On May 16, A-listers and industry heavyweights walked the eco-friendly bamboo carpet at the Montage Beverly Hills for the 15th Annual Los Angeles Dinner to Benefit Conservation International (CI). DreamWorks Animation SKG CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was the man of the hour as he accepted CI’s Global Conservation Hero Award recognizing the studio’s commitment to supporting the development of the local economy, and preserving panda habitats, in Sichuan Province, China.
This year’s star-studded fund-raising dinner for the organization—which for 24 years has striven to protect the world’s many endangered natural resources through science and partnerships with corporations, governments, nonprofits and local communities—took on an Asian-inspired theme in honor of DreamWorks Animation’s recently released film Kung Fu Panda 2 and CI’s immense panda-conservation efforts in Sichuan Province. Thanks to the Kung Fu Panda films, that part of the world has been brought more directly into the spotlight. “Po is an inspired panda—he’s anthropomorphized and a lovable, adorable, huggable character,” says Katzenberg of the title character, voiced by Jack Black, a staunch conservationist and CI supporter. “Hopefully just seeing the beauty of Po will make people care about making sure the real thing has a place in this world. We actually have the ability to help ensure that. It’s not why we made the movies, but it’s a wonderful dividend that comes with it.”
Since DreamWorks Animation’s inception, many of its 22 films have featured animals that are exotic, unique and endangered. “I’m proud DreamWorks [Animation] has made and continues to make these wonderful pieces that are entertainment, but also—in a very authentic and hopefully powerful yet subtle way—show some of the most wonderful aspects of nature and the world out there,” says Katzenberg of DreamWorks Animation’s symbiotic relationship with CI and its diverse initiatives.
A self-professed nature lover, Katzenberg was introduced to CI about seven years ago by Harry “Skip” Brittenham, a board member of both CI and DreamWorks Animation. Then, after personally supporting the organization for some time, Katzenberg realized the great philanthropic power DreamWorks Animation’s nature-centric movies could wield. It was an epiphany that coincided with 2005’s Madagascar. “I was very interested in understanding the real world of Madagascar versus the fantasy world we had created in our movie, so I contacted CI and found out how actively engaged they were in a large number of activities there,” he says. After an inspiring visit to the beautiful but poverty-stricken country, Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn, decided to make a contribution to CI to help support the country’s burgeoning eco-tourism industry.
Giant pandas at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan Province, China
DreamWorks Animation also collaborated with CI around the film’s release to support its Malagasyrooted causes. “There’s nothing more exciting to me than going on safari in Africa, India or some exotic part of the world where you get to see nature at its purest and most beautiful,” says Katzenberg. “I can’t get enough of it, and therefore it finds its way into my work all the time.”
With the release of the hit Kung Fu Panda in 2008, DreamWorks Animation again saw an opportunity to promote a CI initiative. The company contributed $500,000 to support CI’s Panda Survival Plan, while Black recorded a promotional piece about getting involved in CI’s work in China. “These movies come along and celebrate these amazing natural worlds and environments, and people get very interested in them and want to experience the real places,” says Katzenberg.
Because DreamWorks Animation draws so much inspiration from the natural world in its films, Katzenberg admits he feels a debt and obligation to support its preservation. “It’s one of the things I really like most about CI’s mission statement,” he says, “which is, people need nature in order to thrive.”
Although Katzenberg was the man of the hour at CI’s glamorous dinner, for him, the best part of the night was seeing the friendly faces of his actor and entertainment-industry friends, whom he says he can always count on to step up to the plate. “It’s one of the things that always makes me proud of Hollywood—it has been, is and I believe always will be one of the most generous and philanthropic groups of people anywhere on this planet,” says Katzenberg. “There’s a very long tradition of giving in Hollywood—and this is a prime example.” conservation.org