“I am confident with what I have chosen to do with my life,” says Céline Cousteau, environmentalist, explorer and documentary filmmaker. “I am leveraging my famous family history to communicate important stories about threats to our environment. I have arrived at where I am supposed to be.”
The daughter of ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau and the granddaughter of the beloved Jacques Cousteau, Céline Cousteau says she has come to her flourishing career “through a series of small steps.”
She is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit CauseCentric Productions, which helps grassroots organizations communicate their stories of solutions needed for environmental and sociocultural issues. She has also worked as a field producer, on-camera presenter and photographer on an array of TV documentaries.
Her latest three-part CauseCentric project, due to conclude its first segment in early June, involves spending two weeks in the Amazon River Basin in a reserve the size of Austria known as the Vale do Javari. The reserve is home to more than 3,500 indigenous peoples and the largest population of uncontacted peoples on the planet. They are all now severely threatened by destructive gold mining, the cocaine trail to the south, potential oil exploration and relentless illegal logging and damaging overfishing by outsiders.
“People think I was born swimming with sea creatures, but what I am doing now is not at all where I started out,” Cousteau says. “I was born in California and grew up in France. I then came back to the U.S. to live for a while in North Carolina and Virginia with my family before attending the United Nations International School for high school, Skidmore College for my degree in psychology with a minor in studio art and then on to the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt., for a master’s degree.”
Cousteau says she was always interested in the workings of the human mind and also considered a career in some form of art.
“I started out working in a psychiatric hospital for a couple of years but I soon knew it wasn’t for me,” she says. “I left when I was in my late 20s and became a tour guide in Latin American countries. By then I had gotten my master’s degree in international and intercultural training and also did an internship at the United Nations. I quickly realized this was much more to my liking, helping people transition to and understand other cultures as a way of advancing themselves.”
Cousteau’s first work in her new area of interest was a sustainability development project in Costa Rica. “Another small step along my path.”
Then a major shift occurred.
“My father started work on ‘Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures,’ a successful PBS television series. I joined in with him and went on to do CBS’ “Mind of a Demon,” and the Discovery Channel’s ‘Mysteries of the Shark Coast.’ I also co-hosted a 12-part documentary series produced by the Chilean-based NuevoEspacio Productions, where I explored both diving under water and trekking on land from Antarctica to northern Chile and westward to Easter Island.”
The die was cast and Cousteau shifted to filmmaking and storytelling as her new full-time direction in life. “In addition to being inspired by my father and grandfather, I also looked to my mother, Anne-Marie Cousteau, a photographer who traveled with my grandfather, Jacques, for many years.”
Céline Cousteau believes her life has come full circle, from a young girl learning from her grandfather to working with her father on his films and then launching her own company.
“The origins of my family legacy are serving me and others in the here and now and I have embraced them fully. Everything feels very natural to me and I believe I am good at what I do.”
Cousteau’s production company had its genesis in a trip to the Amazon with her grandfather Jacques when she was just 9 years old. “Twenty-five years later I went back with my father and his production team. I was totally taken by the native tribesmen and the threats they faced. By now it was 2007 and I decided I wanted to do something to help them.”
In 2008, Cousteau went to the Peruvian Amazon to work with a nonprofit organization and produced a short film, “Amazon Promise.” That’s when the idea of CauseCentric Productions was born. “I knew I could use visual communications tools to make the case for these people.”
Today CauseCentric Productions (CCP) focuses on creating visual communications tools for small grassroots projects that have no way to get out their message. “Because people actively search for and respond to visual content, multimedia storytelling can be a very powerful tool to garner interest and support. CauseCentric Productions (CCP) offers this missing link. The content is distributed through our online networks and partners and is donated to the organization or individual.”
“Traveling ’round the world working on documentary filmmaking, I met incredible people doing amazing work to protect ecosystems, species and people. They often do this with little means, a small staff and against all kinds of adversity. Using CauseCentric Productions, I can provide multimedia communication tools and a platform for their stories. Each person working with CCP is an example of how we can all be CauseCentric, no matter our ‘profession.’ It’s about sharing a goal of giving back a little bit of what we have, know and do.”
Tribes on the Edge
Cousteau left for the Amazon River Basin May 24 and plans to return June 9 from the first of three trips to film the documentary of the threats against the Vale do Javari.
The project, “Tribes on the Edge,” is in partnership with the Virginia-based Nature Conservancy and will be the catalyst for a campaign to support the individuals of the Vale do Javari, aiding in the protection of the land for the benefit of all peoples.
“Our goals are to educate an international community about the indigenous people and this incredibly diverse ecosystem, bring support to other groups already working on relevant issues there and empower the tribes to govern their own fate.”
At the heart of the project is a documentary film. A comprehensive multimedia website with a journalistic approach will be coupled with a “reality” view to bring the audience along on the journey with the team. After completion, a distribution campaign will include film festivals, conferences and discussions to involve and motivate the audience. In addition, educational materials will be created for distribution to schools.
“We want to show a lot of ‘behind-the-scenes activity,’ in the film so our audience can see how we live, how we travel, and how we cope with life in the Amazon on a day-to-day basis. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is supplying us with some of the latest technology and we have high hopes for part one. We will be going back two more times to different regions of the huge preserve. We hope to complete the final trip about a year from now, wrap things up and concentrate on distribution.”
With all that is going on in Cousteau’s professional life, there is another new and wonderful addition to her extensive résumé of accomplishments – a son.
“My partner – Çapkin van Alphen, media manager for CauseCentric – and I had Felix two and a half years ago,” Cousteau says. “He was born at a time when our efforts were really gathering momentum and we decided to simply include him in the process, taking him along whenever it was safe.”
As a result, Felix has been to more than 10 different countries, logging many thousands of air miles. “He visited Taiwan, South Korea and Japan at the age of four months,” she adds. “Çapkin is a wonderful father who could not be more attentive to our needs. And Felix is happy, healthy and outgoing with a great love for animals. It’s all working out. All of those small steps and the big one of having a son, have brought me to exactly where I am supposed to be.”
Céline Cousteau will be returning from the first leg of her “Tribes on the Edge” documentary film project in early June.
Funds are urgently needed to defray expenses of costly travel and filming for the crew’s final two trips to the Amazon River Basin.
For more information on Céline Cousteau, visit celinecousteau.com. For information and a trailer on the Amazon expedition, visit tribesontheedige.com. To donate online, visit causecentric.org or make checks payable to Céline Cousteau, CauseCentric Productions, 9 Benchmark Road, Sherman, CT 06784.