"Like David Attenborough and Morgan Spurlock got drunk and had a baby..." is one description of David Bond's empassioned, incredibly personal film of his struggle to get his own two youngsters to put down their Playstations and head to the great outdoors, even if it's just the back garden for starters.
David Bond's film is the result of his concerns about his own children's lifestyles
With the result 'Project Wild Thing' about to hit UK cinemas (on Friday, just in time for half term, screening info below), lashed with praise by critics describing it as, variously, "funny, alarming and uplifting" and "a film every parent should watch", David Bond tells us why he embarked on this campaign, and what he discovered along the way about that big green, brown and blue thing most of us pretty much take for granted...
What inspired you to start marketing nature?
I'm a father of two young children. I was thinking about how they spent their time - were they becoming screen junkies? Was I guilty of dumping them in front of the television rather than taking them out to the park?
So I attached a camera to my daughter's head to see exactly what it was she did all day. Over a quarter of her time was spent watching screens. Just 4% of her time was spent playing outdoors - the same amount of time as she spent in the bathroom.
That left me pretty worried. I started doing my homework. Scientific studies had demonstrated the incredible benefits of spending time in natural space. It makes children calmer, helps university students perform better in exams, improves community relations, reduces violence, increases activity levels. The list goes on.
Then I read the game changer: a UNICEF report comparing child well-being in Spain, the UK and Sweden. Across all three countries, the researchers said, kids described a 'good day' as being one where they spent time with their family outdoors. I asked Ivy about her ideal day. She talked about the few times we'd gone camping or played out in the garden as a family. What her 'good days' didn't involve was a television screen or the doll we'd bought her for Christmas.
My daughter was missing out on the outdoors - it made her happier and healthier, yet she was denied it. She's not alone: millions of children are becoming more and more disconnected from nature and the outdoors.
The reasons for this disconnection are diverse: from a risk-averse culture and 'stranger danger' to busy roads and a lack of good quality green space.
Just get outside, says David Bond, who's trying to do the same with his own family
Children's lives are taken up with so much stuff these days. They - or their parents - are sold everything under the sun. So we decided to sell them something they really needed: the sun itself. If 'nature' was a business, its sales figures would be plummeting and its shareholders baying for blood. We thought it would be interesting to see if we could run a marketing campaign to encourage kids to go outdoors.
"Children's lives get taken up with other stuff - they prefer being outside, but they're denied it"
A huge number of organisations already claim natural elements for their logos and branding: Apple, Orange, the Labour Party, Lloyds Bank. They're all at it. So we wanted to reclaim nature for kids. We got great branding experts and creative types together and built a great campaign. We convinced ourselves of the need to get outdoors. All we needed was to convince children!
What was your biggest challenge?
I brought my fair share of preconceptions to this film. I set up dichotomies: pasty faced urbanites totally divorced from nature vs hearty rural kids who spent their days roaming across fields and through woods. Or that only poor children needed reconnecting with nature, whilst children from more affluent backgrounds led lives of perfect naturalness.
Of course the reality is different. Whether urban or rural, rich or poor, all children are in need of nature. The vast majority could do with being reconnected to the natural world.
I spent a year and a half travelling the length of the United Kingdom, talking to children of all different ages, races, and social backgrounds. I spoke to children at a forest school on the tiny Isle of Eigg off the west coast of Scotland, families in inner city Birmingham and East London, and rich kids in Hampstead.
The more children I met, the clearer it became that, although all children want nature, they don't choose it. They have all these other demands on their time - from must-watch TV programmes and the latest iPhone game to new toys. All these things are marketed so efficiently that nature just doesn't get in a look in - and where it does, it's an idealised version of nature that bears no resemblance to the scene outside their bedroom or car window. So the really big challenge was to make nature tempting again.
What was your biggest surprise?
When we started making the film we knew that there were organisations out there that cared about the issues around children and nature. But what's surprised me is the sheer number and variety of organisations and individuals who have got behind the Project Wild Thing movement. There are over 300 organisations and more than 4,000 individuals who have already joined the movement. This issue has united children's charities, conservation bodies, health organisations, businesses, schools, nurseries (of both kinds), and more. They can all see the benefits of reconnecting children with the natural world.
Without giving away the fab twist at the end of the film, what did you learn from this process?
As a parent I realised that the key to reconnect my kids with nature is to reconnect with nature myself. Children - especially young children - take their lead from their parents. I had spent all my time staring down at a computer screen or smart phone, so my kids wanted a screen in order be like me. We started going outdoors as a family again. We had a magical time - camping, going to fairy fairs and climbing trees - and learnt so much. It's absolutely correct what the UNICEF researchers claimed: children do want to spend time outdoors with their family. My kids loved the expeditions and mini-adventures, and I loved that they were enjoying themselves so much (and that it wasn't costing a fortune).
Small changes - like walking or cycling to school - can lead to big ones. Imagine if every child cycled or walked to school (and their parents cycled to work). There would be fewer cars on the roads. Children might start to return to play on the streets. People would be fitter. Councils would be forced to invest in a green transport infrastructure to cope with demand.... all this just from opening the front door and stepping outside.
What's next - how do you move forward?
The film was never the end. It's just the beginning. We want as many people as possible to watch the film. We want to stimulate a nationwide debate on children's connection to nature and the outdoors and what that it means for our children and our society. Our goal is to see every child - every family, even - pledge to spend an extra 10 minutes of 'wild time' each day. Our vision is to reconnect a million children with nature.
'Project Wild Thing' is in UK cinemas from Friday 25 October. Screening info here. Watch the trailer below...
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