Alum’s feature film heralds wildlife and landscape of Big Sur’s wild coast

A new film by Kennan Ward, a 1980 UC Santa Cruz graduate in environmental studies, features the stunning landscape and wildlife of the Big Sur coast. (Photo by Karen Ward)
The film, shot with large-format, high-speed digital cameras features seldom seen events such as a bobcat hunting seagulls on the beach. (Photo by Kennan Ward)

Acclaimed wildlife photographers, UC Santa Cruz alumnus Kennan Ward and his wife Karen, will screen their feature film “It’s a Wild Life” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.

Made over six years, the 88-minute film features the stunning land, sea, and wildlife of the Big Sur coast with much of the footage filmed at the UC Santa Cruz-managed Landels-Hill Big Creek natural reserve in the Santa Lucia mountains.  The Wards will also show their film Saturday and Sunday April 18-19 at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur.

Ward (College Eight, ’80, environmental studies) said the film began as a landscape project “but after we spent some time out there we discovered some incredible wildlife behavior.” They used large-format, high-speed Red “Epic” and “Dragon” digital cameras that enabled them to capture minute behaviors and activities not detectable to the naked eye. The cameras were designed for studio use but “we decided to take them into the field,” he said.  

“It’s a Wild Life” premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February and has been selected for the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Mont. later this month and the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York in October.

The film includes scenes of California condors, mountain lions, black bears, and bobcats, including a one-eyed female bobcat hunting seagulls on the beach with a leaping motion akin to flying.

“Our highest moment came when you could see the condors, one (feather) at a time, make micro adjustments in their flight,” Ward said.  “Biology, nature, and technology came together at one time.”

The film also captures the early days and fledging of one of the first condor chicks to be hatched in the wild in recent times.

Kennan Ward studied natural history and environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1970s as a commuter student while working as a ranger at Big Basin State Park. He worked with pioneering UC Santa Cruz natural history professors Ken Norris, Ray Dasmann, and Dick Cooley and completed independent studies that led to a joint B.A. degree in environmental studies and wildlife biology in 1980.

He and Karen, a San Jose State grad, met in the early 1980s, married in Yosemite in 1986, and have worked together on photographic projects around the world ever since. They’ve published numerous books in addition to thousands of photographs. When not on assignment they live in Santa Cruz.

Mark Readdie, manager of the 3,848-acre Big Creek reserve, is scheduled to introduce the Wards who will give a short introduction to the film. Feynner Arias, a Big Creek reserve steward who has lived at Big Creek for 30 years, plays the only human part in the film and will join Readdie and the Wards for a question-and-answer session afterwards.

Tickets are $12.60 in advance and are available at or at the Tomboy store next to the Rio Theatre.