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Trees: Solutions to the World’s Big Challenges

Arbor Day Foundation Plant Trees

Trees Equal Big Value

An Interview with Pete Smith, Arbor Day Foundation program manager, urban forestry

Evoking Childhood Memories

There’s no question that trees offer solutions to the world’s big environmental challenges but they are also tied to many of our memories. Try this exercise Pete Smith recommends.

how to incorporate trees into your landscape

Close your eyes and picture a tree and its leaves. What does that tree mean to you?

“There are plenty of folks who can see that tree,” Pete Smith, Arbor Day Foundation urban forestry program manager, said during an interview on Feb. 14, 2023.

Chances are there’s a tree or two in your past that evokes fond childhood memories. 

For Smith, it was the native Sugar maples and other trees on his street and in his backyard as a child growing up in Philadelphia that led Smith to explore forestry. 

“I would challenge anyone to go through that exercise and experience it (that tree) personally,” he said.  

As a result, a lot of his work in forestry for the Arbor Day Foundation focuses on sustainable management whether it’s working with private landowners or corporate interests.

“I think they (the trees) certainly inspired me as a young person to look to nature and I never really lost that zeal for urban trees,” Smith said. “Going to Penn State and choosing forestry seemed to be a logical progression.

Many cities throughout the U.S. have earned the title, "Tree City USA," for their efforts to plant and preserve trees.
Tree City USA, Lincoln, NE

Inspiring Environmental Advocacy

When you think of the Arbor Day Foundation, there’s no doubt planting trees comes to mind, but in addition, Smith and his team also inspire environmental change by helping to get people around the globe more engaged in understanding the role of trees and why they are an important natural resource. Tree City USA, a long-running Arbor Day Foundation program, for example, provides a four-step framework to maintain and grow tree cover. 

According to, communities can receive annual Tree City USA recognition by meeting four standards: Maintaining a tree board or department; having a community tree ordinance; spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry; and celebrating Arbor Day, a tree-planting holiday. 

Smith’s work comes with its share of challenges as many cities and communities are experiencing significant growth and are trying to balance the growing need for housing without killing or tearing down trees. 

Act Responsibly

Is there a way to do construction that doesn’t require developers to remove trees?   

Smith said, yes. “You can actually build around trees…,” and while he believes we still value existing big healthy trees, he utilizes his expertise in urban community forestry to further educate individuals and municipalities about the best practices for preserving trees during construction.  

“But how do we act responsibly?” Smith asked.

Despite the cost factor that’s associated with preserving trees, there are communities around the country that are trying their best to deal with the incredible growth of housing and the need for it while keeping some of the trees onsite. 

This is where significant growth meets national standards and ordinances that require developers to replant an equivalent number of trees on site. 

However, he cautioned, “That’s not always popular among those in development. So many local governments that are experiencing significant growth create a tree ordinance and they will make requirements,” he said. “Developers are often required to replant and calculate how many trees are coming down so they can plant an equivalent number of trees.” 

In addition to their aesthetic value, trees manage runoff and reduce erosion caused by falling rain.

Canopies That Work For You 

So why are trees vital to our landscape and environment? 

Certainly, according to Smith, while stormwater runoff also depends on other factors like soil, for example, there’s no replacing the value that a large tree canopy provides in managing runoff and reducing erosion caused by falling rain. 

Tree Fact: Rainwater lands on the leaves and evaporates and tree roots take up water and help create conditions in the soil that promote infiltration, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

“Those big trees with lots and lots of leaves can hang on to lots and lots of water and slow that water as it moves into the watershed,” he said. Without trees, storm runoff happens almost instantaneously, so we get runoff that is now full of sediment that’s clogging up our storm drains and creeks.”

Additionally, trees offer energy savings by cooling properties; provide carbon sequestration, a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere; promote oxygen production; and remove pollutants from the air. 

“Those trees are right there where you live, delivering benefits close to home – not some distant location. They remove pollutants from the air that’s closest to our lungs,” Smith said. 

Trees also add real value to real estate, and houses that have trees on the property sell faster and at a higher price than other properties without them, Smith noted. 

Before you cut down a healthy tree to make way for your next building project, first determine your tree’s worth in terms of the work it does for your property and the environment. Urban foresters have used valuation software for decades as a tool to calculate the benefits trees provide. i-Tree is one of those programs that estimate the carbon dioxide and air pollution a tree removes plus it offers values for stormwater interception. ( courtesy of the USDA Forest Service). 

Arbor Day Foundation Logo

Find YOUR Nature-Based Solution

Equally as important as knowing your tree’s value is determining the role you will play in your community’s growth and development. 

“You have choices and so does every city and township,” Smith said. “How as a community are we going to grow and develop? And that’s a choice citizens and their elected officials are going to have to make.” 

As Arbor Day approaches on Fri., April 28, 2023, Smith encourages you to show up and plant a tree but that’s only one of the roles you can play in protecting our urban forests. 

Smith said showing up on Arbor Day is kind of easy and the Arbor Day Foundation certainly wants people to plant trees but the rubber meets the road when you make some personal choices that will preserve existing trees and positively affect the environment. 

“You can go out and plant 10 small trees but don’t assume they will have the same surface area or environmental benefits as a large Oak tree,” according to Smith. 

He encourages citizens to take a close look at themselves first and then take action as they look toward more nature-based solutions to the problems in our communities. 

“Ask yourself, have you reduced your energy consumption? Can you remove a little bit of your lawn and plant a tree there? We’re big on rights but what is our responsibility?” he said. “Maybe you don’t really understand that responsibility until you own a piece of land and you are responsible for tending it…Maybe that’s where having a small garden will help.” 

Have Tree-Care Questions? 

Smith recommends the International Society of Arboriculture and its homeowner website: Trees Are Good.

5 Things You Can Do To Make a Difference by Preserving or Planting a Tree

  • 1. Add a layer of mulch beneath the trees in your yard. Link the mulch beds together and add perennial shrubs and flowers to increase the beauty and resiliency of your yard.
  • 2. Hire a Certified Arborist to care for the trees in your yard. The International Society of Arboriculture is the standard-bearer for quality tree care around the world and there’s a professional near you that can keep your trees healthy.
  • 3. Water a newly planted street tree near your home. Often, city forestry departments struggle to keep up with watering during the hottest time of the year, so any extra water you can offer could make a difference in tree survival!
  • 4. Attend a tree board meeting in your community and tell them how you feel about your city’s trees. These volunteer boards often need new energy and input to make them effective, so ask to join if you have the time! In addition to a citizen board or commission, many cities have nonprofit tree-planting groups, which you can find here.
  • 5. Celebrate Arbor Day! Attend your community’s annual celebration of trees and the people who care for them…. No scheduled event in your town? Why not start one?
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Japan Pavilion Expo 2020 Dubai

Japan Pavilion Expo 2020 Dubai Yuko Nagayama Associates

Understanding NATURE & HARMONY in Japanese Architecture

Interview with Yuko Nagayama

Yuko Nagayama’s EXPO 2020 Dubai design reflects a fusion of Japanese and Middle Eastern cultures with an emphasis on global materials.

A meticulously wrapped building in the Al Forsan Park EXPO 2020 Dubai Opportunity District beckons visitors to come inside. The Japan pavilion not only references the meeting between the traditional Middle Eastern “arabesque” pattern and the traditional Japanese “Asanoha (hemp leaf)” pattern but Japan’s fascination with gift wrapping, Origata, and paper folding, Origami.

Inside the building, as guests meander through the exhibits, the latest technology has allowed designers to convey Japanese history, art, and culture, in a futuristic way few would have imagined.

The water features that reflect the image of the Japan Pavilion add ornamentation to the scenery in the form of reflection pools and at the same time, borrow from the traditional methods of Japan and the Middle East. Sustainable architecture is realized through capturing the wind cooled by the heat vaporization of the water.

Taking “Connect” from the EXPO 2020 Dubai theme, architect Yuko Nagayama, Yuko Nagayama Associates principal and EXPO Japan Pavilion chief designer, integrated culture, technology, and sustainability into her design. The pavilion’s façade, with its delicate and slender architectural structure, combines both cultures and embodies Japan’s ability to respond flexibly while integrating with global culture.

“The design represents the fusion of Japanese and Middle Eastern cultures, to represent the long-standing relationship between the two nations,” Nagayama said.

Yuko Nagayama, Yuko Nagayama Associates

Japan shares the stage with 191 nations and organizations participating in the world EXPO, a 170-year tradition held every five years. The event provides a platform for countries to showcase the greatest innovations and latest technology that continue to shape the world we live in today.

Throughout the project, Nagayama and the on-site teams worked together to overcome the differences in the production environment and the regulations of each country. The result is a high-quality pavilion.

“This was due to the fact that everyone shared the same concept that I had initially proposed and we were able to push forward toward that goal together,” Nagayama said.

Nagayama’s design emphasized the overall Expo 2020 Dubai theme but as she explains, instead of using special materials to express Japan, she said, we thought to express Japan using global materials.

The design features parametrically designed smaller membranes, rather than a large membrane commonly used in most membrane architecture, with the position of the shadows determined by the movement of the sun, and according to the use of the space.

Similarly, in keeping with traditional Japanese art and design principles that focus on maintaining harmony with nature, Yuko said “While the lattice is systematic, the position of the membranes is randomly determined by the surrounding environment and other conditions. After the work was completed, various shadows fell on the surrounding area like sunshine through the trees.”

The use of Japanese water technology widely used in the Middle East is equally as important to the overall design and is expressed in the water basin outside of the pavilion. Sustainability is captured through the semi-exterior space by utilizing a small membrane on the façade of the building to block the sunlight. By placing the water basin in an appropriate position, when the wind blows, the building is cooled by the water basin and slips through the small membrane to enter the room. This method uses the power of nature to regulate the indoor environment. The system is sustainable as it can be reused, according to Nagayama.

EXPO 2020 Dubai will continue through March 31, 2022, with events scheduled around the ongoing COVID pandemic. Visit for ticket and travel information, and current COVID protocol.


Yuko Nagayama Expo 2020 Dubai Japan Pavilion designer

Born in 1975 in Tokyo, Yuko graduated from Showa Women’s University in 1998 with a degree in life and environmental sciences. From 1998 to 2002, she worked at the architecture studio of Jun Aoki. In 2002, she established her own studio, YUKO NAGAYAMA & ASSOCIATES. Her major work includes the Kyoto Daimaru Louis Vuitton store, A Hill on a House, ANTEPRIMA, Kayaba Coffee, Sisii, Kiya Ryokan, Teshima Yokoo House, the fifth floor of Shibuya Seibu AB, and Goddess of the Forest Central Garden (a hall complex in Kobuchisawa, Yamanashi). Her many accolades include the L’Oreal Encouragement Prize; JCD Design Award Encouragement Prize in 2005; AR Emerging Architecture Awards 2006 in the UK for A Hill on a House; Architectural Record Award, Design Vanguard in 2012; JIA Best Newcomer in 2014 for the Teshima Yokoo House; Yamanashi Architecture Culture Prize; JCD Design Award Silver Prize in 2017; and Tokyo Architecture Prize Excellence Award in 2018 for Goddess of the Forest Central Garden. She is currently designing a new skyscraper for the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku, planned for completion in 2022 and TOKYO TORCH in Tokiwabashi.

Looking for a companion story? Read my initial article published in 2020.

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Highliners Pushing the Line

Highliners Pushing the Line

Discovery+ Top Highliners Set Lines and Break Records

Slacklining crew hangs out in the snow
The highlining crew hangs out in the snow. Pushing the Line is streaming now on discovery+.

We all walk a tightrope from time to time, figuratively speaking. So why would anyone intentionally try to navigate a ridged piece of rope that sways and moves? As the interest in extreme sports grows, highliners are pushing the line attempting to cross between two mountain peaks hundreds of feet above the ground. The rope they use is one-inch and thinner than your belt.

Record-Breaking Solo Slackliner

Spencer Seabrooke, a world-class highliner, is among the top slackliners you can follow in an all-new series, “PUSHING THE LINE” that premiered on discovery+ on Sat., June 5, 2021. These adventurous athletes not only live together but also push each other to set lines and break records. Seabrooke holds the world record for the longest free solo slackline.

Spencer Seabrooke highliner world-record holder laughs while enjoying the outdoors.
Remaining calm and focused allows highliners like Spencer Seabrooke to reach new heights and break records.

Highlining Origins

Slacklining is not a new sport. Climbers in Yosemite Valley worked on their balance and stretching with the webbing on their days off as far back as the 1970s. How did Seabrooke learn about the sport? He found highlining intriguing while watching his fellow castmate, Andy Lewis.

He explained,

“I saw a film about his adventures in highlining and that really inspired me to try out the sport,” Seabrooke said.

Who’s most likely to try highlining?

Anybody can highline, Seabrooke said,

“As long as you have the mindset and willingness to try. Slacklining is calm. You really have to be in control of your adrenaline. And I think it attracts those who have a history of doing more dangerous things.” 

Preparing for a slacklining adventure
Spencer and Mia check out the view over the bridge.

Meet the Strength and Endurance Guidelines

What do you need to do to prepare for highlining? The answer is training, according to Seabrooke, and knowing what you can do on the ground before you attempt to walk high in the air. However, knot tying and rigging are the most important part of highlining.

How do you prepare your body and mind for highlining? Perhaps, you’re wondering if there are specific exercises or an established training regimen to get you ready.

“For me, I just like to be calm in my head. I put on some music. It’s visualizing what you’re about to do. That’s a crucial thing for me,” said Seabrooke.

Is Highlining Safe?

As long as you’re using the equipment properly, you maintain focus, and remain calm, Seabrooke said highlining is safe. Compared to other extreme sports like bungee jumping and skydiving that are physically demanding, controlled, and adrenaline-producing, he said highlining requires you to fight the adrenaline rush.

Safety First, Always

Even if one piece of equipment breaks, highliners always have another measure in place to save them from serious bodily injury or death, Seabrooke commented.

“All of the gear that we use is redundant. The equipment that we’re using is all rated for much higher breaking strength than what we’d reach,” he said. “As long as all the equipment is used properly, it’s completely safe. We double and triple-check it on the ground before putting it in the air where we know it’s safe.”

Thrill-seekers who want to try highlining should tune into Season 1 to learn more about the sport. Pushing the Line is streaming now on discovery+.

If you’re looking to join a group dedicated to highlining, Facebook has local community pages that are geared towards this extreme sport.

“One thing about the community is that they’re very inviting and happy to teach others. There isn’t a big market in teaching. Everyone is very happy to help out and share gear.”

Spencer Seabrooke

Love the outdoors? Get fly-fishing tips with my podcast guest, Tom Rosenbauer of Orvis.

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Inside Notre-Dame Cathedral

Inside Notre-Dame Cathedral

Puzzling Treasures

Track the Funding Progress to Restore Priceless Artifacts

Inside Notre-Dame Cathedral there are priceless art and artifacts.
Known as the most visited monument in Paris, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is currently undergoing a safety phase restoration. The target date for the completion of this phase is 2024 and the rebuilding itself will begin at the end of the year.

Are you wondering what’s happening “Inside Notre-Dame Cathedral” also known as Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris?

You’ll find up-to-date information about the restoration at and, where you can track the progress and try your hand at an interactive puzzle as the restoration of priceless artifacts and paintings continues. Michel Picaud, a native Parisian, amateur archaeologist, and President of Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris, is one of many worldwide supporters who is raising money to fund the restoration. He is also instrumental in keeping you informed of new developments.

“We have developed a puzzle of the most beautiful artifacts, statues, and paintings of the cathedral, which is accessible to our friends from all over the world,” Picaud said.

Michel Picaud via email

Picaud has always been attracted to Notre-Dame, one of France’s most beloved landmarks and as France recently opened its doors to vaccinated tourists, you can once again enjoy most attractions the City of Light offers. However, the cathedral is closed to visitors during the restoration.

With considerable enthusiasm, Picaud accepted a challenge by the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, to lead the United States fundraising efforts to restore the cathedral. Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds to accelerate the restoration of the iconic Gothic cathedral and its precious artifacts. Picaud joins more than 24,000 friends worldwide in more than 80 countries who support the project that began before the fire on April 15, 2019.

“The fundraising campaign started before the blaze and completely changed after the fire and relies on the fundraising events organized with potential donors in the main cities of the US.”

Michel Picaud

Fundraising is vital to continue the restoration and to ensure a financial basis for the maintenance afterward. He also noted In-person fundraising events were replaced by virtual events since the beginning of the pandemic.

This photo taken before the devastating fire on April 15, 2019, shows the ornate rose windows and other decorative features that make this cathedral one of the most visited monuments in the world.

What are a few of the obstacles the restoration and fundraising teams have faced as they diligently work to restore the cathedral? The fire and pandemic were major hurdles.

Michel noted,

“Lead decontamination after the melting of the covering of the roof and of the spire: 300 tons of lead melted caused it. Afterward, the covid pandemic caused a few weeks of interruption of the works in the spring of 2020,” he said. “Lastly, the removal of the burnt scaffolding of the spire was critical because of its role in the whole structure of the building.”

JB Lassus and E Viollet le Duc led the last restoration in the mid-1800s which was deemed critical and dire, but according to Picaud, the stone used in the 19th-century restoration was of a lesser quality than the stone used in the original construction in the middle ages.

“For instance, there was a quarry used in the Middle Ages on Montagne Sainte Genevieve on the left bank which was a very good quality stone but it was no longer in service in the 19th century. Hence, the use of quarries further away from Paris and of lower quality.”

Notre-Dame Pre fire interior rib vault (Photo Credit: Pascal Lemaitre)
Notre-Dame pre-fire interior rib vault (Photo Credit: Pascal Lemaitre)

With the target completion date set for 2024, Picaud said the restoration team is currently completing the safety phase of the cathedral, which encompasses the safety measures taken after the fire to avoid additional damage. The groundwork to prepare for the rebuilding itself will begin at the end of the year.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Picaud explained the project management team must respect the last known state of the building, which in this case, is a large-scale restoration Eugene Viollet le Duc led.

“This dictates what can be done to the structure using the full documented works of the XIXth century,” he said.

What is being done to avoid another catastrophe like the 2019 fire?

“Very strong security measures have been put in place to avoid another catastrophe. They cover fire security, access to the building, lead decontamination, etc.”

What is the estimated cost to renovate and restore Notre-Dame?

The estimated cost of the safety phase project is (€165 million) but the cost of the reconstruction until 2024 is currently assessed on the basis of the detailed project of the project managers, according to Picaud.

He said,

“The full restoration beyond 2024 and until the end of the decade will require another additional budget.”

Inside Notre-Dame Cathedral work continues to restore the one of the France's historic cathedrals.
As a World Heritage Site, project managers must respect the last known state of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which in this case is the large restoration undertaken in the middle of the XIXth century and completed under the lead of Eugene Viollet le Duc. Meanwhile, work continues inside to restore one of France’s historic cathedrals.

Beyond the safety phase, Michel explained the project also includes the restoration of priceless art, specifically one of the 11 mays he described as wonderful paintings of the sixteenth century that adorn the cathedral and one of the 11 tower’s grotesques statues. The price tag to restore those will cost on average $100,000 and $10,000, respectively. Additional examples of artifacts in need of restoration and funding can be found at

Many thanks to Michel Picaud for leading the United States fundraising team and sharing updates in Inside Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Are you fascinated with historic architecture and travel? This story takes you to Pennsylvania (USA) to a repurposed factory that’s now a posh hotel. Intrigued? Read more here.

Explore French culture! Check out specialty items on


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After Antarctica

After Antarctica

Tasha Van Zandt Dedicated Storyteller

Filmmaking an Expedition of Its Own

What motivated Tasha Van Zandt, director, cinematographer, photojournalist, and Emmy-nominated producer to direct the adventure thriller, “AFTER ANTARCTICA?”

Tasha Van Zandt
Tasha Van Zandt, “After Antarctica” director

“Growing up in Minnesota, Will Steger was a hometown hero, and I remember reading of his expeditions in National Geographic magazine and seeing photos of expeditions across both poles,” Tasha said (via an email interview).

Will’s work had a tremendous impact on her path and inspired Tasha to use her lens as a tool to bring awareness to our need to protect our natural world.

AFTER ANTARCTICA is a feature-length cinematic memoir and a wilderness thriller that documents Will’s 1989 trek across Antarctica and his solo Arctic expedition 30 years later at age 75. The documentary is interlaced with Will’s memories of the triumphs and obstacles he and his team faced as he recounts his journey across the frozen continent.

Over the years, she began working with National Geographic leading educational expeditions around the world and when Tasha eventually met Will after a talk he gave, they immediately connected. What was their common thread? A shared fascination with our polar regions.

Will Steger, explorer
Will Steger and his team of six explorers and scientists journeyed across Antarctica 1989-1990. Photo by Tasha Van Zandt

AFTER ANTARCTICA is a film for all who crave adventure and anyone who shares a concern for the environment and the preservation of our natural resources. You will, at times, find yourself perched at the edge of your seat as you witness the danger Will and his team of six explorers and scientists encountered as they journeyed across Antarctica. But the film is also a sobering glimpse at Antarctica’s rapidly changing climate and their mission as the first humans to cross Antarctica by dog-sled was to draw attention to climate issues and to convince world leaders to renew the Antarctic Treaty. The treaty protects the frozen continent from industrial profiteers for the next 50 years.

I am pleased to present excerpts from our interview and I encourage you to keep this documentary on your radar. Tasha is no stranger to world travel and her career has taken her around the globe and across all seven contents as she personifies the true meaning of documentarian and itinerant explorer.

The team of explorers and scientists who crossed Antarctica
The explorer team at the completion of their trek across Antarctica. Photo by Per Breiehagen


What do you believe was your greatest challenge while working on AFTER ANTARCTICA?

The greatest challenge was that as a small film crew of only two people throughout the production portion of the filming process we had to each take on many roles to be able to capture Will’s journeys. When filming in very remote locations there is so much pre-production work that must be done in order to ensure you are prepared, much like with any expedition. There were also the logistical challenges of reaching such remote locations, as the only way to reach parts of the Arctic is via bush plane, and one of the only methods of reaching Antarctica is by ship over the Drake Passage from South America so there was a great deal of planning and research that went into the filming of the film.

“I felt my path had been bringing me to be able to share Will’s story. Along with my fellow producer Sebastian Zeck, we then began working on the project that would eventually become ‘AFTER ANTARCTICA.”

Tasha Van Zandt

To what extent were you involved in the on-location filming?

The majority of the film was documented as just a two-person team with myself as the director, producer, and cinematographer, and Sebastian Zeck as producer and director of photography. Together alongside Will Steger, we traveled to Will Steger’s off-the-grid homestead numerous times to film, as well as  traveling to both the Arctic and to Antarctica. To be such a close-knit team really made for a special experience together with Will.

As a film director, what is your primary focus?

I’m dedicated and passionate about telling stories of the power of collective action and perseverance throughout my work. I strongly believe that the more personal the story, the more personally people can connect to the message at hand, and I’m driven to telling stories that can inspire people to push beyond boundaries and come together to effect change.

What do you believe are three common traits shared by all film directors and cinematographers?

For myself, I think that perseverance, determination, and curiosity for the world around us are all incredibly important traits to be able to endure through the journey of filmmaking and tell impactful stories. In so many ways, the journey of filmmaking is an expedition of its own, and it’s so important to keep your eyes on the North Star of the importance of the story you are telling to help guide you along the way.

Antarctica Treaty
Tasha filmed the documentary at Will’s off-the-grid homestead and on both poles.
Will Steger – Photo by Tasha Van Zandt

What criteria do you use when you are determining if a film project is a good fit?

Filmmaking in so many ways can be such an expedition of its own, so for me, it’s so important to tell stories that I believe can inspire action and change around the audience and drive me to explore the realm of storytelling in a new way. The most important first step for me is to feel personally inspired and moved by the project and if it feels like a story that can inspire me to evolve my own path as an individual in some way, and I felt that fully in meeting Will and wanting to be able to share his story.

Please define cross-media projects and give some examples of your work in that genre.

As a multidisciplinary artist, I work in many mediums, including still photography and cinematography, but across all of my work, I’m a storyteller at heart and use a variety of tools to bring these stories to life.

From a travel perspective, what are three of your favorite destinations and why do they rank high on your list?

My favorite place I have traveled to is traveling back to Antarctica with Will Steger as that had been a lifelong dream of mine to one day go to the continent that is one of the most pristine, beautiful, and otherworldly places I have ever seen. But as Will Steger says “a melted drop in Antarctica ripples throughout the rest of the world”, and to see such a wondrous place that holds such importance for our world had a strong impact on me. Also, I would say our travels with Will to the Arctic were so beautiful to be able to see the life and wonder that the landscape holds. Both parts of the world hold so much importance for the changes we are beginning to see on our planet and it’s powerful to see firsthand these places that are so quickly changing. Iceland is another place that holds a special place in my heart as it’s a place where the power of our natural world is on full display – but there are still so many places I still would love to be able to explore!

In addition to your role as director, I’ve read you also lead expeditions for National Geographic. What are a few of the expeditions and do they typically help you scout new projects?

Over the years I have worked with National Geographic leading student expeditions around the world as a filmmaking and photography instructor, in places such as Tanzania, Australia, Japan, and Iceland which has been such an incredible experience to be able to help share with others about the power of storytelling.

What’s next on your film agenda? What are you working on now?

We’re currently in the process of preparing to bring our impact campaign to life for AFTER ANTARCTICA and are excited to begin development on several new projects!

Looking for more stories about documentaries directed by women? Read the Peace Corps Documentary story.

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Mozart Calms with Heather Schmid

Mozart Calms with Heather Schmid

A Return to Classical Roots: Mozart Arias for Living

An Interview with Heather Schmid

This article is sponsored by Caravia Fresh Foods, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania U.S.A.
Caravia Fresh Foods

When the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, like many people, Heather Schmid lost her job. Her shows and live performances were canceled and she struggled to achieve a balance with reinventing her music career and making sure her kids were safe and educated. “Heather Schmid Mozart for Coping” illustrates how this Boston Massachusetts-based American musical artist and composer found comfort in her classical roots.

Mozart Calms with Heather Schmid

“We’ve all been through a lot in the past year. Handling a global pandemic requires resilience and coping mechanisms. One really helpful coping mechanism is music,” Schmid says. “Listening to Mozart passively in the background while going about your day does seem to help things run smoothly.”

Heather Schmid, International Opera Singer and Pop-Rock Star

Heather is an American GRAMMY member international recording artist, classically trained singer, musician, lyricist, television host, spokesperson, and philanthropist. She’s also the first-ever international artist to perform in many cities of China. Her pop-rock shows draw crowds upwards of 10,000 seats in arenas in China, India, UAE, Pakistan, and Europe. Her television show, “The Ambassador,” draws 200 million viewers worldwide on CCTV 9.

As she describes below in our interview, she returned to the Soundwave recording studio during the pandemic and found comfort and healing through Mozart’s operas while she recorded her latest album, “Heather Schmid Mozart Arias.” Heather graciously performed a Mozart Aria, “Una donna a quindici anni,” in an exclusive video she created for

Buy her latest album on using the link below. “Music for Healing” “Heather Schmid Mozart Arias.”

The Interview 

You have a varied repertoire from classical to pop music. Tell us how your music career evolved.

Beginning in middle school I started training in classical music because I lived close to Hartt School of Music. We had access to some very talented classical training teachers. Also, our high school music program was very strong; we competed in all of the local music competitions. It was such a solid foundation that I was prepared to sing in many genres. I graduated as a classically trained opera singer from Boston University but I have a personal interest in many other styles of music. After I graduated, I won the Miss Millennium International pageant and that began my pop dance music career which evolved to more international performances. As I traveled and performed more in Asia, I began to utilize my classical training. After five pop music albums, I am so glad to return to my classical roots.

Heather Schmid returned to her classical roots after five pop music albums. All submitted photos courtesy of Heather Schmid.

How does music help us handle daily stress and heal?

We’ve all been through a lot in the past year. Handling a global pandemic requires resilience and coping mechanisms. One really helpful coping mechanism is music. Listening to Mozart passively in the background while going about your day does seems to help things run smoothly. Just like what the recent study showed that driving while listening to classical music produced less driving accidents and road rage. Some people also listen to Mozart to help them fall asleep at night time.

What effect does music have on you and what does Mozart’s music have over other composers?  

The classical era, particularly the classical and baroque era of music has been found to have specific effects on the brain. It has an organizing effect to our neurological functions. The “Mozart Effect” was studied a lot in the early 2000s and countless albums were created because of this research. Mozart was a musical genius of his time. His music is composed in a way that our electrical impulses and brainwaves respond positively. That’s why many people listen to Mozart while studying because it helps our brain stay on track and stay focused. Likewise, when we are a feeling a little anxious listening to Mozart helps even out the electrical impulses in our brain.

Describe the feelings you had when you returned to the recording studio to produce “Heather Schmid Mozart Arias.” Were you away from your studio throughout COVID-19.

Like many people, I had a hard time at the beginning of the pandemic. I essentially lost my job as many people did. All of my performances and live shows were canceled. And dealing with homeschooling on the first few months of the pandemic like many other moms, I struggled with the balance in reinventing my career and making sure my kids were safe and educated. I did visit the Soundwave recording studio as a way of personal healing, and I continued to finish Mozart Arias while really enjoying the process; and I thought that if this is healing for me, it may be as well for other people going through the same things.

How did your classical fans react to your pop-dance debut and your albums “Close Your Eyes,” “The Goddess Within,” and “The Goddess Awaits?” How do you shift gears from classical to pop?

The fundamentals have to be there vocally, you need to have a really solid vocal technique in order to shift musical styles. If you have a strong technique, many styles are available to you. It’s just about singing healthy, remembering your breathing. A lot of my international fans are honestly less interested in classical music and that’s okay with me. I produced this album in hopes to bring some relaxation and healing in the best way I know how.

Your bio notes you are a Grammy member international recording artist, a classically trained singer, musician, lyricist, television host, spokesperson, and philanthropist. How do you allocate your time?

Well I have gotten really interested in habit tracking, keeping a schedule and a journal and I have a massive calendar in my office. I don’t know if I balance everything well but I do try to take advantage of the opportunities I have.  It is always extremely important for me that every show benefits a local charity. That helped me connect with my values and has always been a real priority for me.

Heather Schmid performs internationally
Heather’s Miss Millennium International Pageant win launched her pop dance music career.

With 294K Facebook followers, 2.9M YouTube views, 18.4k followers on Instagram, and 6k on Twitter, you obviously post content that appeals to your audiences. What is your opinion about the power of social media?

Social media is extremely powerful. It allows us to connect to the rest of the world in just one click. It is important for me to use my influence in social media to always inspire people and to always spread kindness and positivity to the world. Many of my fans are in Asia so it’s the best way to stay connected. In many ways social media brings us into each other’s living rooms and it’s the best way to stay close.

What is your favorite destination and where do you hope to go post-COVID?

I have really missed performing internationally. My husband’s family is from Pakistan and I feel really close to the country. So, I look forward to returning to see them and have delicious spicy food.

What is your focus for the near and distant future?

Next weekend I have my first live performance in one year. I am performing Una Donna for Easter Sunday. It looks like for the summer, many live performance places are opening back up and I am so happy to be offered opportunities to perform Mozart Arias throughout summer. I will also continue to do more research with Neuroscience Media Group about studying how music affects the brain.

Before we close our interview, I would love to know about your role as Miss Millennium.  

In high school and college, beauty pageants were a vehicle to share classical music; I had local titles, and the prize money helped pay for college. On the same weekend of my graduation at Boston University, my best friend and I went to compete at the Miss Millennium International pageant in Las Vegas. I was lucky enough to win a new car, a Kia Sportage, and a Wednesday Nights show opening for theaters in Las Vegas. I am grateful for the beauty pageant opportunities even if my feelings about the events themselves have evolved.

Relax as you watch Heather Schmid perform Una donna a quindici anni from Cosi fan tutte, one of Mozart’s 22 operas. Leave a note for Heather in the YouTube comments section.

An exclusive performance video by Heather Schmid

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Learn more about Heather Schmid at

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A Judy Collins Interview

Looking Back, Moving Forward

A Poetic Musical Response to World Events

A Judy Collins Interview recaps the Feb. 12, 2021, Town Hall Concert and highlights some of the challenges and achievements this singer-songwriter has faced throughout her career.

To what degree do current world events influence Judy Collins’ music?

“The way the world is turning and politics are moving; what happens in another part of the world particularly in humanitarian terms, is often inspiring of some kind of musical response,” Collins said in an email interview. “Often it is just looking back to some of the songs sung or written and recorded in past decades.”

Judy Collins, Award-Winning Singer-Songwriter (via email)

A violent act, a violation of human rights, in our country (the United States) or another, are some of those moments that have inspired Collins’ music. She explained,

In 2016 I saw a young woman explaining how worried her mother was because her daughter, the speaker, was a dreamer and it’s possible that she was going to get sent back to her home country from the United States,” Collins said. “Her mother was terrified of losing her. The awareness of the problem turned into a song called “Dreamers.”

Judy Collins (via email)

After 55 albums and a music career that began at age 13, Collins is an entertainment icon, a prodigy, and a social activist with critically acclaimed albums, a grammy award, top-ten hits, gold, and platinum albums, and a vigorous touring schedule. Rufus Wainwright, Shawn Colvin, Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, and Leonard Cohen recently honored her legacy with the album  “Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins.”

Are you a Judy Collins’ fan? Add these selections to your music library.


Known for her traditional and contemporary poetic folk-style, Collins recreated her legendary 1964 New York City concert hall debut at a special streaming concert on Feb. 12, 2021, at The Town Hall, a celebrated New York City cultural venue for more than 90 years. The concert was recorded live on stage in January 2021 and fans who watched the February concert had an opportunity to reconnect with Collins, albeit virtually, as she performed and candidly reminisced about her life and career.

Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” “Send in the Clowns,” (a 1975 “Song of the Year” ballad written by Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway musical, “A Little Night Music,”), and Mr. Tambourine Man, (written by Bob Dylan and released as the first track of his March 1965 album, “Bringing It All Back Home”) are among the songs Collins performed. The event brought fans from around the world together with a constant virtual clamor of chat messages praising and thanking Collins for her outstanding performance.

An encore performance is scheduled at The Town Hall on April 16, 2021, at 8 p.m. and tickets are available through the link at the end of our interview.

In my exclusive interview with Collins, you’ll learn more about her life and the personal tragedies and triumphs that have shaped her career and inspired her music.

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How do current world events compare to the tumultuous 1960s? My question is based on your quote. “It feels right to go back to the material and time period now with the knowledge and life lessons learned in 2020.”

We are deluded if we think history does not repeat itself or as Doris Kearns Goodwin says; history may not repeat itself but it does rhyme. These major issues – humanitarian and otherwise are like homing pigeons. They come home to roost every few decades and have to be dealt with in some of the same ways that were necessary in the first place.  We have to be alert to certain segments of the population falling asleep. Politics and music are ways in which we express our outrage and find actions to take that are appropriate. Music I think is the softer, and perhaps the more powerful – a way we can avoid getting ourselves blown up in the process. Music helps us to overcome our outrage and provide a path towards change – think “we shall overcome” and hear people singing rather than fighting.

How has your music enabled you to get through life’s most difficult moments?

Music has always help me survive. From my early childhood when I was in a chaotic household. I found peace and comfort and solitude playing the piano, humming along, learning songs. When my son took his life, I found comfort in writing and both poetry and music. Singing in a concert set up always gives me inspiration and comfort because I’m working with my own thoughts and dreams as I sing, while my audiences are also thinking and dreaming in their own minds and hearts. The power of singing in the presence of other humans can never be underestimated.

What thoughts came to your mind as you exited the stage at the end of the Judy Collins Town Hall Concert on Feb. 12?

I was thrilled to be on stage in this beautiful Town Hall in which I have performed a number of times for nearly 60 years. It was remarkable to go back to some of the material from that first solo concert that I performed in New York City on a big theater stage in 1964. In 1962, I opened for Theodore Bikel at Carnegie Hall, but Town Hall was my true New York Debut. I was touched by the response of people who watched the show, but I was also very moved by the playing in the show of my wonderful band. They were my audience, so to speak, and they were wonderfully responsive. Russell Walden and I have worked together for 30 years, and the same is true for Zev Katz who played stand-up bass at this concert. He usually plays electric, so it was a wonderful change; new to my concert stage was Thad DeBrock and Doug Yowell.


“Judy Collins: A Return to Her Legendary 1964 Concert” will be released on vinyl later this year.

Buy your tickets for the Encore Presentation at

Many thanks to Judy Collins for her heartfelt interview, Katherine DePaul at ARTISTVISION, for arranging the interview, and Keith Sherman of Keith Sherman & Associates for inviting me to screen The Town Hall Concert.

Biography (Courtesy of Shore Fire Media)

A Judy Collins Interview recaps her February Town Hall concert and highlights some of her triumphs and challenges that have shaped her music.

Judy Collins has inspired audiences with sublime vocals, boldly vulnerable songwriting, personal life triumphs, and a firm commitment to social activism. In the 1960s, she evoked both the idealism and steely determination of a generation united against social and environmental injustices. Five decades later, her luminescent presence shines brightly as new generations bask in the glow of her iconic 55-album body of work, and heed inspiration from her spiritual discipline to thrive in the music industry for half a century.

The award-winning singer-songwriter is esteemed for her imaginative interpretations of traditional and contemporary folk standards and her own poetically poignant original compositions. Her stunning rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” from her landmark 1967 album, Wildflowers, has been entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Judy’s dreamy and sweetly intimate version of “Send in the Clowns,” a ballad written by Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway musical A Little Night Music, won “Song of the Year” at the 1975 Grammy Awards. She’s garnered several top-ten hits gold- and platinum-selling albums. Recently, contemporary and classic artists such as Rufus Wainwright, Shawn Colvin, Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, and Leonard Cohen honored her legacy with the album Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins.

Judy began her impressive music career at 13 as a piano prodigy dazzling audiences performing Mozart’s “Concerto for Two Pianos,” but the hard luck tales and rugged sensitivity of folk revival music by artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger seduced her away from a life as a concert pianist. Her path pointed to a lifelong love affair with the guitar and pursuit of emotional truth in lyrics. The focus and regimented practice of classical music, however, would be a source of strength to her inner core as she navigated the highs and lows of the music business.

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Diets while traveling Lifestyle top

Desert-Inspired Yoga Practice

Healthy Ways to Release Stress and Find Peace

Noa Raman, a certified Yoga instructor, and StandWithUs.TV producer teaches participants breathing and postures

Dead Sea Desert-Inspired Yoga Practice
As a central location for health research, the Dead Sea offers several health benefits due to the water’s mineral and low allergen content. Researchers have found the mud is high in calcium and potassium, two minerals your skin needs to stay young and healthy. Photo by Itamar Grinberg for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.

As the world recovers from pandemic fatigue, it is more important than ever to find a healthy way to release stress and find peace. Noa Raman, a certified yoga practitioner, and StandWithUs.TV producer led a desert-inspired yoga practice and meditation on Feb. 16, 2021, from her Tel Aviv studio. The session opened with a brief meditation that set the tone for the relaxing yoga postures that followed.

“During the pandemic, I have learned that sharing my yoga and meditation practice gives me and the students I work with a moment of stillness that is always there if we give ourselves the time and space to return to their breaths.”

Noa Raman

Yogis of all levels celebrated tranquility in the comfort of their homes as the wellness and beauty series came to a close. Israel Ministry of Tourism, AHAVA, Tamar Regional Council, and Israel Land of Creation presented the Zoom event as part of their third and final “Exploring Wellness in the Israeli Desert and Dead Sea” webinar. Representatives of Six Senses Shaharut, a new wellness resort scheduled to open in September 2021, and AHAVA, Dead Sea Mineral Skin Care Products, kicked off the webinar with an emphasis on the beauty of the desert and the Dead Sea.

Masada (“fortress” in Hebrew) is a mountain complex in Israel in the Judean desert that overlooks the Dead Sea.
Masada, a fortress on the mountain in the Judean desert, is a UNESCO world heritage site that overlooks the Dead Sea. Photo was taken by Itamar Grinberg for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.

Before moving to Israel in June 2018, Noa was a member of the StandWithUs’ campus team for three years as a mentor to college students in the Northwestern United States as an advocate for Israel and to combat Anti-Semitism. After making Aliyah, (immigrating to Israel by herself), she joined the StandWithUs Israel team as the Director of International Delegations and Birthright Israel Collaboration Enhancement Program (BICEP). She is the Producer of StandWithUs.TV, an educational platform that offers in-depth Israeli programming that viewers can access from the comfort of home or office.

The little things and moments matter so much. They take up more space than the big things. They create endless choices and possibilities.

Noa Raman
A girl enjoys the Dead Sea mud.
Spa and health treatments are available throughout the Dead Sea area. Photo taken by Itamar Grinberg for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.

Are you looking for a Yoga event to enhance your current practice, look into Yoga ARAVA, an annual event held in the Arava BeershebaIsrael settlements. The event offers in-depth yoga workshops amidst a breathtaking desert landscape with an emphasis on quality meditation and yoga practice. This year’s festival is scheduled for Thurs., Nov. 4, 2021, to Sat., Nov. 6, 2021.

Learn more about Yoga Arava events at

Read a yoga companion story here on

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Celebrity Interviews top

Wendy Stuart Kaplan Whisperers and Witnesses

Wendy Kaplan Whisperers and Witnesses

Film Raises Awareness. Her Sense of Adventure Motivates.

Kaplan’s Ongoing Pursuit to Preserve Africa’s Primate Population

Wendy Stuart Kaplan Whisperers and Witnesses
Whisperers and Witnesses, a film by Wendy Stuart Kaplan and Alan Kaplan, documents the rescue and preservation of primates in Cameroon. All photos by Alan Kaplan.

“Wendy Stuart Kaplan Whisperers and Witnesses” transports you into the world of this film director and producer who travels to Cameroon primate rescues to document the humanitarian efforts underway to protect and relocate chimpanzees and gorillas out of harm’s way. 

To understand what led Wendy to follow her dreams to Africa, you must first know that as an adventure-seeking five-year-old, she told her mother she was going to be a model and she planned to visit Africa many times when she grew up. Her mother would smile and nod her head. Wendy knew her mother wondered where a kid growing up in the Bronx came up with these ideas. 

“The sense of adventure was already there when we took a family trip to Europe for six weeks when I was four, and my dad drove the rented Peugeot and we drove all over France and Italy. I remember that feeling of excitement that I’ve carried with me my entire life.”

Wendy Stuart Kaplan

Cameroon soldiers safely escort the Whisperers and Witnesses film crew throughout Cameroon.
Cameroon soldiers safely escort the Whisperers and Witnesses film crew throughout Cameroon.

Today, Wendy is a humanitarian, film director, actress, comedian, on-camera host, and model. Follow along with our Q & A interview as she describes her efforts to save chimpanzees and gorillas from poachers.


In addition to your role as a film director, you are also an actress, comedian, on-camera host, and model. What sparked your sense of adventure?

Excitement about visiting new places, and meeting new people. At 20 when I went to study abroad I lived in a village called Ife in Nigeria I just loved every minute I spent there. And oddly I felt I was home…My curiosity and love of adventure have always been with me and nurtured by the fact that I am fearless about travel, people, and new experiences. I just love it.

In my previous interviews with filmmakers, there is almost always a reason why they chose a particular subject for their films. Why are primates so important to you and the world?

Let me start out by saying I am a humanitarian who advocates for what I believe in. So “Whisperers and Witnesses” happened to be about gorillas and chimpanzees but it could have easily have been about the poaching of elephants, rhino, or pangolin.

“My film is my voice to share my beliefs.”

I believe in film as a great communication (tool) to raise awareness in the world. This film was on primates because I had met two amazing women speaking at the Explorers Club in NYC. Rachel Hogan who is British started Ape Action Africa (over 300 primates including gorillas)  in Cameroon. Dr. Sherri Speed from Oregon started Sanaga Yong Chimpanzee Rescue (around 64 chimpanzees only) in Cameroon. The Rescue Centers are 10 hours apart. These women have dedicated their lives to making sure that gorillas and chimpanzees which share 98 percent of our DNA, have a future.

Africa's Gorillas are in danger
One of the gorillas at the Ape Action Center in Cameroon saved from the wrath of poachers.

Right now, the adult chimps and gorillas are killed for bushmeat, or medicine to be used in other parts of the world.  The poaching must be stopped and the people of Cameroon are now very involved in working with these rescue centers to ensure the future of these primates. As stated by a local gentleman who works at the rescue center Sanaga Yong “I want my grandchildren to be able to come and see these gorillas and chimpanzees.”  

Everyone knows the story of Sudan who was the last male of his white rhino species. We cannot let it become that way for gorillas and chimpanzees. I also emphasized in the film that these babies can never be released into the wild again as the forests are not protected for them. So to break this cycle of release and being killed by a hunter the rescue center has the babies raised by human volunteers for about a year and then paired with a chosen family group in a four-acre enclosure to duplicate what they might have in the wild. Food is supplemented by the local villagers who sell the food to the rescue center. The local people make money, their children go to school, and are educated that the primates are not to be hunted but be allowed to live. The rescue centers also hire the locals to work there. It is a win-win situation for all involved and guarantees a future for primates.

How did you find such an extraordinary setting for your film?

A young Hamar girl in traditional dress in Ethiopia in the Southern Omo Valley while on location for her other film “Fragile Beauty.
Wendy met a young Hamar girl in traditional dress in Ethiopia’s Southern Omo Valley while on location for her other film, “Fragile Beauty.”

As a member of The Explorers Club,  I was invited to an art opening in their NYC headquarters,  of paintings of primates done by primate painter Robin Huffman ( an extraordinarily talented painter whose work looks like photographs in its capture of emotion.  She had volunteered at these primate rescue centers and devotes her life to sharing the stories of these primates through her artwork. She told me there were two extraordinary speakers coming to The Explorers Club that I had to hear speak.  When I attended those lectures and heard about the work that Rachel Hogan (Ape Action Africa) and Dr. Sherri Speed (Sanaga Yong Chimpanzee Rescue)  were doing, I knew I wanted to make a film about them.

After the lecture with Dr. Sherri Speed, they auctioned off a trip to stay in Cameroon for a week. I was the only person who bid LOL. When I got back to my apt I used my frequent flyer miles to get round trip tickets to Cameroon for myself and my husband, who is the videographer on our films. I then let both women know I was coming over Christmas and I was going to make a film about them. I think they were surprised as I had dates and plane tickets already without asking if the times worked for them. They worked together to get me some kind of itinerary, as I was staying at two different locations, 10 hours apart. They supplied the soldier escorts that we needed as well as the gov letter to get the Visas.  They did mention there was no tourist infrastructure where I was going. I really had no idea what that meant but I didn’t care. I wanted to make this film about their extraordinary efforts.

How do you view your role as a documentarian? What are your three primary goals for your films?

As a documentarian, our films are shot from an empathetic point of view. Designed to advocate. educate. and entertain. I believe you need all of those components. The empathy is leaving out my judgments and opinions, and to share the emotion of both the primates and the people through the lens of what my husband Alan Kaplan shoots and what I bring out in an interview. We want the truth. From both the people as they share their feelings and what the primates looked like as they related to each other. The similarities between how the primates relate to each other in their family structures and how we as humans do are staggering. We want to make whoever is watching our film really care! And in the case of the two rescue centers in the film, they are non for profits. We hope that by raising awareness through what we advocate, through sharing what we learned from both the people and the primates to educate, and through my sense of humor in my interview style and how awkward my situations are and how awkwardly I respond, we are entertaining our audience. So that our films affect you. And ultimately you will donate to one of these rescue centers.

two Ethiopian women from the Mursi Tribe tribe.
Wendy greets two Ethiopian women from the Mursi Tribe, a Surmic ethnic community in Ethiopia.

Who are your allies and opponents in your quest related to primate preservation?

My allies are like-minded people, educated in the understanding that if we don’t start saving animals now, there will not be any for future generations. As it is climate change, like Arctic warming and Australian wildfires, will decimate animals in the thousands, so that challenge already exists without humans poaching them. No matter what political party a person belongs to anywhere in the world, science should not and cannot be ignored. We must always pay attention to that. Rolling back environmental protections and wildlife protections should never be allowed.

Whisperers and Witnesses won the
Whisperers and Witnesses won the “Best Documentary” award at the Chelsea Film Festival.

Within this argument one has to address in the developing world, that to tell someone not to shoot an animal to feed his family, or to get monetary compensation for selling an animal part, is not going to solve the poaching problem. However, through creating jobs for people, and educating their children you will at least provided a solution. You have to have a solution. Which will have to involve the support of governments on a massive level to support their local people to save the wildlife.

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How does the decline of primate populations and other animal species affect humans?

The decline of primate populations and other animal species affects humans in that the balance of life will ultimately be upset.  For example, species are not reproducing as fast as they used to, causing a decline in births, and if you look at penguin populations with a die out of the fish they eat, as the oceans get warmer, there will be fewer of them. And their predators will have less to eat. It is a cycle. It also allows as we have seen, other bacteria to emerge. As the permafrost melts different bacteria are released. Look at the Coronavirus. How could something like this have happened? Worldwide? We still don’t have answers. If bats or pangolins carry that virus, they’ve been carrying it. Why now? And why the entire world?

Wendy Kaplan Filmmaker on location in Africa
Members of the Maasai Tribe, a semi-nomadic indigenous ethnic group that inhabits northern, central, and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, welcomed Wendy while the crew was in Kenya.

What is your personal story that led you to Africa to take on a topic that’s an ongoing battle to rescue and preserve the primate population? Where do you see yourself among preservationists and activists who’ve come before you?

Where I see myself among activists and preservationists is this: I am not doing enough. More would be getting the word out on a larger scale and being able to speak in it on a larger scale, and effectively reach for-profit corporations and individuals to support the smaller not-for-profits. I believe I was told it takes around 250,000 a year to run a place like Ape Action Africa. Even if it’s 300,000.  That is a drop in the bucket for corporations and wealthy individuals.  So I am doing my own little part. I do believe as a filmmaker and interviewer I could have a much greater reach. If you watch shows on Discovery their hosts share information on such a wide scale that through their shows they can reach thousands. I would hope to eventually do that. 

Please tell my readers about your crew and other films you’ve directed and produced.

If I were to tell your readers about my crew of myself, my husband, and one local person, and our minuscule budgets, they would probably wonder how we do it. Pure perseverance. I have a travel person from World Class Travel, named Bob Todd that has literally gotten me “In Country” in most parts of the world. With local guides that often work with scientists, anthropologists, and photographers. He knows the questions to ask and understands how we shout. So our first longer short was called “Fragile Beauty” shot on location in Ethiopia about the Hamar people, the Karo people, and the Mursi. My original intent was to go to the Southern Omo Valley to show how their way of life in terms of dress, living, and belief has not changed much over decades. I wanted to explore their adornment including the beauty of scarification. I wanted to experience their rituals and the meaning behind them. And yes that was all there but what I wasn’t ready for was a child dying of malaria. To make a long story short we ended up getting her to a local clinic and I paid $10. That’s right – $10 for malaria medicine because her father only had a cow to pay with. It was beyond comprehension that children are dying over $10 worth of medicine. And then we learn how these people are being moved next to other tribal groups vastly different from them, taken off their ancestral lands, to make way for a huge dam, the Geba dam project that will eventually connect the Nile in Egypt with Ethiopia.  Funded of course with outside money from China and Italy and wherever else. So much for a film about tribal fashion! Prior to that, I did small eight to 10 to 15-minute pieces with a production company, News at 11, and my show was called “Model With A Mission.” You can find those episodes on YouTube.


What do you believe is your greatest accomplishment?

My greatest accomplishment is that I had to totally reinvent myself during the pandemic. NYC shut down on March 12 and March 13 and I created a show that has led me to not only being a guest on shows all over the country virtually but ultimately led me to create two video podcasts of my own. Prior to that time, I looked at whatever I accomplished as “okay I did that but what’s next?” I often felt I was always at the start of things and then I would get to the finish line and I would have to start over. On March 12, my life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. I have been a model, performer, stand-up comedian, and host, for decades and recently an author; She’s The Last Model Standing (Amazon)  and filmmaker.  I have only ever earned income doing those jobs, there never was a survival job and suddenly I was left with nothing.  Totally unacceptable. On March 13, I launched “Pandemic Cooking With Wendy” and let me mention I never cooked a day in my life except for coffee and hard-boiled eggs. So 99 Episodes later on WendyStuartTV on YouTube, I create characters, wear wigs, cook up a storm, and share my Wendy-isms with the world literally! And I definitely keep you laughing! During the height of the pandemic in NYC comments from people who were sick that I made laugh meant everything to me.  So that show is running and in July I started a show with my executive director of an LGBTQ organization where I am one of the founding members and board member called “Triversity Talk” where we have guests and explore topics from the LGBTQ community. And then this January, I launched “If These Walls Could Talk” a pure entertainment show shot on location at Pangea Restaurant on the lower east side of Manhattan.  That restaurant was known for all the actors,  cabaret performers, singers, artists, and performance artists hence the name for the show.  I host it with cabaret artist and actor, Tym Moss. We have had many legendary musicians, recording artists, and nightlife people. As I write this I realize as I said earlier I “advocate, educate, and entertain” and that’s exactly what I’m doing now!!!!!

Wendy Kaplan on location during COVID-19
“We wore face masks to protect the chimpanzees from our germs,” Wendy said.

What’s next for Wendy Stuart Kaplan? What are you working on now?

There are so many “nexts” for me.  We are finishing up our documentary “Working Dogs: A Love Story” a film about service and therapy dogs that we thought was finished and then the pandemic hit and we realized that so many people were getting pandemic puppies and rescuing dogs from shelters. And these are “therapy” dogs. They offer love, companionship, and joy, in a time when we basically had the rug pulled out from underneath us. With so many working from home, which is a change that I think will be here now, what could be better than the unconditional love given by a furry companion? We wanted to highlight that in the film as I said earlier. We approach our films with an empathetic point of view. I would also like to pursue larger platforms, for my shows on social media, Pandemic Cooking With Wendy, If These Walls Could Talk, and Triversity Talk.  Each of these shows is capable of attracting a much bigger audience which syndication would bring. I’m also interested in attracting sponsors. All three shows address different audiences although there is some overlap in terms of audience. I do intend to continue looking for stories in remote parts of the world for our filmmaking as soon as we can all travel again.  I will continue to model as that has already come back somewhat, with many restrictions, but as we get control of this virus through vaccinations, the hope is everything will be somewhat less restrictive. We just have to see. But in my case, I refuse to let this pandemic stop my creative energy. As this year proved I just had to channel it in a different way. I will continue to guest and co-host on live streams and podcasts as well as virtual speaking engagements and will put my contact info in this interview. And I can’t talk about “next” without mentioning how much I loved giving tours at The Explorers Club in our NYC headquarters. I cannot wait to do that again when we open up. I love sharing the stories of exploration behind the many paintings and artifacts we have at the club as well as the range of fascinating people that I met there, from astronauts to climate change experts, to indigenous people coming to speak at the United Nations. The club is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been and certainly a catalyst for our films.

From a travel standpoint, safaris were a huge draw for tourists in our pre-COVID world. When it’s safe to travel again, under what circumstances do you advocate tours to natural animal habitats? How can we safely observe animals in their natural surroundings without encroaching on their homelands?

Once we are safe to travel there are many reputable tour companies that provide safaris to view animals in their natural habitats. Your tourist dollars not only help the wildlife they help the people as well and here’s how.  On either a walking safari or a river safari you are observing which means you are not interacting but leaving a very small imprint of viewing wildlife this way. You are distanced, for the safety of the people and the animals. No one wants to be charged by a bull elephant who feels his territory has been threatened. Reputable tour companies, often under the umbrella of ecotourism make sure your tourist dollars go to not only helping the wonderful trained guides but to helping the local people that make crafts or in places like Kenya run the lodges. Kenya has done a particularly good job here, as the camp I was at in Kenya was run by local Masai. They were our guides, our cooks, and we bought crafts in their villages. Some of the companies even support local co-ops that are woman run and they are in charge of creating beautiful crafts and splitting the profits. I believe for the wildlife to survive the people need to survive as well.

If someone with an affinity for animals were to ask you where to go and what to see in Africa, what would you recommend?

Where to go and what to see in Africa if you have an affinity for animals I would first recommend a basic jeep safari to see the big five which are elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhino.  There is nothing more exciting than viewing animals living their lives in a natural setting. And beyond the big five, you will also many other animals and birds. Seeing a hippo in a river is just spectacular. So are a pride of lions with their cubs. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen hyenas with their babies looking out of a hole.  I opened my tent one morning only to see two giraffes ready to stretch their long necks inside for a look.  And about 1/8 of a mile away watching us were about 20 baboons. Definitely casing the joint.  Just waiting for us to leave the tent and hoping we would forget to zip it up. The local Masai that were there to help always had an eye out for our safety 24 seven. Believe me, if that baboon troop had gotten in the tent, cameras, makeup, and clothing would have been gone.  For the more adventurous a gorilla safari is amazing. I have not done that but trekking on foot with a guide to see gorillas has to be truly unforgettable. I so want to do that. Imagine seeing a family of gorillas in their own habitat as they were meant to be.

Humanitarian and Model - Wendy Kaplan


You can see Wendy and her work on YouTube at WendyStuartTV. Tune in to Pandemic Cooking With Wendy, If These Walls Could Talk, and Triversity Talk.

Where can my readers learn more about you and how can they do their part to preserve primates?

For anyone who wants to learn more about me, I have lots of places to send you!

Bio and Contact Information

If you think Wendy Stuart Kaplan has a lot of pots on the fire, she does!  She lives her life to generously advocate, educate, and entertain. Her memoir “She’s The Last Model Standing,” (Amazon) tells the story of how she arrived on the scene in the 1980s and became a permanent fixture at Studio 54 along with and other inspirational stories. She was recently voted one of the top 10 beautiful women by Hollywood Digest (as an advocate and influencer in wildlife conservation as well as LGBTQ issues).  Wendy is an actress, model, film director and producer, comedian, podcast host, interviewer, club MC, author,  and most recently the host and creator of “Pandemic Cooking With Wendy,” co-host on “Triversity Talk“ with Steven Teague and “If These Walls Could Talk” with Tym Moss.  Her award-winning documentary,  “Whisperers and Witnesses: Primate Rescue in Cameroon”  was inspired by being a proud member of The Explorers Club, where pre-pandemic she gave unique historical tours of the club, sharing the dramatic stories behind the explorers and unusual art and artifacts, that have passed through those walls. You can find out more about Wendy on her YouTube channel “WendyStuartTV” and her website

You can also donate to the primate rescues by clicking on these links.





Thanks to Wondershare Filmora, I’m able to create videos for my travel clients featuring  the fun I have on my travel assignments. Learning to format videos gave birth to my Joan Matsui Travel Writer YouTube channel. 

Contact me for more information about how you can highlight your business. 

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