James Suter is a South African filmmaker and private guide based in Cape Town. Having experience in both of these professions, James Suter is able to provide his clients unforgettable safari tours with breathtaking sceneries, through the eyes of a filmmaker. While continuing his tours, he also co-founded an independent film production company called Black Bean. Let’s read more about his exciting stories through the words of James Suter himself!
Biography of James Suter
|Job||Photographer, Filmmaker, and Private Guide|
|Hobbies / Interests||Photography, cycling, beekeeping, gardening and permaculture, and family time|
|Number of Countries Visited||? 29|
|Social Media Accounts||Instagram/jamessuter|
How did you start private guiding/filmmaking?
I realized from a very young age that I had a deep connection with the wilderness and with wildlife. This is a testament to my father’s influence as he had exposed me to this from a young age. I started studying for a degree in commerce. But, soon I realized that I wanted to be channeling my energy into something that I really enjoyed. This led to my decision to pursue a course studying Environmental Studies in Game Ranch Management which I thoroughly enjoyed. It allowed me the flexibility to explore other areas of interest such as completing a course through FGASA which is the Field Guiding Association of South Africa.
It was my FGASA qualification, along with various other practical and theoretical courses that I completed over this period that enabled me to land a position as a Game Ranger for Singita. After a few years, I found myself working in the beautiful concession on the Eastern boundary of Kruger National Park near the Sabi Sands border where I had the most incredible chapter working and living in the bush. I had the opportunity to meet many people and organizations doing important work in the conservation space and learned so much during this period.
However, around this time my father fell ill. Thus, I made the decision to move back to Cape Town and be with him. After moving back to the city, we started Black Bean Productions by combining our knowledge of the Bush and our passion for filmmaking and photography to share conservation and humanitarian stories that could help inspire change and raise awareness.
How is it like to travel with your family?
Don’t let Instagram fool you – it’s not easy traveling with a 7-month-old and a 3-year-old. With that being said, we believe that even if our children cannot remember these times, that these trips will build and shape them in ways that are hard to describe. It is very important to us that we are able to share these experiences with our children. They are learning to be adaptable to connect with people from all walks of life, and are being exposed to true wilderness areas, and learning to appreciate our natural world.
How do you think your professions relate to each other? Better experience for guests?
After realizing that a lot of people didn’t know what was happening in Africa on the ground and what challenges conservation and humanitarian organizations were facing, we felt this need to tell stories, document what was happening on the ground, and inform people of what was going on. While working as a guide we would often pick up a camera and document the amazing sightings we were experiencing in the field to add value to the guest’s experience. However, this meant that when we came across sightings of poaching, this would also be captured. It was important for us to document things as they occurred in front of us, whether it was good or bad.
What really helped us in Black Bean’s formative years were the contacts that I had built up in this field, as well as the fact that I was very much knowledgeable on these conservation and wildlife topics. I was trusted to be out there in the field, knew when to be sensitive, and how to protect myself in a possibly dangerous situation. This was hugely beneficial in those early days.
What can guests expect on a safari trip? Why should they go?
There are many reasons why going on a safari is an unmissable experience. Firstly, of course, it allows you to spend time in the bush, connecting with wildlife and nature. Having the opportunity to witness these incredible animals in their natural habitat is a privilege I never take for granted. It also provides support to the local organizations on the ground who are doing important work to conserve these species and wilderness areas. The tourism sector also employs local community members, which increases economic opportunities in these areas and leads to a higher standard of living. This also plays a role in decreasing small-scale poaching and human-wildlife conflict. Supporting sustainable tourism by going on a safari is not only an unforgettable experience but it also gives guests the opportunity to contribute to meaningful change and support the work being done to protect wildlife and empower communities.
How often do you guide tours? How is life on the road helpful for doing the job?
I am lucky to be in the position where I would go on safaris fairly frequently both in the capacity of a private guide and whilst filming for Black Bean. Being on the road gives me the opportunity to be constantly inspired, to meet new people, and to document the important work being done by organizations on the ground.
However, life has changed drastically since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has had devastating implications to the travel industry, largely owing to various travel restrictions and quarantine regulations. I was set to depart on an exciting, guided tour in Rwanda a few months ago, and therefore got tested for COVID-19 as part of the new international travel requirements. To my surprise, my test came back positive even though I was showing no symptoms at the time. I was therefore unable to go. However, I am optimistic that with the necessary precautions in place, we will be able to continue sharing these incredible experiences and I look forward to many more guided trips in the future.
Advice for people pursuing filmmaking:
Decide what it is that you feel passionate about, what story you want to tell, and just start. Waiting until everything has fallen into place before you start can often lead to an unfulfilled dream. Pick up your camera and start capturing things around you. There are so many online resources available these days where you will be able to grow your knowledge, build a platform for yourself and experiment with your style.
How many countries have you visited?
3 most beautiful cities?
Cape Town, Hamburg, and Kigali
Other countries you still want to visit?
Gabon, Alaska, and Mongolia
What do you look forward to the most when going on a new trip?
The opportunity to meet new people, experience new cultures, and experience something completely new for the first time.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced during a trip?
The biggest challenge I am currently facing is trying to plan international trips. It is exceedingly difficult to finalize logistics at the moment, as airlines and travel restrictions are very unpredictable, and plans often change very last minute. However, I am fortunate enough to work with an incredible team and together we always find a way to make it work. After spending the majority of 2020 in an extremely strict lockdown, I am just very grateful to be able to travel again.