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FROM THE FIELD

Featured on Serious Sisu Stories


SisuGirls are the badasss global initiative to empower young females to get out in the world and live courageously. I was privileged to be featured as a woman with serious sisu – check out the interview below or here, and go to the SisuGirls website to learn more about them.

Please can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?
Hola! I’m Tahria Sheather, 28 years old and Aussie-born. I’m currently based in the US where I’m producing film and TV focused on the environment and the outdoors. I stumbled into this world serendipitously. I’ve always been enamoured with the environment, nature, how the world works, but after a couple of years sporting a suit and toting a Blackberry working for the government in Australia, I was craving something more creative. So I nurtured my love for photography, sought out a mentor, taught myself to shoot and edit film, followed the stories that moved me most, and, inch by inch, those decisions led me where I am now, producing film and television for non-profits and companies in the environmental and outdoor industries.

What does a typical week look like for Tahria?
‘Typical’ means something different month to month. One week I might find myself knee deep in cow poop on a dairy farm telling the story of local food in rural Maine, another I might be tromping through glacial streams in Patagonia filming a team of cartographers mapping a new national park. Or another I might be taking a spontaneous escape from work to go surfing, climbing, hiking or skiing in the wilds of Oregon. Far less glamorous, I might be glued to my computer for 16 hours a day editing. Typical right now is filming a new TV series with National Geographic, so I’m out on shoots for a few weeks at a time in places like the Serengeti plains in Tanzania or the highlands of Kazakhstan.

What’s the best part of your day? And what’s the worst?
Filming is such a great way to immerse yourself totally in a world that you might never otherwise have exposure to. There have been countless times I’ve taken pause during a shoot and thought – how the hell am I here, experiencing this right now? Just last month I was learning how to draw honey from a hive of stingless bees with a man who is part of the oldest tribe in the world, communicating with me entirely in their click language. Earlier this year I was sneaking into a city dump in Chennai, India, to speak with locals who pick through the trash for a living. Each of these experiences is so markedly distinct, and an opportunity to discover something new about humanity, and yourself. I’m lucky to have access to each one.

The worst? In this job, I feel you work at the extreme ends of each spectrum. You’re either off on a shoot, often completely out of contact with the outside world without connectivity, completely immersed in your story working crazy long days or you’re glued to a computer editing for hours upon days upon weeks alone in a dark room. There’s not a whole lot of middle ground. I don’t use regular or routine a lot to describe my lifestyle, and it’s often feast or famine. There’s a lot that’s good about that sort of life, but it does have a big impact on your personal relationships and your sense of grounding.

You’ve also done some amazing personal challenges. What’s been your biggest “challenge and how do you manage fear and self-doubt?
Play is a huge part of my life – being out in nature, pushing myself physically, and sharing a challenge with people I care about. I think it’s so important for us to make space for that in our lives, yet so few of us do. I grew up on the water in Australia, got into climbing after high school, snowboarded my way over to North America and lately have been loving ski-mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest. And I think the biggest challenge in any of these pursuits has been just learning.

When you don’t understand a sport well, the unknowns are scary – nuances of the environment, the equipment, the movement, your own physical capabilities. So finding that balance between pushing yourself within those parameters and not being reckless is a delicate dance. In those situations, I try to be my own cheerleader – I talk to myself on hard climbing routes all the time! Compassionate, kind and encouraging thoughts to yourself do wonders for self-doubt and fear, and allow you to break through those mental barriers that might hold you back from overcoming all those unknowns.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Practicing mindfulness has really taught me that positivity and negativity are powerful, cumulative forces that can be harnessed or can harness you. Your thoughts don’t affect your reality, they create your reality, and I think I am constantly in the process of relearning that lesson. The act of meditating a few minutes a day has helped me to notice my thoughts, whether they are about myself, the people in my life, my work, my goals, my fears. Noticing what dominates the airtime in my head and beginning to shift that has been a game changer for me in achieving my goals in life.

Over the next 10 years, what is your big goal?
To become a better climber/skier/surfer/yogi/adventurer, road trip my homeland of Australia by van, direct a feature documentary, visit Antarctica, have a piece of land to call my own, find contentment in myself …I don’t think in singularities!

What piece of advice would you give to our young SisuGirls who want to pursue a life in an alternative, outdoor career?
Remember that a career and the outdoors are not mutually exclusive! We’re meant to be immersed in nature, after all. The beauty of today is that there are so many ways to make a living, particularly in the outdoor industry. In university, I never would have envisioned doing exactly what I’m doing now, but being open to any possibility and following what turns me on – the environment, image-making, communicating and adventure – has led me here, and will keep leading me toward what I’ll do in the future. And here’s where I bring up the f-word…female.

Growing up I always felt like I needed to be ‘one of the boys’ to work or play in the outdoors and probably had a bit of a chip on my shoulder because of it. Whether or not you consider it an even playing field, the reality is the outdoor world continues to be a bit of a boys ‘club. But I think, as a female, that fact should be a catalyst, not a deterrent, from a life in the outdoors. And it seems to be, judging by the growing number of badass chicks owning it in the realms of adventure sports, environmental advocacy and creative fields these days. If you can own your femininity, trust in your own capabilities, follow what you love, and not take any shit from anyone who thinks otherwise, then I think you’re on the right track.

Finally, trying to measure yourself against your peers leading more conventional careers paths or lives will only stand in the way of your own success. Ok, I don’t own a house yet – my life right now fits in a measly two suitcases – but I’ve had the chance to see corners of the world that have blown my mind wide open. The ebb and flow of each person’s life is incomparable.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Wear (oxybenzone-free) sunscreen. Seriously, that’s no joke. And breathe.

What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you started your career?
I wish someone had told me to set boundaries for myself. I’m a yes-gal in life, but I’m coming to learn that there are times to politely decline, to ask for what you need, or to just be still. There is such thing as burning out.

What makes you wake up each morning?
The chance to see, feel, wonder, sweat and puff my way through the world another day!

Who inspires you?
I was lucky enough to spend time with Kris Tompkins in Patagonia last December, where she’s currently creating a new national park that is home to incredible ecological diversity. She’s fought cancer, run a successful international company that actually cares about its environmental impact (Patagonia clothing company) and has become a conservation icon working in Patagonia to protect precious tracts of wilderness for the benefit of future generations. Her philosophy is that women are capable of doing anything we want in the world – and should have no excuses. Amen to that!

Finally, who do you think has serious sisu?
I wish I were half as strong and funny as my hilarious and talented climber-slash-photographer-slash-badass bud Christine Bailey Speed. You’ll often find her swinging off ropes snapping climbers around the world. Check out her awesome work here!

Exploring southern Utah’s limestone

After being confined to the editing cave for the last couple of months, I jumped on the opportunity to head to Utah last week with pal, climbing photographer and general badass Christine Bailey Speed to explore southern Utah’s best limestone with The North Face athlete Paige Claassen. Paige is on a mission to tick America’s iconic 5.14s, including her current project, Necessary Evil: a gnarly 5.14C that’s history reads like a who’s who of climbing – equipped by Boone Speed and then first ticked by Chris Sharma in the late 90s, the route has become known as a test piece for the grade for it’s old school, technical style.

The Virgin River Gorge is an unlikely place for some of the world’s best limestone – an exposed crag overlooking I-15, which sinews through the gorge. White noise from the semi traffic and the sight of a graffiti-covered overpass interrupt what would otherwise be a spectacular gorge scene. Bailey and I just embraced the quirky character of the area – the barren desert, semi-industrial gorge, weird middle-of-nowhere desert town vibe – and had a blast roaming the plains and hanging out on a rope shooting Paige. We’ll be cutting a short piece on Paige and Necessary Evil in coming weeks.


Mapping Patagonia

Whilst shooting in Patagonia for Middlebury College, we spent extra time in Patagonia Park to build out the story of Midd alumnus Marty Schnure and her partner Ross Donihue, National Geographic Young Explorers and the cartographers behind Maps for Good, a start up that creates maps and media to help organizations illustrate their conservation work. Being a total map geek myself, I was really excited to spend time with them and get some insight into exactly how the process of map creation works. Turns out, it’s pretty straightforward. As Marty says – we walk, we observe, we record. And so we walked – tromped, in fact – all over Patagonia Park for a week, taking full advantage of the epic scenery to make some gorgeous imagery.

We also spent time with Kris Tompkins, head of Conservacion Patagonica and who founded the park ten years ago and during that time has nurtured the land back to health. A conservation icon herself, Kris’ sage voice runs as a powerful thread through the film, juxtaposed with the sprightly, aspirational voices of Marty and Ross, who are defining a new era exploration rooted in pursuit of greater understanding and betterment of our world. The park sets an apt scene to explore issues like the importance of wild lands, what role maps serve in conservation and how to ignite a fire in the younger generation infuse some greater purpose and meaning to their adventures in nature. The film is currently in post-production and we’re excited to develop the concept further over the coming months.

Big shout out to Ross Donihue for the images!

Cultural immersion in India

The Middlebury Accomplishments film, currently in production with Seedlight Pictures, gave me the opportunity to explore some pretty amazing places around the world over the last few months. One of those was Chennai, India, where a Midd alum is working as a researcher studying the impact that ailments like sleep deprivation, alcoholism or chronic pain have on the ability of local workers to make money. This work required him to be frequently out ‘in the field’ speaking with his target populations – people like flower stringers, rickshaw pullers and rag pickers. These people are some of the lowest paid and hardest working in Chennai, a city of nine million people on the south east coast of India. Covering this story provided unique access to communities that I might never have otherwise connected with.

I traveled there with DP Andy Maser and spent the week exploring Chennai’s working class neighborhoods, industrial district, markets, city dump, and coast capturing this story – and being positively immersed in the visceral culture of India. Shooting in India was such a stark contrast to Patagonia, where we were just a week before, shooting almost totally alone in a wilderness area the size of Rhode Island. On the streets of Chennai, elbow to elbow with people from every imaginable walk of life, just the sight of a couple of tall white folk was enough to turn heads, let alone tall white folk with cameras. But the experience of having to capture a story amid so much chaos was incredibly valuable. And now, diving into the footage, it’s cool to see the dynamism and intensity of the city show through. Stay tuned for a final cut of the film from Seedlight Pictures later in the year.

Around the world with Middlebury changemakers

At my frequent collaborator Seedlight Pictures, we’ve had Middlebury as an ongoing commercial client for a number of years, during which time we’ve produced online video content for lots of their different programs, from Bread Loaf School of English to the Language Schools and the new School of the Environment. In 2014, we were be commissioned to create a 15-minute short film exploring the impact the school has had on the lives of its students through the eyes of four standout alumni making change around the world. We went through a lengthy vetting process to whittle down our extensive list of potential characters to a select four that represented a diverse cross section of disciplines, geographies and personalities.

Our chosen subjects led us from the Midd campus in Vermont, to the UN Global Leadership Awards in New York City, to a budding financial start up firm in Washington DC, a national-park-in-progress in the Aysen region of Patagonian Chile and to the chaotic, dusty streets of Chennai, India. We’re currently in the depths of the editing cave finalizing post-production on the film, which will be screened at Middlebury and then released publicly in the coming months.

In the works

Growing Local series // Maine Farmland Trust // September 2014

Seedlight Pictures has finally wrapped production on a three part series produced in collaboration with Maine Farmland Trust. The series, Growing Local, explore the challenges and successes of a budding local food industry in the state of Maine. The films are set for their world premiere at the 2014 Camden International Film Festival. Learn more about the project here. My roles in this project were producer, cinematographer, production audio and editor.

H-Town Stories series // Neighborhood Centers Inc. // July 2014

Neighborhood Centers Inc. will soon release its second series of H-Town stories exploring the role of work in the lives of those in Houston. My role in this project was in-field producer. Learn more about the series here or watch the trailer below: