Alastair Fothergill on The Making of Planet Earth, Blue Planet and Frozen Planet

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Since I’ve been too busy on my course lately to write anything that I’m, not going to get credit for (sorry!), here’s a press release I wrote for a talk my coursemates and I went to…

Alastair Fothergill has produced some of the best natural history films to come out of the BBC, and in the last decade has emerged one of the genre’s most prominent pioneers. On Thursday, he gave a talk about some of his finest films in aid of the Starfish Pool Appeal, a campaign to raise money for a hydrotherapy pool for children with disabilities at Claremont Secondary School. A presentation of both footage and the stories behind the making of the biggest landmark series’ produced by Fothergill, the evening was entertaining for everyone in attendance, from families to filmmakers.

Introduced as a “true legend in Natural History film making”, Fothergill began the evening by sharing some of his early career aspirations, explaining that he wanted to make natural history films to paint a portrait of our planet, and the complex animals, plants, and landscapes that make it so beautiful. Before Blue Planet, there hadn’t been many films made about the oceans, and with footage such as that of the deep ocean viewers were shown new landscapes and behaviours they’d never seen before. Five years later, Planet Earth was a series of portraits of different habitats, and viewers were blown away by sequences such as that of the snow leopard; the first time the animal had been caught on camera. Equally as enthralling is the story behind the camera – sharing the area of the Karakorum mountain range with US soldiers looking for Osama Bin Laden, the cameramen had to wait a year for the area to be cleared.

Fothergill admitted that he owes much of the success of Planet Earth to the technology: new gadgets like the gimbal-stabilised helicopter rig allowed for complete sequences to be filmed from the air for the first time. New camera technology that allowed cameras to work in extreme cold conditions meant that filming for Frozen Planet could continue throughout the year, allowing the story of the seasons at the poles to be told. Despite this however someone still had to be there to operate those cameras, and Fothergill told stories of cameramen floating away on ice sheets, and even recording messages for their wives in case they didn’t survive one particularly bad blizzard.

The end of the talk brought a range of questions from the audience, and we learned that Fothergill’s favourite animal is a chimpanzee, and his favourite place is South Georgia, despite the cold. He also told of his frustration that such big spectacles that he sees when on location are often not done justice being shown on small screens, something which has recently caused him to move into feature films for Disneynature. His desire to reach a large audience however has brought him back to television, as he believes it is important to inspire the younger generation to connect with and respect the natural world. And if he keeps making films like he showed on Thursday, I do believe he will continue to do so.

Wildscreen 2014 Nominees

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It’s just over 4 months until Wildscreen Festival 2014 and my excitement levels are beginning to rise! Tickets are on sale, speed pitching applications have opened, and the list of nominees has been released, filling my TV-watching schedule from now until the festival. There’s a few immediately recognisable titles on the list – David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive, Animal Odd Couples, Dolphin: Spy in the Pod, Chimpanzee to name a few – and many more that I’m sure contain a plethora of magic moments I am yet to discover.

There’s a couple in particular that I’m really excited to see in the list of nominees. The first, nominated for the People & Nature Award, is The Bat Man Of Mexico, one of the current Natural World series that I’m really enjoying. The programme follows Rodrigo Medellin, a conservationist who has dedicated his life to saving bats in his home country, Mexico, where the majority of the population regard bats as dirty, vermin of the skies. He tells fascinating stories about his life in the service of his favourite animals (including having to feed vampire bats from his own blood) and embarks upon a journey tracking the lesser long-nosed bat as it migrates across the country. An important pollinator of the agave plant, join Rodrigo as he works to save not only the animal he loves, but also his favourite drink, tequila. Watch it on iPlayer here, but you better hurry – there’s only 3 days left!

The second nominee that I’m particularly excited about is for the Newcomer Award, and it’s a film called We Are Rhino. The film is by Spencer Austin, who was a student on the Wildlife Filmmaking course that I’m about to start (the film was made for assessment on the course), and it looks at 3 different approaches to rhino conservation in South Africa. Follow a rhino farmer, sanctuary owner and anti-poaching soldier – all with very different views – as they all dedicate their lives to putting into practice what they feel is the solution for saving the rhino from exctinction. It’s a great film, and it’s really exciting for me to think that I might finish my course with the necessary skills to make something so powerful. Watch it below and if, like me, you feel like your excitement bubbling up inside you… Why not buy a ticket to Wildscreen Festival? Early bird tickets are on sale until August.