Sébastien Zanella: ‘The Younger Generation Is Much Cleverer Than I Was’ – Interview

By Olivia Emily

9 months ago

Sébastien Zanella has released a new short film in collaboration with On The Edge

French filmographer and photographer Sébastien Zanella came to eco consciousness later in life. ‘The future is so positive,’ he says, ‘because at some point the power will eventually fall to those who understand the world that we live in’ – ‘those’ being the younger generation. He has worked with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Porsche, but his latest project, Surf, delves into the ocean to raise awareness for our natural world, in collaboration with not for profit On The Edge. We sat down with Sébastien to talk all about Surf and our relationships with nature.

Interview With Photographer Sébastien Zanella

Hi Sébastien, it’s great to have you on C&TH. Firstly, how’s life going at the moment?

Pretty powerful I’d say! I’ve just moved from France to live on an island in the Atlantic. It allows me to be close to the ocean and the values I care about.

You’ve just teamed up with On the Edge to launch Surf. Can you give us a quick summary of the project? What drew you to the project?

I have been in the surf industry since I was 16 years old, shooting the biggest surfers all over the world, but after 20 years the travelling and exploiting nature for fun began to feel pointless. So, in more recent years, I’ve been on a quest to find a meaning to my art, trying to bring back curiosity into humanity and nature, encouraging people to protect and care more. So, when On the Edge contacted me, I felt we shared the same values and interests. The idea is not to over-explain the importance of nature but just to put my spotlight on the ones that live in harmony with it, with the hope to influence a new generation.

What was filming like?

Natural. Not only because I’ve been filming since the age of 16, but because I try not to overthink it. I don’t prepare a moodboard or research too much, it’s about being pure and in the moment. My camera is a tool first and foremost to understand the world, but also myself. The filming that we did in the Galapagos filming Pacha and Coral for On the Edge was just letting them live and pressing the buttons when it felt right.


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A post shared by Sebastien J. Zanella (@sebzanella)

You’ve previously worked with international brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Porsche – what was it like making the switch to nature?

My work in filming and shooting is primarily for luxury brands. For example, I recently had the opportunity to collaborate on a book with Anthony Vaccarello from YSL. But even if I’m hired by luxury brands, I don’t stray away from my passion for nature. When luxury brands hire me, it’s because they appreciate the perspective I bring to capturing outsiders in natural settings, giving them a luxurious treatment. I believe in caring for nature and its beauty, and my work aims to convey its magic through my images. My goal is not to merely document nature but to create images that inspire people to reevaluate their relationship with nature.

Which is your favourite of the short films?

I would say the next one. It might be strange, but I film to understand the world that we live in, so the next filming project always provides another opportunity to discover and uncover more about nature and our environment.

What’s your personal favourite animal?

Aren’t we all animals? But if I had to say, I’d say my family and my dog, Luna.

What do you hope viewers will take from Surf?

The aim is not to impress or to show off when surfing or doing other outdoor activities, but to create harmony with the elements and with nature.


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A post shared by On the Edge (@ontheedge_org)

What’s the most amazing thing about nature?

That as humans we will never understand its full magic. It only takes changing your perspective, switching your brain off and allowing your senses to take over. Not trying to understand anything too much, that’s when the magic happens.

Why is conservation important?

Because we are guilty of destroying everything simply for our comfort and ego. So to understand and give back is important.

When did you realise this?

Really late in my life. I came from a simple family with no education or books, so I was trained by the society that I lived in. At school, it’s hard to have independent thinking when your learning is restricted, particularly in the middle or poorer classes. Slowly, the more I read and became educated, the more I started to feel that something was wrong and began to question things. As a result, I try to understand and think less scientifically, and instead develop my understanding of the world through my camera, and through feeling.

What green practices in your own life are you most proud of?

Trying to find a meaning in everything that I do. Not working against the system but trying to see how I can gradually create change and give a voice to those who don’t have one. If with my life, I can change the attitude of even a few people and help them to see and respect the simple things, I will have succeeded.


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A post shared by Sebastien J. Zanella (@sebzanella)

What makes you feel positive about a sustainable future?

That the younger generation is much cleverer than I was. The number of vegetarians and vegans is already higher. They were born with a destroyed planet and don’t listen so much to the education system and those with privilege. So yes, the future is so positive, because at some point the power will eventually fall to those who understand the world that we live in.

And what are the facts that make you fearful?

Politics and the richest people, it seems they all come from the same school of thinking. Their education is disconnected from our true nature and I see the results of this every time I read the news.

Name three people who are doing the right thing for the planet and why you like them?

They are mainly French, because I am, but Cyril Dion is inspiring for trying to make people aware through his poetry and documentaries. Camille Etienne, because she is so smart, young and fearless. She chooses to fight for our planet and has withstood so much criticism. She is courageous. And finally Paul Watson, for truly being active and putting his words into action.

What are the biggest challenges in championing conservation?

Educating the people who have the power.

What advice can you give to other people who are wanting to do better? Three things we should all, as individuals, be doing to help in the conservation fight?

Just find meaning in every aspect of your life; your job, hobbies, anything. The more money and power you have, the more responsibilities you have too. This world is headed for trouble if everything we do is to make us richer and is superficial. Everything comes more naturally to those who find meaning in doing what they love – life can be simple like that.


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A post shared by Sebastien J. Zanella (@sebzanella)


Watch Sébastien’s two short films on On The Edge’s YouTube channel.