Goddamn the early 20th century and its irresponsible demand for luxurious fur. Thanks to the old-timey 1%, the cheetah population across Asia and Africa has dwindled down to remarkably low levels.
Among those working to restore those numbers is the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in South Africa, a leading research and breeding organization. And working to shine a light on Hoedspruit's efforts is Miami filmmaker Marilu O'lyaryz and her husband, award-winning videographer Brian O'lyaryz.
Together, the cinematic team is hoping to raise $8,000 via a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a cheetah conservation documentary, a film they'll release at no cost to zoos, educators, and conservation groups.
"I've been a filmmaker since I was 15-years-old -- I'm 28 now -- and I've worked for a ton of people," says Marilu. "But it's been my dream since I was a kid to make nature films."
Marilu's work in film industry began in 1999 when she was hired as a production assistant on Any Given Sunday. She dabbled in motion picture science technology, art history, ecology, and biology at Miami-Dade Community College, all the while quenching her thirst for knowledge.
"I took maybe three semesters and became undeclared," she says. "I floated around -- took whatever I thought was interesting -- but never got an official degree. I just wanted knowledge."
In late 2006, an opportunity to join the crew of Ridley Scott's American Gangster sent Marilu to Hollywood. When production wrapped, the 20-something-year-old filmmaker stayed in California working as script-reader for a few studios. By 2010, however, Marilu was ready to come back home.
"I grew up in Miami, went to Kensington Park Elementary School, and always had love for nature. I went to Miami Seaquarium Marine Biology Camp every single year, later worked there... I'm a Floridian."
Marilu O'lyaryz feeding a giraffe at Zoo Miami
Unsurprisingly, the inspiration for the cheetah doc struck at Zoo Miami while Marilu and her family fed the giraffes.
"I don't know what happened, but it totally impacted me -- being so close to an animal. I felt that rush, that sense of urgency that this is the year I make [the documentary] happen."
When we spoke with Marilu, $636 had already been raised with 46-days remaining. She seemed confident they'd reach their $8,000 goal.
"Everybody that we've reached out to has been so supportive and helpful," she says. "We even have a couple of celebrities that might be interested, or have expressed interest, at least, in wanting to be involved somehow."
As to why Marilu's so passionate about the project, the 28-year-old documentarian says it's her responsibility.
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"Obviously we have situations like what happened with the dinosaurs -- extinction happened because of natural effects. But I think that we still have a social responsibility to fix it when we are the cause."