Wildscreen Festival Organizer Unveils New Leadership, 2020 Festival Dates (EXCLUSIVE)

Wildscreen, the British conservation organization known especially for its biennial film festival, has undergone a revamp, appointing new leadership and acquiring the industry group Natural History Network. The organization has also set the dates for its 20th anniversary festival, to take place in October 2020.

Laura Marshall, CEO of Icon Films, has been named the new chair of Wildscreen’s board, taking over from former BBC Worldwide director Peter Phippen. Current trustees Keith Scholey and Lynn Barlow will continue to serve, and will be joined by newcomers Julian Hector, head of the BBC Natural History Unit, and Jessica Sweidan, founder of Synchronicity Earth. Other new board members include digital entrepreneur Andrew Dow, accountant and trustee Nicholas Rogers, and lawyer Con Alexander.

The new board takes charge following what sources say has been a difficult period financially for Wildscreen, which is a nonprofit organization. Last December, amid rumors that the organization was in trouble, Phippen acknowledged to Variety that Wildscreen’s trustees were “reviewing the strategy of the charity as a whole” but said that it remained committed to putting on the 2020 film festival.

Marshall said the new board comprised “some of the industry’s most influential and experienced creatives.” She told Variety she felt “very privileged” to take over as chair and that she and the board were “deeply committed” to bringing “new focus and energy” to Wildscreen.

“It is an interesting time for natural history filmmaking,” Marshall said. “There has never been more interest in it, and it has arguably never been more important.”

Renowned naturalist David Attenborough is Wildscreen’s patron. “Never has communicating the threats facing our natural world and the bold solutions required to protect and restore it been so vital,” he said. “Wildscreen, with its convening power is uniquely placed to support and challenge those who can tell the stories the world needs to hear and see.”

The incorporation of Natural History Network under Wildscreen’s banner came as a gift of the network’s founders, Lizzie Green and Vicky Halliwell. Launched in 2011 to support the global wildlife-TV business through news, events, networking and talent recruitment, the organization now boasts more than 300 members. “The network is a natural fit for Wildscreen and its vision of an ongoing, global convening of the wildlife content industry and conservationists,” Marshall said.

Wildscreen CEO Lucie Muir said that Green and Halliwell’s gift was serendipitous. “We had been exploring building a community network for the past few years, so this gift was perfect timing,” she said. Green and Halliwell “felt that within Wildscreen we had the infrastructure and resources that we could grow [Natural History Network], support year-round events and grow the international membership and representation, and make sure the industry feels supported.”

The Wildscreen Festival will return Oct. 19-23, 2020, for its 20th anniversary. The 2018 festival in the English city of Bristol, Britain’s hub for natural-history program-making, welcomed nearly 1,000 delegates from 38 countries and hosted more than 100 events with speakers including composer Hans Zimmer.

The new edition of the festival will focus on bringing together funders and makers to enable the creation of content for change, growing audiences and transforming the natural world genre into an inclusive global community of authentic and emerging voices.

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