Lauren Greenfield goes to a dictator’s wild island
Her forthcoming film, Fantasy Island, looks at the African park Ferdinand Marcos built
The filmmaker and photographer Lauren Greenfield has a eye for ostentatious displays of wealth. Her 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles won acclaim for its depiction of the property magnate David Siegel, his wife Jackie, and their attempts to build one of the largest and most expensive homes in the United States.
Greenfield’s Phaidon book and Amazon Studios documentary Generation Wealth explores the incredible rise of conspicuous consumption across the world, from the homes of Russian oligarchs to Brazil’s plastic surgery clinics.
However, another forthcoming project of Greenfield’s looks at a surprising zoological legacy from one particularly expensive pet project.
In 1976 the kleptocratic Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos established his own, private wildlife reserve on the remote island of Calauit. Yet Macros didn’t populate his park with local species. Instead, he cleared off a sizeable portion of Calauit, until it resembled the Kenyan savannah, then shipped in zebras, giraffes and other African animals.
Marcos lost power in 1986, and the park was opened to the public in 2009 Yet all the while, many of the species Marcos introduced continued to thrive, despite being 9,000 kilometres removed from their natural environment.
Greenfield’s forthcoming film Fantasy Island examines this island, viewing it both as a symbolic display of excess, and a remarkable experiment in environmental engineering, while also following the late dictator’s wife and son, Imelda and Bongbong Marcos, as they return to the Philippines - a country where, thanks to their father, the zebras still run free.
To see more of Lauren Greenfield’s work, order a copy of Generation Wealth here; and for a deeper understanding of how good documentary photography works, get The Documentary Impulse.