Oxford student wins international film prize

By Cathy Wooten | Oxford College | Dec. 3, 2015

"The Lionfish Plague of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf" by Preston Buchanan recently took top honors in the Student Filmmaker category at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit.

Preston Buchanan

Preston Buchanan traveled with his family to Monaco last month, where he was announced as the BLUE Ocean Film Festival's Student Filmmaker winner. Courtesy photo.

A trip to Honduras during high school introduced Preston Buchanan, now a first-year student at Emory's Oxford College, to an environmental problem plaguing the region — and inspired him to create a film that recently earned international honors.

On the trip, Buchanan learned about the invasion of lionfish in the Western Hemisphere and saw firsthand the destructive aspects of this beautiful but menacing fish. Several species of lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, were introduced to southeastern U.S. waters sometime during the last 20 years, and they have become problematic.

"We spearfished lionfish in the Caribbean," says Buchanan, "and dissected them in order to determine which species of crustaceans and fish they are consuming.

The trip was just one way in which he has engaged his interest in the ocean. He is a co-founder of Venture Crew 210, a St. Petersburg, Fla., unit of the Boy Scouts of America's Venturing program. Venturing allows students to pursue specific interests, and the unit Buchanan co-founded focuses on oceanography and related topics. Besides making the trip to Honduras, the group also worked on such activities as a coral restoration project in the Florida Keys.

As a resident of St. Petersburg, Buchanan was familiar with the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit, an event held in St. Petersburg during even years and in Monaco during odd years. The festival honors the best in ocean filmmaking while updating participants on issues important to oceans and providing space for collaboration on the improvement of the future of oceans.

A teacher from Buchanan's high school recommended that he try his hand at producing a film and entering it in the festival's competition. He had experience in filming underwater with a GoPro while on a trip with Crew 210 to Key Largo where he volunteered with the Coral Restoration Foundation. He gained permission from National Geographic to incorporate some of their film into his own and set about editing and producing the film.

Earlier this year he was notified that he was a finalist in the Student Filmmaker category and he and his family traveled to Monaco in early November. The ceremony was held at the Musée Océanographique de Monaco, located atop the Rock of Monaco, where he was announced as the grand prize winner in his category.

"Being in Monaco to receive the first place award in the Student Filmmaker Category was truly an honor," Buchanan says. "I am grateful that the film was recognized and is serving its purpose in educating not only the marine science community but also the entire world with the issues regarding the spread of lionfish in the Western Hemisphere."

The thrill of the win in Monaco was followed by a more sobering experience. The Buchanan family detoured through Paris to spend a few days following the ceremony and before their return to the United States. Their stay coincided with the widespread attacks on Nov. 13, and in fact, their hotel was less than a mile from the nightclub that bore the brunt of the violence.

"My family and I were eating dinner at a café in the Marais neighborhood of Paris when we first heard the news of the attacks," Buchanan says, recounting his memory from that fateful night. "The Bataclan Concert Hall was about one kilometer away. The café went into lockdown. Luckily my family and I were able to return to our hotel and to the United States unharmed."

Back at Oxford, Buchanan says he isn't preparing to enter the film industry, but he's grateful for the experience. "I do not plan to pursue filmmaking as a career," he explains, "but I am glad to have had a way to document my interest."