Director Mixes Fact, Fantasy in Wildlife Film

Friday July 18, 2003

Kamala Appel hopes to educate people about animal life. Her medium? A “documentary” that showcases a rapping elephant seal, an aspiring Olympian otter and a lemur dating game. 

Appel, an Oakland resident and graduate of Berkeley High School, recently completed her first feature film, “Animal Crackers.” The movie blends fact with fantasy to create educational entertainment that features two of her favorite parts of life: animals and the Bay Area. The movie premieres Sunday at the Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland. 

Appel filmed “Animal Crackers” at museums and wildlife preserves around the Bay Area, including Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo and the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. She used footage of the animals in their habitats, then added animated clips to highlight particular ideas about each species. In one section, a group of lemurs holds a dating game to find mates for the alpha female and prevent their own extinction, a threat Appel said is very real. 

“It’s about protecting species and helping them survive,” she said. 

For her first full-length film, Appel took the unusual step of completing all the filming before writing a script. She spent hours watching the animals in their daily lives, then wrote lines for the movie based on her interpretations of the creatures’ characters to provide a story that was “true to the animals.” 

She also used a 50-person human cast in the film, which, she said, presented its own set of challenges. 

“There were lots of people who wanted to be involved, which was inspiring,” Appel said. “There were just a lot of people to keep track of since I was doing most of the filming and producing by myself.” 

But the best part of making the movie, Appel said, was the interaction with wild animals. “I got to go into restricted areas to watch them,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated with animals, so it was a thrill for me to be this close.” 

Appel has been in and around the moviemaking business for many years. After graduating from Yale with a degree in American studies and a concentration in film studies, she headed off to film school at the University of Southern California, where she earned her master’s degree. She remained in Los Angeles and worked at several large production companies before deciding to go out on her own. 

“I did a lot of the business side of film to get a better sense of it overall,” Appel said. “But there was a reason I left Hollywood; I can do things on my own that I wouldn’t have been able to do there.” 

To that end, Appel has formed an independent company, Kea Productions, to release local filmmakers’ work. Appel also operates NuReel.com, which provides financial resources and mentors to people looking to break in to the film industry. One highlight of NuReel is its annual CineSurvivor contest, which draws film submissions in every genre, one of which wins the grand prize each year. 

Now that her project is complete, Appel will present “Animal Crackers” to large agencies in hopes of gaining more recognition for the film. She plans to use connections from film school to help her advance the project, and would like to continue filming Animal Crackers-type stories in the future. 

“I would love to see this become something regular,” Appel said. “I could go to different areas and focus on their own local wildlife. I think it’s got a lot to offer.” 

In the future, Appel aims to continue making movies full-time. “It’s a bit tricky because a lot of times to get higher salaries you might have to sign onto a project you wouldn’t do for free,” she said. “I would do projects that I might not do without the money, but I wouldn’t do anything I would be ashamed of no matter what the salary is like.” 


Animal Crackers premieres at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 20, at the Parkway 

Speakeasy Theater at 1834 Park Blvd. in Oakland. Tickets are $5 at the 

door. For more information about the screening visit www.picturepubpizza.com or call (510) 814-2400.