2021 Year in Review

2021 has been a difficult year to navigate for so many people, businesses, and organisations. It’s been a year of hope, loss, triumphs, innovations, and anxiety over all that is happening to our natural world and all that is happening to people – those far away and those near.
As a team, we’ve overcome many challenges this year and celebrated big and small victories. We are grateful to end another year feeling passionate, motivated and ready to continue creating content that has purpose and that in some way helps drive positive change.
There have been times this year where we have questioned ourselves and doubted the impact we are making. Black Bean is reaching its 10th anniversary soon and some days it’s hard not to feel as though we have been documenting the same crises for the last few years without being able to share any progress – from the illegal wildlife trade, poaching crisis and climate change, to gender-based violence, poverty, human rights violations and inequality – it is difficult not to feel despondent over the state of our world.
What keeps us going though is that doing something, anything, is always better than doing nothing at all. We have to keep trying to create change even on the darkest and hardest days. Trying to help people, trying to help nature thrive, celebrating this beautiful world and the animals we share it with – is always worth it.
What we’ve learned is even when we think we’re going backwards, in some way – even if it’s small – we are always moving forward. Learning from our mistakes and raising the benchmark, trying to do what we do better all the time. We love filmmaking, but the most important thing for us is that our films make a difference – that they ignite some sort of change, educate someone, raise funds for an important cause or inspire people.
We want our work to help address the environmental, humanitarian, and conservation issues that the people and organisations we are filming are working so hard to tackle. We want to help leave an impact. We want to join hands with them – and know that our content is really making an impact.
Through all the ups and downs of this year – we still feel so grateful. We have been involved in some incredible projects and had the privilege to document amazing people and work being done. Amongst many others, we wanted to share some of these with you:

Garamba National Park

We hit the ground running this year with an assignment we had been planning for several months. In the first few weeks of the year, our Black Bean team headed to Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
While our team has travelled extensively throughout Africa, this is our first time in this particular part of West Africa, and we could not imagine a more incredible way to learn more about this country and its natural heritage than with the African Parks Network team.
Garamba is one of the oldest national parks in Africa and is one of the most diverse and ecologically significant ecosystems in the world. Garamba is often thought of as the ‘ground zero’ for the poaching crisis and in the late 90’s it was listed as an endangered World Heritage Site. However, in the last two decades, Garamba National Park has undergone an incredible transformation as a result of the tireless dedication and hard work of the African Parks team. This pristine wilderness area is now home to the last stronghold for the largest population of elephants and the last remaining Kordofan giraffe in the DRC.

Spill The Beans - Documenting the Illegal Wildlife Trade

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From rhino through to pangolin, the illegal wildlife trade has caused the irreversible loss of countless species. Visiting Garamba, a place where rhinos once roamed freely, and realising these animals have completely disappeared from this ecosystem is a stark reminder of just how critical conservation efforts are. Without the efforts of those on the ground, from the anti-poaching rangers, to the vets, to those raising funds needed to continue conservation work, our natural world would look very different than it does today.

Patron of the Wild – A Tribute to David Bonderman and the Wildcat Foundation

Our assignment in Garamba was part of a larger project – creating a tribute film for an incredible individual who has helped shape conservation across Africa – David Bonderman.

Patron of the Wild, A Tribute to David Bonderman and the Wildcat Foundation

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Over the last few decades our natural world has been severely threatened by the poaching crisis, habitat loss, and the illegal wildlife trade, among others – leaving our wild spaces diminished, our wildlife on the brink of extinction and communities suffering. For the individuals and organisations on the ground working tirelessly to address these issues, finding the necessary funding and resources they need can be extremely challenging.
David Bonderman founded the Wildcat Foundation in 2014, which helps support the work of conservation organisations throughout Africa, ensuring the protection of wild places and the wildlife and communities that live within them. The impact David Bonderman’s contribution has made and continues to make is immeasurable.
Creating this film and being able to share this story was hugely important for our Black Bean team. David Bonderman’s contribution to conservation has been largely unrecognised and what inspired us so much about his story is that he does not want the recognition or the distractions that go along with this – he is completely focused on continuing the work, on reaching more organisations, about making a positive impact.
We are so grateful to have been able to share a small part of David Bonderman and The Wildcat Foundation’s story to share more about the remarkable work being done by a few of the Wildcat Foundation’s grantees including Wildlife Conservation, African Parks Network, Care for Wild and C4ADS.

Freedom of Movement x Siya Kolisi – The Zwide Collection

As part of an ongoing collaboration with Freedom of Movement and Siya Kolisi, we also spent some time in Zwide in the Eastern Cape of South Africa earlier this year. In partnership with Siya Kolisi and the Kolisi Foundation, Freedom of Movement launched an incredible initiative to help inspire change and make a difference in the Zwide community.
Watch the film and learn more about how you can help support the important work they are doing to empower the youth of South Africa.

Freedom of Movement x Siya Kolisi – The Zwide Collection

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The Last Knysna Elephant with SANParks

Our team also spent some time in the Knysna Forest with SANParks as part of an ongoing project, documenting the last remaining elephant in this forest.
This was a difficult shoot in many ways – it was eye-opening and incredibly sad, but at the same time rejuvenating for us as a team. We can’t wait to share this story, one that is filled with mystery and small miracles, different to any story we’ve ever documented before. A story that gets under one’s skin. Not a day will go by when our team is not thinking of that one elephant cow alone in the forests and surrounding areas.
We need to learn from situations like this one. We need to learn together as a global community. The SANParks team are doing amazing work to research elephant conservation in this area and decide on the next steps – it’s complicated. Watch the film to learn more and follow the story over on our Instagram and Facebook.

The Last Knysna Elephant

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Rewilding the Karoo with Samara

Our team, including little Tom and Gracie, spent several days in the Karoo documenting the work Samara is doing in this region.
The Samara story started over 24 years ago when the Tompkins family purchased a piece of farmland that had been degraded over time as a result of extensive agriculture practices, with the goal of restoring this land. Two decades later, the Samara Private Game Reserve now consists of nearly 67 000 acres of land that has been restored, which has resulted in so many species returning to this now thriving ecosystem. Including the first cheetah, which had previously disappeared from this ecosystem over 130 years ago.
In the face of the climate crisis, the Samara team is now more committed than ever before to protecting and preserving this incredible ecosystem and doing their part to reduce carbon emissions. Samara is carrying out ground-breaking rewilding, regenerative agriculture and conservation project, which inspires us so much, gives us hope and just shows what can be done when individuals come together with a passion for our natural world.

The Juliet Crew

We have been working with the Juliet Crew – the first all-female firefighting unit in South Africa, since 2020 and it’s been an incredible privilege to document this crew in action.
In April of this year, a fire broke out on our iconic Table Mountain and shook Cape Town. The world watched in great sadness as historic buildings went up in flames and people and wildlife were displaced. The Juliet Crew were one of the fearless firefighting units that were on the frontlines of this fire and our team was able to film them as they fought around the clock to save our city.
We also had the opportunity to collaborate with Silverback Films and Jack Harries and film the Juliet Crew, who are featured in Episode 5 of the new series ‘A Seat At The Table’ – an 11-part series spotlighting individuals on the frontlines of climate change around the world.

The Rise Of Wildfires Around The World | Seat At The Table

We were so honoured to be able to document some of Sharne Maritz’s story, one of the female firefighters with the Juliet Crew, that is featured in this series. Sharne and the rest of the firefighters from the Juliet Crew are incredibly passionate about the work that they are doing. These firefighters are defying gender bias and leading the way for the next generation of female firefighters to do the same.
In the face of the climate crisis, firefighters like the Juliet Crew are more vital than ever before as wildfires become more frequent and intense. The Juliet Crew have dedicated their lives to protecting communities and nature, educating people on wildlife, and inspiring young girls and women to never allow their circumstances or gender stereotypes to stand in their way of achieving their dreams.
We will be sharing more about the Juliet Crew with you all soon!

Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park with Singita

Mid-way through the year, our team headed to two of our favourite places in South Africa, the Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park on assignment for Singita documenting 3 of their incredible properties.
We have worked alongside Singita for several years and our Directors James and Sam were previously part of the Singita team. They are an incredible organisation close to our hearts with a passion for Africa, and a dedication to conservation and people.
It’s always incredibly special for us to spend time in this part of the world, and it was wonderful to see the conservation work that’s underway and all the various people involved, and committed to protecting these areas and the wildlife that inhabits them.

Strategic Philanthropy with Investec Wealth & Investment

Over the last few months, we have had the privilege of working closely with the Investec Wealth & Investment team on an important project, which we’re excited to share more about soon.
We had the opportunity to document some of the work being done by Investec Wealth & Investment Strategic Philanthropy beneficiaries throughout South Africa. There are four key sectors to Investec Wealth & Investment Strategic Philanthropy, including Education, Healthcare, Social Justice and Humanitarian and Welfare.
In each of these sectors, remarkable work is being done to support people who need it most through the provision of basic resources, improved access to healthcare, counselling and psychosocial support, access to education and the resources and support needed to succeed at school, and legal support just to name a few.
Around the world, there are so many deeply rooted systemic inequalities that impact the daily lives of people in ways we often don’t even realise. Documenting these stories had a profound impact on our team. There is so much that we take for granted each day – from access to clean water to the security of having a warm place to sleep each night.
We will be sharing more about this assignment, and these sectors, and how we, as a community, need to work hard to create change soon.

The Justice Desk

Our team recently spent some time with The Justice Desk documenting their incredible “Mbokodo Club” project.
The Justice Desk is a Human Right’s Organisation that works to educate and empower everyday people to understand and defend their rights. They are doing remarkable work to address gender-based violence in South Africa.
The “Mbokodo Club” focuses on providing young girls from vulnerable communities, who are survivors of rape and GBV, leadership and empowerment workshops, mental health care and trauma counselling, as well as self-defence and fitness classes. These young girls have overcome so much, and it is incredible to see their strength, resilience and courage. The “Mbokodo Club” helps young girls become leaders and proves to them that their experiences do not define them – they are brave, talented, intelligent, and so valued.
Each of the girls we met, who shared their stories with us left us inspired. We’re going to be documenting their journey over the next few months and can’t wait to share their stories with you as part of our independent project, ‘The Matriarchs’

Hugo Apothecary and Simply Bee

As the year draws to a close, we’ve continued to work on a few exciting projects! We collaborated with Simply Bee and their newly launched sister brand, Hugo Apothecary to create some beautiful content for their product range.
Simply Bee is based in Hopefield of the Western Cape, a little town right around the corner from where our team is based. Helena and Pierre van der Westhuizen founded Simply Bee with the mission of raising awareness around the benefits of using natural beeswax products, but to also aid in bee conservation. They have a core focus on ethical and responsible beekeeping, and their products are all-natural and handmade.
Bees are hugely important for preserving ecosystems and maintaining our biodiversity. They are also vital for the pollination of food crops, which we could not survive without. Learning more about bee conservation and the importance of ethical and responsible beekeeping with Simply Bee, was a highlight for our team!
Hugo Apothecary was recently launched and is a luxurious, consciously crafted skincare brand. Similarly to their sister company Simply Bee, the ingredients used by Hugo Apothecary are all-natural, ethically sourced and vegan.
We strongly believe in supporting local brands that are working hard to create sustainable products that do not have a negative impact on our planet.

Hugo Apothecary - Consciously Crafted Skincare

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The Shannon Elizabeth Foundation

We’re ending our year off on an exciting note – documenting a meaningful story and collaborating with a team who shares our passion for conservation.
The Shannon Elizabeth Foundation has four key focus areas: Education & Awareness, Youth Empowerment, Law & Legislation, and Land & Community. They have a firm commitment to conservation and ensuring that the wildlife populations can thrive for years to come.
We’re documenting a ground-breaking project currently being carried out by the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation and their partners, which we’re so looking forward to sharing more about over the coming months.
We also have some exciting news to share about our first feature-length documentary, ‘The Edge of Existence’. The film has received tremendous feedback from the festival circuit, and we have won several prestigious awards. We’re also excited to share that the film is now available to stream on ShowMax. We’ll continue to share updates about where you can watch the film around the world.
All of these assignments are so unique but all so filled with purpose -we hope these films help create much-needed change in the world.
Whether it’s alleviating poverty, or mitigating climate change, or creating awareness around conservation – we all have to take a stand and act now. We cannot continue to allow people to suffer or allow our natural world to be further degraded. It’s all interlinked.
No matter how small our actions, from sharing content, donating, volunteering, and helping to raise awareness – we should never underestimate the impact individual actions can have.
Thank you to everyone who worked with us, supported us, allowed us into their space to document their life and work – and to everyone that’s followed our journey and encouraged us to keep going and shared our content this year. You make it possible for us to keep doing what we do. Thank you. We love what we do, but we also believe our work is making a difference in the world – so everyone that follows, encourages us, shares our work is making a difference too, and is part of our Black Bean family.
Wishing everyone a wonderful festive season. Happy Christmas and New Year.
Here’s to growing and reaching new heights in 2022. We have some big dreams, and we hope you’ll all help us make them come true. Together we really can do so much.
Team Bean
Photos by Alex Oelofse, Gary Van Wyk, James Suter and Sacha Specker and Devin Trull.
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