Jessica Dimuzio, VMD, is a veterinarian who has worn many hats in her pursuit of preservation of wildlife and their habitats: field researcher, conservation educator, nonfiction children’s book author, and now filmmaker. In 2006, she wrote a poem describing all the sights and sounds of the African savannah, based on her experience living in a tent on Maasai land in Kenya, East Africa. Her dreaming of all the animals she heard during her day, from the dove that woke her each morning to the wildebeests that lulled her to sleep, became her African Animals’ Lullaby.
Although Dimuzio wrote and published two other award-winning children’s picture books, Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park! and Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now?, African Animals’ Lullaby needed the animal sounds to accompany the text so this manuscript was set aside until serendipity intervened.
Jessica Dimuzio met musician and sound designer Rodney Whittenberg and master storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston while conducting programs at the same elementary schools in suburban Philadelphia. Their combined skill sets made it possible to create a soundtrack for African Animals’ Lullaby. In 2017, with Rodney’s creativity and technical skills and based on photographs from Dimuzio’s time in Kenya and other sources, it became a short film. In addition to finding authentic sounds and images, there were two other challenges to overcome. From Rodney’s standpoint, “Working with a scientist! Jessica was so meticulous that she insisted on the right animal, the right vocalization, the right ambient sounds from the right place at the right time of day, that would match the description in the poem.” From Jessica’s view, “Biology was not in Rodney’s purview! Besides telling him which vocalizations belonged to which animals, I had to explain that in the wild, one hears an animal before one sees it, in order to get the right timing of sounds and images.” Working side by side, they produced a film that others have described as “ beautiful, professional, authentic, but the feel–pure magic.”
Last year the film was a finalist at the Cut-to-the-Chase Film Festival, W. Virginia and in March 2019 was screened as part of the Women’s Film Festival of Philadelphia. Latest news is that The Women’s Film Festival posted the winners of the Juror Awards and African Animals’ Lullaby was one of them!
What’s next? Submission to festivals is ongoing so African Animals’ Lullaby is not yet available on-demand or for sale, but one can request a program which includes a screening from Dimuzio’s company (www.naturetalesandtrails.com). “Rodney and I learned so much from each other and had so much fun we are already discussing the next film!” Dimuzio is returning to East Africa later this year to meet her foster baby elephants in Kenya and to revisit the gorillas in Uganda. Maybe this time she will be able to articulate the feeling of peace from being in the presence of gorillas into another film.