In 1992, Bob Nixon abandoned a successful career producing films and documentaries, and left his home in Malibu, to breath life into the Earth Conservation Corps. He planned to spend just one year in Washington, D.C. But that was seven years ago. Today, Nixon says he hopes the ECC will continue, and just to be sure, he is "here for the forseeable duration."
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In his former life, Nixon was a five-time-Emmy-winning producer-director who co-produced the movie Gorillas in the Mist, and whose Amazon Diary was nominated for an Academy Award.
Nixon grew up in a main line Philadelphia suburb where his earliest memories as a toddler are of "rabbits and eye-level creatures crawling around."
"I've just always been interested in the outdoors," he said. "I was a fanatical fishermen as a kid. I always figured I was going to be a marine biologist or an ichthyologist, but then I flunked biology, so that was a problem." Nixon is certain he's an undiagnosed dyslexic. He graduated second-to-last in his high school class.
But he found a solution in wildlife photography and filmmaking. "The early natural history documentaries -- Walt Disney and Jacques Cousteau specials -- really had a powerful impact on me," he said. Nixon's mother, Agnes Nixon, was a soap opera pioneer who created All My Children. She, and Nixon's father, helped put him in touch with "several great mentors" who encouraged him to follow his passion.
Today, some ECC members say they have found a mentor in Nixon
While in high school, Nixon met and corresponded with science writer and Time-Life editor Maitland Edey. "He was a great naturalist," Nixon said. "He encouraged me, saying I could make a living taking pictures, and he gave me a couple of books on wildlife photography. He was the first person I met who said there is something outside the classroom."
After high school graduation, Nixon worked at the Philip Glasier Falconry Center in England, training birds for film and TV appearances for more than a year. "I got the opportunity to become extremely knowledgeable about falconry and photography," he said. "Glasier was one of the world's great experts on birds of prey and falconry. He also was a wildlife filmmaker and photographer."
Today, some ECC members say they have found a mentor in Nixon. "I feel like I am giving back the opportunity I once had," Nixon says.
From England, Nixon moved to Washington to work for ABC Television, which was trying to establish a drive-through wildlife reserve in Largo, Md. on what is now the site of Adventure World. "It was a disaster," Nixon said. "They started a drive-through, and then the oil embargo hit."
Although the business failed, it employed Nixon for two years, giving him an opportunity to establish a small raptor rehabilitation center, where he repaired injured birds and gave educational lectures. "I thought my whole career would be training birds, but after two years ABC decided to sell the place," he said.
Nixon then worked with ABC's American Sportsman series, and launched "an unbelievable career, going around the world for 20-odd years," making about 50 films. During his travels, Nixon experienced revolutions, coups, was arrested, and, at times, went hungry. Among his most memorable experiences was the month he spent with the Kalahari Bushmen, witnessing "their almost perfect synchronicity with the natural world."
Through his films, Nixon says he has tried to provide a platform for "the tribal peoples who are still living a hunter-gatherer existence and finding the modern world crushing in on them." He also helped publicize the message of "those people I call the lonely field biologists - who are out their, trying to save endangered species."
Today, Nixon's work with the ECC leaves him no time for film work, although he admits someday he hopes to make more films, perhaps even weaving his work with the ECC into film production. Nixon has helped ECC members make their own film, and during the course of his work he has witnessed scenes worth capturing on film. "I have seen this amazing film go right before my eyes, many times," he says.
Through a fundraising process that Nixon describes as "exhausting," the ECC has amassed a budget of more than $2 million this year. About 15 percent of this supports the 30 squad members in Washington, DC, and the balance supports another 102 members in Oregon, Washington and Idaho who participate in the ECC's Salmon Corps. The Salmon Corps members are drawn primarily from Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest, and focus their efforts on re-stocking salmon and repairing their habitat.
"I love what I am doing here. I love filmmaking also -- it's a sacrifice not to be making films, but I think this is worthwhile," Nixon said. Raising funds and ensuring that the program remains viable "is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It's much harder than producing Gorillas in the Mist or any of the other projects I worked on, but you just see this room full of women and men" -- Nixon says, gesturing to the group of new recruits gathered in the pump house -- "they are the future of America. There is no reason they shouldn't have the opportunities I had."
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