Telling Stories in Wild Places with Melissa Lesh

As far back as Melissa Lesh can remember, she was making art with her dad. There were always paintbrushes, colored pencils, clay and watercolors scattered around the house. They joked that she was “born with a paintbrush in her hand”. As a kid it was clear she enjoyed art as a visual medium to express and explore. Most of all she loved painting wildlife. Melissa had an obsession with the natural world and at the time art was her way of getting as close to it as she could. Fast forward 20 years later and she had started production on her very first feature-length film, Wildcat. This documentary brought her to the remote Peruvian Rainforest to follow the story of two young individuals working to reintroduce an orphaned baby ocelot back into the wild. This project would grow into a four-year long journey and become the most challenging and significant experience of her life.

Join Melissa as she tells the story of how she shifted from a background in Fine Art to focusing on wildlife and conservation documentary storytelling, the behind the scenes of making Wildcat and everything in between.



Melissa Lesh founded Emerging Earth Films in 2014 as a way to bridge the arts and sciences, focusing on wildlife and conservation stories. As a director, editor and cinematographer, her work has been screened at festivals around the world as well as on platforms such as National Geographic, PBS, Discovery and Amazon Prime. Her 2017 film, Person of the Forest, was a partnership with National Geographic depicting newly discovered cultural behaviors in wild orangutans in Borneo. More recently, Lesh contributed cinematography to the Emmy-winning film The Story of Plastic which aired on Discovery for Earth Day in 2020. Her feature-length directorial debut and most recent film, Wildcat, premiered at The Telluride Film Festival in the fall of 2022 and was acquired by Amazon Studios. The film is currently streaming globally on Prime Video. Lesh is a Sundance Documentary Film Program grantee and Artist-in-Residence at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York. Born in Mumbai, India, she now calls Richmond, Virginia home.

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This program was organized by Phoebe Piper.