India presented Juneau filmmaker Joel Bennett with cobras, elephants, tigers, lions and vast herds of camels, but its people impressed him the most.
"There's this huge pulsating life that goes on 24 hours a day," he said. "People are born, marry, die; there are festivals - virtually every human experience imaginable is happening in front of you in 24 hours."
Bennett spent three months in India in 1997 as the cameraman in a crew filming episodes for a Fox Television documentary series. At 7:30 Thursday night at McPhetres Hall, Bennett will present "Travels in India," an hour-long slide show of pictures he took while working in India.
The documentary "Wild Things" ran for three seasons on Fox and presented eight short segments in each hour-long program. Crews all over the world filmed vignettes that blended human drama, natural history and wildlife.
"It was cutting-edge. It was fast-paced and humorous, and the stories were quirky," Bennett said. A cameraman, filmmaker and documentarian based in Juneau, Bennett has worked in film for almost 30 years. "Wild Things" took a fresh approach to natural science, he said.
"I've done the kind of documentaries where there's not a person in the whole hour, just an hour of lions," he said.
But people were at the center of the vignettes. One segment focused on an animal impersonator who could imitate the call of any animal and draw it out of the jungle. Another featured a woman who was the star of a popular Indian television soap opera and who had a successful side career researching tigers.
Another segment took Bennett to a camel fair in Rajasthan in northern India. "If you can imagine thousands and thousands of Indians in these multicolored turbans and all these camels," he said.
His favorite segment was about a woman who rescued poisonous snakes from people's homes. Bennett said that in the cool winters of northern India it's common for people to discover that venomous snakes have become unwanted house guests.
"She was this little woman and she had all the guts in the world, handling cobras, mostly," Bennett said. "She also rescued snakes captured by snake charmers. Once she had a bunch, she'd go out into the country and release them, where they are tremendously beneficial to agriculture."
Bennett is active in conservation work in Alaska, and he sees India as a great model for conservation in America. Bennett's slide show will include a trip to a national park that boasts a healthy population of Asiatic lions.
"They have a billion people but they have a population of wild lions," he said.
Part of the reason is their heritage, he said. Hunting was never a way of life for villagers in rural India, who historically led an agricultural lifestyle. Bennett said the absence of a hunting mentality created a tradition of tolerance toward wildlife.
"They have wonderful national parks and these top-of-the-line predators - lions, tigers and wild elephants and they're not fenced in. It works because they've made a choice to protect and preserve these animals."
Bennett also will give tips on traveling in India. The slide show is a benefit for the Southeast Alaska Land Trust; admission is $5.
Riley Woodford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.