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Chris Palmer

Distinguished Film Producer in Residence, American University

Chris Palmer

Chris Palmer is a professor, speaker, author, and environmental/wildlife film producer who has swum with dolphins and whales, come face-to-face with sharks and Kodiak bears, camped with wolf packs, and waded hip-deep through the Everglade swamps.

Chris serves on American University’s full-time faculty as Distinguished Film Producer in Residence. In 2004, he founded AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking at the School of Communication, which seeks to inspire a new generation of filmmakers and media experts to create informative, ethically sound, and entertaining work that makes a difference.

Chris also serves as president of the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation, which produces and funds IMAX films on conservation issues. MacGillivray Freeman Films is the world’s largest and most successful producer of IMAX films.

Over the past thirty years, Chris has spearheaded the production of more than 300 hours of original programming for prime time television and the IMAX film industry. His films have been broadcast on numerous channels, including Animal Planet, the Disney Channel, PBS, and TBS. His IMAX films include Whales, Wolves, Dolphins, Bears, Coral Reef Adventure, and Grand Canyon Adventure. In the course of his career, he has worked with the likes of Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, and Ted Turner.

Chris’s career as a film producer began in 1983 when he founded National Audubon Society Productions, a nonprofit film company and part of the National Audubon Society, which he led as president and CEO for eleven years. In 1994, he founded National Wildlife Productions, a nonprofit multimedia company and part of the National Wildlife Federation, which he led as president and CEO for ten years.

His 2010 book, Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom (Sierra Club Books), was described by Jane Goodall as “a very important and much-needed book.” Now in its second printing, Shooting in the Wild pulls back the curtain on the dark side of wildlife filmmaking, revealing an industry undermined by sensationalism, fabrication, and animal abuse. Chris also produced a film version of Shooting in the Wild for PBS with Alexandra Cousteau.

His 2015 memoir, Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker: The Challenges of Staying Honest in an Industry Where Ratings Are King (Bluefield Publishing), calls for mainstream television networks to stop producing wildlife films which harass animals, deceive audiences, and harm conservation efforts. Jean-Michel Cousteau called Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker “fascinating reading,” and Ted Danson described it as a “must-read for all who care about the natural world.”

Chris’s latest book, Now What, Grad? Your Path to Success after College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), switches gears from wildlife films to another passion of his: teaching and inspiring young people. This book focuses on the crucial skills that schools often don’t teach, such as how to organize a job search, how to manage time effectively, how to speak powerfully, how to network, and how to create a personal mission statement.

His next two books will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The first is on how parents can help their children succeed in school, and the second is on teaching.

Profiles about Chris have appeared in many publications including the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He has been interviewed on the Today Show, ABC Nightline, NPR, Fox News Channel, and others. He publishes articles regularly (including a bimonthly column on “best practices” for Realscreen Magazine), and serves on the boards of ten nonprofits.

Chris is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and film festivals. He regularly gives workshops on a variety of topics, including how to radically improve success and productivity, how to live a balanced life, how to raise money, and how to motivate and engage students. In 2015, Chris spoke at TEDxAmericanUniversity. For five years, while teaching at AU, he was a stand-up comedian and performed regularly in DC comedy clubs.

Chris and his colleagues have won numerous awards, including two Emmys and an Oscar nomination. Chris has also been honored with the Frank G. Wells Award from the Environmental Media Association and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Media at the 2009 International Wildlife Film Festival. In 2010, he was honored at the Green Globe Awards in Los Angeles with the award for Environmental Film Educator of the Decade. In 2011, he received the IWFF Wildlife Hero of the Year Award for his “determined campaign to reform the wildlife filmmaking industry,” and in 2012, he was named the recipient of the Ronald B. Tobias Award for Achievement in Science and Natural History Filmmaking Education. He received the 2014 University Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching at AU, the 2015 University Film and Video Association Teaching Award, and the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Wildlife Film Festival.

In his twenty years before becoming a film producer, Chris was a high school boxing champion, an officer in the Royal Navy, an engineer, a business consultant, an energy analyst, an environmental activist, chief energy advisor to a senior U.S. senator, and a political appointee in the Environmental Protection Agency under President Jimmy Carter. He also jumped out of helicopters and worked on an Israeli kibbutz.

Chris holds a B.S. with First Class Honors in Mechanical Engineering from University College London, an M.S. in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture also from University College London, and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University where he was a Kennedy Scholar and received a Harkness Fellowship.

Born in Hong Kong, Chris grew up in England and immigrated to the United States in 1972. He is married to Gail Shearer and is the father of three grown daughters: Kim, Christina, and Jenny. He and Gail have endowed a scholarship for environmental film students at AU to honor Chris’s parents and to encourage the next generation of storytellers to save the planet.

Summit Sessions

Making a Winning Video