Tom Martienssen
Tom on a project at the Bolivian Uyuni salt flats Author: Max Cruz
2022

Tom Martienssen

Documentary Cinematographer

Truth through documentary

meet tom

Tom Martienssen is an Emmy-winning director and cinematographer. He has filmed in over 50 countries and territories from Afghanistan to the Arctic to the Himalayas to the Pacific Sslands. His passion for storytelling began when he was working as combat search and rescue in Afghanistan. While at the BBC, he survived and subsequently covered the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and worked undercover in the Middle East to report on ISIS. Tom is currently directing films around the topics of conservation in Nigeria, poaching in Kenya, culture in global Indigenous communities, and high arctic exploration. He collaborates on his projects with diamond docs and the BBC.

Truth through documentary
Nominated by: Mark Wood MI'15
Class of 2022 Location USA
Tom filming in the Faroe Islands for a project on genetic research and indigenous empowerment
Tom filming in the Faroe Islands for a project on genetic research and indigenous empowerment Author: Kaja Wasik

I have traveled to dozens of countries and spent time with hundreds of people and their communities, including farmers, fishermen, and storytellers. Over the years these narratives and stories change, but recently the message is, “It’s different now. I can’t predict the seasons. The weather is strange. We’ve never seen so much rain. The rains are late this year.”

In 2021, in a Fulani herders village in West Africa, which is a three-day walk from the trailhead with no internet, no power, and no communication, in a region cut off by mountains and rivers for most of the year, a man looks me in the eyes and tells me, “Climate change means I can’t look after my cattle anymore.” A Fulani man in an area with no connection to the outside world used the phrase, “climate change.”

The world is changing faster than we can document. I try. I tell the stories of the people who show us we need to change, and they teach us how we can. The rangers that protect our wild spaces. The conservationists on the brink to save species. The Indigenous guardians. The scientists and explorers who brave loneliness and fight governments and the elements in order to progress our understanding of the world we live in.

“I tell the stories of the people who show us we need to change, and they teach us how we can.”

- Tom Martienssen
Tom on a quad bike in Northern Kenya
Tom on a quad bike in Northern Kenya Author: Henry Harte

Documentaries are perhaps our most powerful medium in the modern age. They have the potential to change perspectives and perception to the point of changing policy, shifting leadership, and even changing governments. In the discovery of truth, our stories reveal the most important messages and inform the collective psyche across the world.

I am currently directing and shooting four documentaries. In Nigeria, I’m making a film with the BBC, following the attempts to protect one of the world’s last true wildernesses, a vast unexplored national park on the brink of survival. In Kenya, I’m exploring why rhinos are the most important species for conservation. In the high Arctic, I’m following a journey that is hampered by the fact that the poles are disintegrating. And more!

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