Filmmaker Nicolas Brown poses with one of the giant pandas from the movie "Pandas: The Journey Home." In the film, Brown tells the story of a captive panda that is returned to the wild. (Bao Chenglin)

Nicolas Brown has been making films about the outdoor world his whole life. His career started as a kid in Colorado helping his filmmaker dad make movies about such things as humans’ impact on rivers and creeks. They also made adventure movies about skiing and kayaking.

One of his latest projects, “Pandas: The Journey Home,” documents conservation efforts to save endangered giant pandas. It tells the story of Tao Tao, a captive-born giant panda cub trained (and later released) to live wild in his natural habitat — the misty, cold mountains of China. It also profiles the people working hard to save this endangered species. The movie is one of many family films featured at the 2015 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. KidsPost reporter Kitson Jazynka interviewed Brown, who is 46, about the movie.

What’s the message you hope kids take away from watching “Pandas: The Journey Home?”

I hope kids are inspired by the movie to remember that they can participate in saving our world’s wilderness, like the people in the movie.


A mother panda carries her cub in a scene from “Pandas: The Journey Home.” (National Geographic Studios)

What’s your favorite memory of making the film?

Once when we were filming in a large enclosure which is part of an old-growth forest [that’s a very old forest with little human impact, such as logging], our panda star wandered by. It was magical with the early-morning mist all around us. We wanted a shot of the panda eating bamboo, but she [a captive panda named Shao Xi Xi] was more interested in the jib [that’s a giant arm that lifts the camera and the cameraman up in the air]. She walked right behind the camera, grabbed onto my leg and wouldn’t let go. She was so powerful, the keepers had to work hard to pull her off of me. I never thought I would get that close to a panda.

When you watch the film, what are some of your favorite parts?

I love the sequence where the cubs are being all cute in the playground. I also love the ending, where Tao Tao goes home. It’s what the whole film builds up to.


Brown and his crew sometimes dressed as trees so the baby pandas would not get used to seeing humans in the wild. (Ami Vitale)

Did you always know you wanted to make films?

Growing up, I didn’t want to be a filmmaker like my dad and my brothers. I wanted to be an actor. But I helped my dad on film projects, working as a camera assistant, carrying and cleaning gear and working on sound. The more I helped, the more I wanted to control the final product. So I began to make my own films.

The technical side is the easier part of learning to be a filmmaker. The harder part of the art is learning how to be a communicator of ideas — how to tell a good story and hook people.

What lessons from school helped you become a successful filmmaker?

I am a little dyslexic, so I had some trouble in school. [Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes reading difficult.] The best classroom for me was always outside. Like being in a geometry class and then going outside and thinking about and looking at the shapes of rocks or patterns in nature.

What advice do you have for kids who would like to make environmental movies?

Just to make a film and see what happens — it’s amazing how much fun you can have. I see great environmental videos made by kids on YouTube all the time. When I was a kid there were more barriers to making a film, like the expense of it or learning how to expose film.

Today making a film is quite easy if you have a video function on a phone. Just find a story you want to tell, then tell it.

— Kitson Jazynka

Nicolas Brown and Tao Tao, one of the giant pandas featured in “Pandas: The Journey Home,” are featured in Jazynka’s upcoming book: “National Geographic Kids Mission: Panda Rescue.”

If you go

What: “Pandas: The Journey Home” in 3-D (40 minutes).

When: Tuesday, March 17, noon.

Where: National Geographic Society, 1145 17th Street NW.

How much: Free, no reservation required.


"The Fox and the Child" is one of the kid-friendly movies at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. (The Fox and the Child)
Also at the film festival

For the complete schedule for the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, visit www.dceff.org. (Always ask a parent before going online.) Some other films for kids include:

“March of the Penguins”

Emperor penguins overcome daunting obstacles to return to their breeding grounds for mating season in this Academy Award-winning film by Luc Jacquet, who will discuss the making of the movie.

When: March 21, 10:30 a.m.

Where: Avalon Theater, 5612 Connecticut Avenue NW.

How much: $7.

For more information: Call 202-966-3464 or visit www.theavalon.org.

“The Fox and the Child”

A 10-year-old girl sees a fox up close on the way to school. He sits as she watches. Can this unusual friendship straddle both the human and the natural world? A discussion with director and filmmaker Luc Jacquet follows the screening.

When: March 22 at noon.

Where: West End Cinema, 2301 M Street NW.

How much: $7 for adults; $5 for age 12 and younger.

For more information: Call 202-419-3456 or visit www.westendcinema.com.

“Song of the Sea”

This is the story of the journey home of the last “Seal Child.” After their mother’s disappearance, Ben and Saoirse are sent to live in the city. When they resolve to return to their home by the sea, their journey becomes a race against time as they are drawn into a world Ben knows only from his mother’s folk tales.

When: March 20 at 2 p.m.; March 21 at 11 a.m.; March 27 at 2 p.m.; March 28 at 11 a.m.

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building Lecture Hall, Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW.

How much: Free.

For more information: Call 202-737-4215 or visit www.nga.gov.

“Deadly Pole to Pole: Arctic”

Take an epic journey from the Arctic to the Antarctic and encounter the deadliest animals – and forces of nature — on Earth.

When: March 22 at 12:30 p.m.

Where: National Museum of Natural History, Baird Auditorium, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.

How much: Free.

For more information: Call 202-633-1000 or visit www.mnh.si.edu .