Interview: Adrián Vilas

A short introduction

A documentary filmmaker from Spain based in Bristol, UK, Adrián has a degree in Journalism and an MA in Documentary Production. He currently works as a Camera Assistant and Camera Operator for environmental documentaries. Over the last year he’s been involved in many projects all over the world, from Yellowstone to Kenya, filming some of the issues that affect wildlife and people in those areas. He has also worked close to home for the RSPB and the BBC Natural History Unit.

“My goal is to inspire people through film to take action and protect the natural world” – Adrián Vilas

A selection of projects Adrián has worked in the last year

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature? And which was your first camera?

My earliest memories in nature take me back to my grandpa’s farm in Galicia, north-west Spain. I grew up hearing stories about the wolf and the wild boar, yearning [a feeling of intense longing for something] to see them in the wild. I often went to the forest to try to spot them, with no luck. But while I was helping out with the farm, I developed a strong connection with some of the animals there. The cows, horses and dogs were a big part of my life back then.

When I was 9 or 10 I filmed my first “nature documentary” on the farm, focusing on a family of wild boars that was spending time around the farmlands. I filmed with my dad’s video camera, I think it was a Panasonic.

My first very own proper camera was a DSLR, a Nikon 3200 that I could afford with my first salary. It was the first time I experimented with the aperture, shutter speed… varying the depth of field and the light. Later on, I switched to a Canon 5D, because of its powerful video features. And now, I want to change again…

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently?

Recently I have been reading a lot about rewilding. I’m fascinated about restoring our connection with the wilderness, with the primitive part of our mind. I want to know why we long for the great outdoors and why we sometimes find home when surrounded by feral creatures. But it’s a two-way path. We need to make a real change in nature and go further than just protecting habitats. We need to improve them and restore them when possible (although I’m not a big fan of interfering) and reintroduce keystone species.

adrian-vilas_mnd_03 A herd of European bisons in central Germany

Big predators, such as wolves and bears are making a slow comeback in continental Europe. Others, like European beavers and European bison, are being reintroduced to help some ecosystems regenerate. It’s sometimes difficult due to economic interests and lack of understanding. Our agricultural practices are highly damaging to the world. Loving nature means also choosing what it’s good for it even when we are shopping. Buying organic, local, avoiding plastic packaging and eating less meat is a good start. That’s probably more important than what adults vote for every few years.

All my recent projects include mammals (badgers, bison, lions…) but I have to say that  American and European bison are probably one of my favourites. They are gentle giants that have the power to change ecosystems and benefit many other species around them. They also have a spiritual meaning to Native Americans, something that we have long forgotten and is important to bring back.

Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

Rewilding is happening (or about to happen) in the UK right now. It’s a country that needs urgently to restore its habitats and reintroduce keystone species. The beaver is one mammal that came back recently and is doing well. It helps filtrate the water and eliminate harmful microorganisms in polluted rivers.

I believe though, that reintroducing big predators is a huge but necessary step forward. The lynx is the ideal candidate, as it’s a shy animal that won’t attack people and will try to hunt in the shadows of the Highlands’ forests. The lynx will lead the way towards the regeneration of the Caledonian forests and the fight against flooding and climate change, it will also help to control the number of deer.

Predators sometimes clash against our economic interests, but they provide ecological services that we can’t provide.


Adrián filming a herd of European bisons in central Germany

If you had to choose a mammal to film or photograph which one would it be?

I would definitely love to choose one closer to home (Spain not the UK), like the Brown bear or the wolf. I had the privilege to see them both in the wild, particularly the wolf, as we have stable populations right on our Spanish doorstep. It is also a species that drifts between love and hate in popular fiction, that’s also why I feel compelled to make a film about it. I admire the wolf  because of its rawness and resilience, and also its vastly developed social abilities. It’s the ultimate hunter, the symbol of the wilderness and of what we once were.

In the future, I would like to film whales underwater. Sharing an instant with those leviathans. The oceans could really do with our help too. It’s a vast part of the world that we can’t see, but we heavily rely on. More than two-thirds of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean.

Thank you for your time Adrián!

Disclaimer: the views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door