Case Study

Saving the Florida Wildlife Corridor (2020)

Synopsis & Goals

“Saving the Florida Wildlife Corridor” is a half-hour wildlife and conservation film directed by Danny Schmidt. Vanessa Serrao, the Vice President, Impact Story Lab at National Geographic supported the project. Path of the Panther Managing Director Tori Linder was the impact producer and instrumental in the conception and making of the film. The film was also made in partnership with Grizzly Peak Films and the Nature Conservancy. Jackson Wild Film Festival 2021 recognized “Saving the Florida Wildlife Corridor” in the Special Jury Impact Campaign category. The film was created with the very specific goal of convincing state legislators in Florida to vote in ways that protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Florida Wildlife Corridor is made up of 18 million acres of public and private land across the state. It serves as the habitat for Florida’s wildlife, including the endangered Florida Panther. Although 10 million acres of that corridor is already protected land and cannot be taken over by developers, the remaining 8 million acres do not have a conservation status and are still vulnerable to future development projects. Protecting this portion of the existing corridor was a top priority amongst the legislative changes that the film sought out to bring about. This is because Florida has many new residents moving there every year, which leads to high demand for new developments. Beyond protecting the existing corridor, this project also seeks to expand the size of the corridor beyond the 18 million acres to connect the separate pieces of the corridor and increase the overall coverage area of protected land for the wildlife to roam in. This is important because the endangered Florida Panthers need 200 acres each for survival. For the population of the Florida Panthers to continue to grow after its near extinction a few decades back, the existing area of the corridor needs to be expanded.

Creative Design

Starting with the opening scenes of the film and throughout the whole first act, the film incorporates background music that gradually builds and increases in tempo. This section culminates with a scene that follows Carlton Ward Jr., a wildlife photographer as he makes his way through the Florida woods. The combination of the music with the footage of Carton leading the audience through the forest in search of new photographs of panthers that were spotted in the area, gives the audience a sense of thrill and serves as the emotional hook that gets them invested in the story. 

However, the primary emotions that the filmmakers focus on throughout the rest of the film are pride and love. They highlight the pride their characters feel in Florida’s wealth of wildlife. One example where the film emphasizes pride is when it features Betty Osceola, a Native American woman who is an Everglades guide and an advocate for conservation. She relies on her Native American heritage and values to strengthen her connection to nature. When discussing the importance of pride in their impact campaign, the director of the film, Danny Schmidt comments, “there are ranchers that wake up every morning and take pride in their work and take pride in the land that they protected. And finding those characters that you know might not necessarily get the typical shine of being in a documentary by, finding them and facilitating their voice, using the tools that we have is filmmakers to put their voice on the screen in a way that they wanted to be heard”. The filmmakers draw viewers’ attention to characters’ relationships with their children throughout the film. This strategic focus on love of nature among families emphasizes the shared values of a sustainable future and environmental legacy for generations to come. Tori Linder, the impact producer, concludes, “we made a really intentional effort here to paint a positive story and one in which frankly all Floridians could see their legacy and that was so clear to me in seeing the response of individuals who did watch the film.”

The filmmakers make the point that including local stories from a wide range of Floridian constituents are key to changing policy makers’ minds. Schmidt says, “I’ve learned that in Florida the conservation heroes aren’t always the people that you’d imagined, and I think that the power of film to really influence our emotions comes from this idea that you can put characters on the screen that might resonate with an entirely new audience than you had intended”. They spent a lot of time during pre-production, seeking out Floridians across the vastly different geographies of the state. They particularly focused on characters living and working in areas of the corridor that still do not have a conservation status and are in danger of being developed.  Their main goal in selecting a diverse set of characters was to make the film as relatable as possible to their audience. Vanessa Serrao explains the importance of this choice, “we’re always talking about reaching across the aisle and engaging new audiences and this needs to stop preaching to the choir. Well then to do that, it’s not just about distribution. We really have to rethink how we change our storytelling and this we talked a little bit about character choice already and that was a part of this rethinking of the narrative and then the second main point I think is the emotions we tried to evoke”. Referring to the filmmakers’ decision to focus on pride and love, these two emotions are universal and add to the relatability of the characters. 


The filmmakers make it clear that their film was not created in a vacuum. They highlight the important work that had already been done on the ground in terms of conserving Florida’s wildlife. This film is simply building on that work and contributing one more piece of a much bigger puzzle. If they had not collaborated with the existing experts such as National Geographic and Path of the Panther, their film would not have been as impactful. 

The filmmaking team also emphasized the importance of building extensive networks with local communities across Florida. They did not just focus on conservation experts who would be considered the traditional protagonists of environmental films. Instead, they chose a diverse group of Floridians who cared about conservation and sustainability due to their personal connection to the land or since their livelihood is intimately linked to Florida wildlife. The filmmakers stressed the importance of letting locals speak for themselves.


Unlike the standard practice of trying to reach the broadest audience as possible, the filmmakers chose to have a very specific and small audience i.e., state legislators in Florida. This aligned well with their intended impact of legislative change in Florida. The primary goal was not wide distribution of the film through TV networks, although the film did air on PBS and was screened at local theaters across Florida. To achieve their main goal, the team held small scale screenings for their Florida state legislators. Another important consideration for the team was how to best reach their intended audience during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the circumstances, they made the option of virtual screenings available. 

Measuring Impact

Given the very clear and specific goal they set at the beginning of the project, the team was able to achieve concrete results. During the legislative session that followed their screening, Florida legislators across both political parties voted to pass the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act and committed $400 million toward projects that aim to expand the Florida Wildlife Corridor by turning more areas into protected lands. 


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