We want more roads, more cars, more fossil fuels, and never mind where they come from or at what cost. Our natural world is vanishing; and we are ceaseless in our destruction of it:
BBC One Frozen Planet :: Owl in flight. The money shot
For over a quarter of a century, the husband-wife team of Dereck and Beverly Joubert from Botswana have been filming, photographing and documenting African wildlife. Their work is astonishing: 22 films, 10 books, scientific papers, articles and photographs (Beverly Joubert’s) in National Geographic magazine. The awards are many, and include six Emmys, a Peabody, the World Ecology Award and induction into the American Academy of Achievement.
Their recent work has focussed on the big cats — lions, cheetahs, leopards — but they have also filmed rhinos, elephants and other animals. They are today “explorers-in-residence” at the National Geographic Society, where they have founded the Big Cat initiative. The films, now on DVD, are jaw dropping. The Jouberts get up close and personal but remain unnoticed. One of their early films, the Emmy Award winning, “Eternal Enemies: Lions and Hyenas” has astounding footage of matriarchal hyena families, and the deep-rooted enmity with lions. Towards the end, a lioness has been harassed for several hours by a hyena pack. Finally, the male lion comes to the rescue: a slow-motion shot of him emerging from the grass, breaking from a trot into a thundering run, chasing the hyena matriarch and, with one blow of his paw, snapping her spine. A second film has a shocking title: “Ultimate Enemies: Elephants and Lions”. Eight years in the making, this one has never-before footage of bull elephants and lions at a Botswana waterhole. The third in this “enemies” series is about lions and buffalo; and “The Eye of the Leopard” raises the bar even higher. Narrated by Jeremy Irons, the film follows the life of a female leopard, Legadema, from the time she is just eight days old to the brink of adulthood at three years. There are shots here of the leopard chasing baboons through the trees (yes, up in the trees) of the Okavango Delta. The Joubert’s latest film, The Last Lions, has just been released.
Lioness hunt | Photo by Beverly Joubert
National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and [BBC’s Natural History Unit (BBC One): between them, these channels and production companies have been showing us our planet in ways we’ve never seen. BBC’s 2006 Planet Earth (co-produced by Discovery) took five years to make, and was the most expensive nature documentary of all time with a budget of nearly £20 million. It has footage never before filmed including one of a bird doing a special mating dance that took over 100 days of waiting. This is the film that captured the rare snow leopard, and caught it hunting (and failing to catch) a markhor on a rocky scree in the Karakoram. For the first time, the filming crew used a specially mounted aerial camera and were able to film the hunting tactics of African wild dogs and Artic wolves seen from above. And the team went everywhere, including underground and underwater and you can’t help feeling that this must have been one crazy bunch: who else would film the feeding frenzy of piranhas from underwater? There is far more to this series than wild animals, too: we see the entirety of the natural world, from glaciers and polar caps to tropical rainforests and the living things in them all.
There seems to be no limit to the filmmakers’ inventiveness. The Spy in the Jungle series, produced by John Downer, uses remote hidden cameras — concealed in tree stumps or camouflaged in forest litter, or carried by elephants in their trunks (“the trunk cam”). The results, again, are to take us to places we could never otherwise go: a tigress and five cubs wandering through a forest in summer, leopard cubs just out of their den (and who seem fascinated by their reflections in the camera lens). The three-part series was filmed over three years at the Pench National Park, and is narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
Series producer John Downer, from John Downer Productions, said: “Tigers are so secretive and they live in such dense jungle that it is very difficult for a human film crew to get close to them.
“But elephants are the ultimate four-by-four camera vehicle - and have allowed us to film these animals closer than we have ever been able to film them before.”
The crew used three types of high-definition cameras, designed and built by Geoff Bell and operated by cameraman Michael Richards:
A remotely-operated trunk-cam, which could film while the elephants were on the move and could also be set down.
A remotely-operated tusk-cam, which was smaller than the trunk cam and could be carried by the elephants for much longer periods.
Log and rock cams — cameras disguised as logs or rocks — which could be set down either by an elephant or human crew member and were activated by motion sensors.
Mr Downer said: “The elephants were remarkably stable — almost like a steady-cam, and they only needed a little bit of training to carry and set down the cameras.
“With these cameras, anywhere a tiger went or whatever it did, we could keep on filming it. They were the ultimate filming devices.”
Mr Downer added: “This sort of thing hasn’t been done before. It is a bit of a bonkers idea …”
Let’s hear it for bonkers ideas like these.
Five years after Planet Earth, BBC returned with The Frozen Planet, co-produced by the Discovery Channel and the Open University. The seven-part series focuses entirely on the Polar Regions and has footage that matches, and in some cases, surpasses the stuff of Planet Earth. The crew shot in the most hostile conditions on earth: winter in the Antarctic, with temperatures nearly minus 70 Celsius and 200 kmph storm winds; beneath gigantic ice-floes; into polar volcanoes and caves. There are many unforgettable sequences in this film: tiny undersea creatures that catch the sun’s rays in summer and produce dazzling fairy-light bursts along their fins; killer whales hunting in packs and tipping over ice floes to dunk their seal prey; an owl flying straight at the camera in super-slo-mo; an albatross fledging and taking its first flight never to set foot on land for another five years; a weasel chasing a vole in micro-tunnels under the tundra. And, of course, the polar bears and the penguins. We follow a female bear from her birthing of cubs (BBC was criticized for staging this, and later defended, but the footage is still incredible) till they begin to grow. And there’s the classic, signature shot of the series, another super-slo-mo super-close-up of an emperor penguin flying out of the sea through an ice-hole to plop on its belly, every droplet and feather in tack-sharp focus. Each ‘episode’ is followed by a short documentary-within-a-documentary called “Freeze Frame”, highlighting the filming. There’s the aerial camera here, too, and with it and with another placed perfectly at ground level, we witness an epic battle for life between Arctic wolves and bison.
Frozen Planet :: Penguin in flight | Photo: BBC
Frozen Planet :: Penguin belly landing | Photo: BBC
The last segment of Frozen Planet, called On Thin Ice, is, quite literally, chilling. It shows what is happening to our planet as our ice caps melt faster than they ever have in 20 years: the damage to wildlife, the damage to the environment, the damage to and impoverishment of local populations and communities — and the gigantic benefits to big business, especially oil and natural gas companies. If there’s one criticism of this segment, it is that it does not go far enough, that it is much too neutral, even placid.
We want more roads, more cars, more fossil fuels, and never mind where they come from or at what cost. Our natural world is vanishing; and we are ceaseless in our destruction of it: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a toxic sludge of plastics and chemicals in the Pacific Ocean, is estimated to be between 700,000 to 15 million sq kms — some say twice the area of the continental United States — and it continues to grow, as do its cousins, the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch and the North Atlantic Garbage Patch. Perhaps as individuals we think ourselves helpless; but that is why films like the Joubert’s and NatGeo’s and the BBC’s are important. They show us not just what we are losing, but, as the sands of time run out on us, they also show us the way we are.
For over a quarter of a century, the husband-wife team of [Dereck and Beverly Joubert] from Botswana have been filming, photographing and documenting African wildlife. Their work is astonishing: 22 films, 10 books, scientific papers, articles and photographs (Beverly Joubert's) in National Geographic magazine. The awards are many, and include six Emmys, a Peabody, the World Ecology Award and induction into the American Academy of Achievement.
: http://www.wildlifefilms.co/ "Wildlife Conservation Films"