wealth of unique material with a variety of potential uses.

~Written by Jesika Brooks, MIRC volunteer

*In 1994 under the S.C. Restructuring Act, the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department merged with several other agencies including the Water Resources Commission, Land Resources Commission, State Geological Survey, and S.C. Migratory Waterfowl Committee to become the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

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