Bellingen’s ‘shark girl’ inspires new generation back to nature

Caila Gribben.
Caila Gribben.

Bellingen’s Caila Gribben is a 14-year-old with a vision that may not be palatable to some. 

But nevertheless, it’s won her first prize in a film competition, The (re)Generation Project, run by Macquarie University.

Caila’s winning story, the soup that will end the world, aims to help shift the perception humans hold of sharks and encourage others to see them the way she sees them. 

“Having grown up by the ocean I was inspired by activist ‘shark girl' Madison Stewart to tell my story about my love of sharks,” Caila said.

“I wanted people to relate to the image of sharks as not the man eating monster, but as part of, and important to, our environment. I want to shed a new light that is not so commonly seen – a new perspective. I don’t think there is enough education about sharks.

“I hope my film will help shift the misperceptions humans have about sharks and encourage others to see them the way I see them – as intelligent and inquisitive creatures, crucial to our ecosystem.”

Caila’s determination and passion enabled her to overcome a number of hurdles, not the least being entering the program, which originally had a 15 to 25-year-old age criteria. Other barriers included poor internet connection, insurance restrictions on filming her shark diving, attending Sydney-based screenings and workshops around school times in Bellingen, and having never made a film before.

Luckily the water-loving local not only passed all these tests, but her story had the greatest impact on viewers.

“I am so happy to have won the competition,” Caila said.

“Being a part of The (re)Generation Project has made me feel confident that I can make a difference and develop skills in filmmaking and impact storytelling to do this.

“I did all the scripting, filming and editing by myself. It was definitely an incredible experience that took about five weeks – the editing was tedious!”

Launched in 2014, The (re)Generation Project is run by Macquarie University and supported by the NSW Environmental Trust, and addresses the growing disconnect between urbanised young people and the natural environment.

It explores stories from young people and hopes to inspire a new generation into nature. 

While Caila’s film won, another 11 short movies were made by young filmmakers about the people and places that keep them connected. These included a young Indigenous man’s story of healing, a young fashion designer’s story of her nature-inspired label, a boy’s respite on a rooftop garden in Bangladesh, and the true story of becoming lost in the harsh alpine landscape that ultimately was also the saviour.

“Time in nature improves our health and mental wellbeing, so it is important to encourage young people to switch off and just be in nature,” Macquarie University’s research investigator for The (re)Generation Project, Wendy Goldstein said.

“Storytelling is a widely recognised tool to engage an audience, and enable them to find their own connection rather than telling them what to do, and social and digital media plays such a significant role in young people’s lives today. Therefore, this project is exploring what impact digital stories from young people can have (in the form of short films), to engage and inspire other young people to connect with nature.”

The researchers invite more young people to watch the films and select the story that most inspires them to visit and care for nature by completing a short survey. Participants will have the chance to win two movie tickets.

Watch Caila’s film and the other ten films made by young people at