When I first told my cinematographer friend that I wanted to make a film about bats, he responded, “You had to pick what might be the most difficult thing to try to film.”
by Kristin Tièche
When I first told my cinematographer friend that I wanted to make a film about bats, he responded, “You had to pick what might be the most difficult thing to try to film.” OK, so maybe I’m the type of person that likes to take on difficult challenges (I wrote a thesis paper in undergrad on James Joyce’s Ulysses). In 2019, I embarked on a journey of producing and directing my first documentary feature: a film called The Invisible Mammal, about North American bats. Three years later, I think I kind of got the hang of it! To paraphrase that famous quote from the vampire movie The Lost Boys, “Sleep all day. Party all night. It’s fun to be a bat filmmaker!”
That first year of filming, I knew exactly where my first stop would be: the mecca of bats and bat lovers in North America – Bracken Cave. Bat Conservation International (BCI) introduced me to the cinematographer who eventually became the film’s director of photography, the incredibly talented Skip Hobbie. Skip had filmed at Bracken Cave and Congress Avenue Bridge countless times, so I knew he was the right person to help me show viewers how incredible these little flying mammals are.
It was the first time I had ever been to Bracken Cave Preserve, let alone Texas in July. Thankfully, we had a cooler of cold drinks to keep us hydrated. But when the sun started setting and the 20-million Mexican free-tailed bats began to emerge, the heat, the sweat, the smell of guano, all dissipated as the spectators and I watched and listened in wonder. We were immersed in a batnado. This was an unparalleled experience in nature that I’ll never forget, one that we hope to convey to viewers on the big screen with surround sound.
A few hours later, sound recordist Melyssa and I went back to our motel in the nearby town of Schertz, downloaded media, washed bat smell out of our hair and got a few winks of sleep. Just before sunrise, we were back at Bracken to film the bats coming back home after a long night of gorging on moths.
I also met BCI Chief Scientist Dr. Winifred Frick at her office at the University of California Santa Cruz to interview her about Operation Fat Bat. The main storyline of The Invisible Mammal will be about her team of BCI scientists and their innovative solution to help bats survive the effects of White-nose Syndrome. They used light lures to create a “bug buffet” for bats, to get them fatter so they had enough energy reserves to keep them safe and healthy through winter hibernation. In the fall of 2021, Skip and I traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) to film Team Fat Bat capturing and tagging remnant populations of Little brown bats, who live in the UP’s abandoned copper mines, and whose numbers have declined precipitously as a result of White-nose Syndrome.
In the sunny afternoons, Skip and I filmed drone shots of the gorgeous fall colors. But when the moon rose and the temperature dropped, we followed the scientists to the mine as they captured, tagged and released dozens of Little brown bats. We also set up at the light lure, perched high on a ridge, and waited for bats to feed on insects.
Deep down I hope, when we go back to film in the UP in the fall of 2022, that Team Fat Bat will encounter some of the same bats that they tagged that night. And if you have the same hope, you can find out in the fall of 2023, when we’ll share the world premiere of The Invisible Mammal with audiences far and wide.
Kristin Tièche is the director of the upcoming feature documentary, The Invisible Mammal. To learn more about the film, or to make a donation, please visit www.theinvisiblemammal.com.