Domer Diaries

My Domer Diary: Jeff Morales

Documenting Nature's Wonders


Editor’s Note: Domer Diaries is the newest storytelling series from the Alumni Association where members of the Notre Dame family tell their stories in their own words. This week’s Domer Diary entry comes from Jeff Morales ’86, an Emmy Award-winning nature cinematographer and producer/director for National Geographic, Smithsonian Channel, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). 

Class Year: 1986

Residence Hall: Keenan, Zahm, Saint Mary’s College Rome Study Abroad Program, Off-Campus

Majors and Minor: Government & International Studies

Student Activities: was in a hippy hillbilly band New Age Mothers

Local Notre Dame club: Canada-British Columbia 

What accomplishments have you been most proud of in your career? 

It is difficult to narrow down because each project has been a unique and rewarding experience. I've worked with iconic wildlife (lions, leopards, elephants, crocs, brown bears, etc.), which has provided unforgettable and life-affirming moments, but I especially love revealing the remarkable lives of underappreciated and misunderstood creatures (hornets, rats, spiders, pigeons, leeches, etc.). Surprisingly, they are often key to the survival of a healthy ecosystem. Each film is an incredible education for me, working with innovative scientists and talented filmmakers to experience the lives of remarkable animals from a very privileged perspective — the animals’ own world. The biggest prize is sharing this experience with the viewers and hopefully fostering a new appreciation for these animals and the remarkable places that they inhabit. It can be a critical step to preserving these places. David Attenborough said, “No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” I feel the same.

What was a formative moment in your time at Notre Dame that continues to influence you today?

Ha. I would say getting a big fat "F" in my Intro to Photography class was a pretty good motivator.

Overall, it was the people that I encountered and the life-long friendships that I forged that have spanned decades and have nurtured and inspired all kinds of adventures. I've trekked the Himalayas, busked the streets of Paris, and won Emmy Awards with the same group of knuckleheads that I had the good fortune to cross paths with at ND. We all took unconventional paths to where we are today (filmmakers, diplomats, attorneys, educators, judges, surgeons) but have managed to maintain the incredible bonds we forged both at ND and in Saint Mary’s College Rome study abroad program. I'd say that we were all beneficiaries of the “Study Everything. Do Anything” philosophy. I am grateful for the inspiring and sweeping liberal arts education we all received at Notre Dame.

What books, music, movies, television shows or other forms of art have had a lasting impact on your life?

Wow. I have a huge list, but I'll just name a few that come to mind. 

Books: The Sun Also Rises, Lonesome Dove, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Treasure Island, Island of the Blue Dolphin when I was a kid. 

Music: Revolver, Endless Summer, Time Out, Kind of Blue, Beethoven Sonata Pathetique No. 8, Op 13, Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers, After the Goldrush, Odelay, anything that involves Bill Monroe or Mariachi. Too many, really. The list keeps growing.

TV: The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, of course. I've always been mesmerized by the chiaroscuro world of Caravaggio. The SMC Rome Program turned me on to that cat and I never looked back.