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A Voice for the Bonobos

I just spent a remarkable ten days in London where I had the pleasure of working with Luke Evans, one of the loveliest actors I’ve ever met—a Welshman no less.

I was there to produce and direct a voice recording session for his portrayal of Beni, a baby bonobo whose life is chronicled in Alain Tixier’s acclaimed French docudrama “Bonobos: Back to the Wild.”

Luke Evans and Vivian Schilling in WB Studio in London
Luke Evans with Producer/Director Vivian Schilling at Warner Bros. De Lane Lea Studios in London. Luke provides the voice of “Beni” in Alain Tixier’s “Bonobos: Back to the Wild.”

Docudramas are not my usual domain, and I have been intent on not accepting any new film projects until my latest novel is complete, but when I learned that the net proceeds from the film were to benefit the World Wildlife Fund and the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo, I accepted the offer to head up the adaptation. I was thrilled with the notion that by making the film more accessible to English-speaking audiences worldwide, I could help raise awareness and funding for this highly endangered species of apes.

Last May, while at the Cannes Film Festival, I first met with the film’s creator, Alain Tixier. He speaks little English and I speak even less French, but this would pose no barrier in our collaboration. His passion for his work was infectious. The project would be a labor of love, not only for me, but for all who would become involved, including Luke Evans who took time out of his busy schedule of blockbuster films to bring little Beni to life.

Over the past eight months, I’ve had the pleasure of coming to know the film’s heroine, naturalist Claudine André. If this is a name you don’t recognize now, it is our hope that not only you, but your children, will soon know her. Over twenty years ago in war-torn Africa, André founded a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo to rescue orphaned bonobos whose mothers had been killed for bush meat. She has since become a central figure in the cause to save these gentle and intelligent apes that share 98.7% of human DNA. By giving orphaned babies a human mother to nurture them back to health, André has been successful in releasing many of them into Ekola ya Bonobo—a wild preservation area twice the size of Manhattan. “Bonobos: Back to the Wild” is based on the true story of her rescue of the orphaned and abused Beni and his ultimate release as a grown bonobo back into the wild.

After the studio session in Soho, I had planned to drive up to Anglesey, Wales to work on my novel, but the forecast of treacherous road conditions kept me in London. I longed for the muse of the Welsh countryside, but I contented myself with London’s many coffee shops and museums. While there, I had plenty of time to reflect on the Welshman I had just exchanged ideas and creative thoughts with and with whom I share a common cause. Luke is a gifted actor with a generous heart. The perfect voice for the beloved little orphaned Beni.

Thank you for letting me share! I will keep you posted on the film’s completion and release. There is more work to be done, but I anticipate returning to the quieter life of a novelist soon.

To my loyal and valuable readers, please be patient and know that I remain committed to my latest book. Even when away, my characters remain with me and every chance I get, I move their lives and their stories forward.

And lastly to my filmie friends – shooting the dialogue at Warner Bros. De Lane Lea was a delight. And yes, that is two (not one!) Neumann U87 mics in front of Luke.

A beautiful day to all!

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“Schilling writes with all the passion of lightning.”

—The Book Reader

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