Monday, 27 April 2009

Life in Cold Blood wins Bafta

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48 years since his first win,
Sir David Attenborough added another Bafta to his cabinet. Attenborough won his third individual award, the specialist factual Bafta for his BBC1 documentary programme about reptiles and amphibians, Life in Cold Blood.

Sir David took to the stage after an excerpt from Life in Cold Blood showed a pair of copulating tortoises. "Thanks go to spitting cobras, axolotls, golden frogs, dwarf chameleons, those happy tortoises," Attenborough said. "This Bafta was won not by me or them but by the production team. I have got the best job going and to go around the world and see all those marvelous things is more than anyone could wish for."

A month shy of his 83rd birthday, the broadcaster has no plans to slow down. Asked if he was considering retirement, Sir David replied: "No, certainly not. I'm going off to the Antarctic next, at the end of the year, to look at penguins and that sort of thing - and icebergs, if they're still there."

The Nominees:
Specialist Factual:Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery
Claudia Lewis, Kim Shillinglaw
BBC Four/BBC Productions
Life in Cold Blood
Production Team
BBC One/BBC Productions
Lost Land of the Jaguar
Production Team
BBC One/BBC Productions
Stephen Fry & the Gutenberg Press: The Machine That Made Us
Stephen Fry, Patrick McGrady, Lucy Ward, Philip Crocker
BBC Four/Wavelength Films

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Disneynature 'Earth' launched today

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The first film in the Disneynature series, “Earth,” narrated by James Earl Jones, tells the remarkable story of three animal families and their amazing journeys across the planet we all call home. “Earth” combines rare action, unimaginable scale and impossible locations by capturing the most intimate moments of our planet’s wildest and most elusive creatures. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the acclaimed creative team behind the Emmy Award-winning “Planet Earth,” combine forces again to bring this epic adventure to the big screen, beginning Earth Day, April 22, 2009.

“Earth” is the first film from Disneynature, the first new Disney-branded label in 60 years. It is headed by Jean-Francois Camilleri, executive vice president and general manager of the company. With plans to release one feature-length nature film a year, Disneynature was formed in the proud tradition established by Walt Disney with the classic True-Life Adventures series form 1948 to 1960, which won eight Academy Awards.

Disneynature launch 'Earth' on Earth day. Just take note of who's name is on the tin whilst watching this incredible movie...
Read the interview here from

"Leave it to Disney to make global warming as soothing as a full-body massage," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "In the grandiosely titled 'Earth,' plundered largely from the BBC Natural History Unit's magnificent 'Planet Earth,' the filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield take the temperature of our planet and conclude that it is rising.... You may leave the theater feeling as fuzzy - and ultimately as powerless - as those doomed polar bears."

Interview: DisneyNature Earth

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Disneynature launch 'Earth' on Earth day.
DisneyNatures EARTH Interview
Interview by Sheila Roberts for

The first film in the Disneynature series, “Earth,” narrated by James Earl Jones, tells the remarkable story of three animal families and their amazing journeys across the planet we all call home. “Earth” combines rare action, unimaginable scale and impossible locations by capturing the most intimate moments of our planet’s wildest and most elusive creatures. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the acclaimed creative team behind the Emmy Award-winning “Planet Earth,” combine forces again to bring this epic adventure to the big screen, beginning Earth Day, April 22, 2009.

“Earth” is the first film from Disneynature, the first new Disney-branded label in 60 years. It is headed by Jean-Francois Camilleri, executive vice president and general manager of the company. With plans to release one feature-length nature film a year, Disneynature was formed in the proud tradition established by Walt Disney with the classic True-Life Adventures series form 1948 to 1960, which won eight Academy Awards.

MoviesOnline sat down with directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield and Disneynature’s executive vice president and general manager, Jean-Francois Camilleri, to talk about their new film, “Earth.” Here’s what they had to tell us:

Q: Can you talk about the genesis of this project and why it was an important film to make?

Alastair: Well, it took five years to make. The original vision was that, if you look at nature in cinema, it’s been played on a relatively small canvas. If you look at movies like Microcosmos, Winged Migration and even March of the Penguins, they’re very focused movies on a particular subject. And, Mark and I felt that nobody had ever tried to do the whole planet and it seemed to be a time where people were increasingly caring about our planet. It was the perfect time. But, we didn’t quite appreciate the scale of the challenge. Logistically, it was massive. The genesis was the desire to make an epic movie about an epic subject, which is the natural history of the whole planet.

Q: There are so many endangered species in the world now. Why pick these particular species?

Mark: One of the storylines is the power of the sun and the journey the sun takes and the strength of the seasons. We wanted to choose animals that were affected by the seasons of the planet. The polar bear, living in the Arctic, is in the most seasonal environment on Earth, and much of the storyline is about how the mother polar bear has to battle with the naturally changing things in her environment. Similarly with the elephants, they have to undertake long, epic journeys through desert, which is seasonal. And, the humpback whales travel from the Equator, all the way down to the south. The other thing about those animals is that they are all engaging, intelligent creatures that we felt people would connect with, and that was very important in telling the story in the cinema.

Q: Do you have to be a certain type of person that you don’t get involved and try to help any of these animals?

Alastair: It’s a very interesting question that we do get asked quite a lot, and I generally think it’s a very interesting one because it’s one that concerns us a great deal. On the first level, what are you supposed to do? The male polar bear was starving, yes. Filming that was, for the cameraman and the director there, a very painful thing to do. But, what are we supposed to do, shoot the walrus? You might shoot one, but then you’ve got a life responsibility to go on doing it. The first rule wildlife filmmakers have is to be true to nature. You don’t interfere, you don’t get involved and the reality is that nature is read in tooth and claw. You have to be true to nature, both on the screen and also in the way that you deal with those issues. Obviously, Mark and I are passionate about the natural world, but we recognize that a cheetah is a predator, beautifully evolved. Yes, a cheetah kills Bambi, and that’s sad, but that cheetah has got its own cubs and I think people understand that, if you put it in context. If you look at the cheetah sequence in Earth, we very deliberately slowed it down. You look at that cheetah and can see every move of its muscle and every sinew in its body, and you think, “This is a beautiful predator, at the very top of its game.” George Fenton, our composer, chose an Armenian woman singing because that’s a completely different voice or sound than you would normally associate with a predation sequence, where you have the traditional, rather cliche drum for “Here comes the predator that’s going to kill them.” We didn’t want that. We wanted to say, “Look at this animal. It is beautiful.” But, we recognize that these are family movies and we’re very careful to cut them so that you don’t dwell on the blood and gore. You don’t need to. People know what’s going to happen.

Mark: That’s an important point. There’s a line of commentary over that cheetah hunt that says, “This is the circle of life that people in their urban environment have lost touch with.” In many ways, that cheetah hunt is metaphorical for lots of stuff that you don’t really need to see. You don’t need to see the blood and guts. The moment that that gazelle is brought down, you really don’t need to see what happens next. But, equally, I don’t think you want to shield people from the sequence, up to that point. That is nature. That is the stuff that some of us are losing contact with.

Q: How long did this take to make? Over what period of time did you make it? How much footage did you end up with? How long did it take to edit all of that together?

Mark: Five years was the production period, of which three years were filming. There were 2,000 days in the field with over 40 different teams. With these true-life adventures, there really is no script. The animals just don’t do stuff to order. The way to crack it is immense effort, immense time and using everything that we can to stack the odds in our favor, using the best scientists, the best locations and just a lot of time.

Alastair: And patience, patience, patience.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you both had to face, during the making of this movie, and what did you learn from them?

Alastair: There were a number of different challenges. Mark has touched on the logistical challenges, to a certain extent, and there were some real technological challenges in this movie. Actually, we were extraordinarily lucky that high-definition cameras had just become available, at the beginning of the shooting. There is an extraordinary camera system called a Cineflex, which stabilizes a lens four or five times more powerful than has ever been stabilized in a helicopter before, and that’s extremely important for wildlife documentaries because you can fly four times higher and still get all the close-ups you need. A classic example would be the wolf hunt. Wolves are very shy animals and they run very fast when they’re running down caribou calves, and you just cannot film that from the ground. That had literally never been filmed before. But, with our helicopter so high that the wolves could hardly hear it, we filmed the whole sequence. And the swimming polar bear, out there where you can’t go in a boat or on foot, we were able to film beautifully in the wild. I was in this helicopter and I was over this male polar bear that was swimming, and I knew nobody had ever filmed anything like that before. It was dark blue water and bits of white ice and he dove down, and I was genuinely in tears because I thought, “This is just beautiful.” I was pleased because I knew it was new, and I was in tears because I was emotionally moved by it. One of the things that we’ve been really pleased about the reaction to this movie in Europe and Japan is that people have said to us, “There’s stuff in this movie which we cannot believe hasn’t been created by a computer.” In a world where a lot of cinema is dependent on computers, and Disney does that better than anybody, it’s really wonderful that, with true-life nature, there is nothing in Earth or any of the movies we are doing as part of Disneynature that isn’t absolutely true.

Mark: That’s where the power of it comes from.

Alastair: That is something really refreshing and new.

Q: What was the most dangerous situation that you got into during filming, that had the biggest pay-off for you?

Alastair: The dangerous one was the lions and elephants with the sequence of the pride of 30 lions bringing down the elephant. You immediately might think that the lions are the dangerous bit and, yes, if you got outside your vehicle, they would have definitely eaten you. But, that was okay. You just sit in the vehicle. But, what was really dangerous was that that sequence was filmed in infrared, in complete darkness, because if you use white light, you would have disturbed the animals. We had about 20 people there with lights and cameras, and the only person who could see anything was the camera woman. Basically, we were in there and there were a lot of these elephants, and these mother elephants were really worried. A 15-20 ton mother elephant, looking after her calf, will run straight through your Land Rover without even thinking about it. That was something where the safety issues were slightly high on our concern levels.

Mark: There were some other surprising ones as well. The great white sharks you would think are not dangerous because we’re in a boat and the great white sharks are leaping away. But, they’re actually leaping quite close to the boat and, at that particular location, it has been known for a shark to leap out of the water, rather innocently chasing a seal, and actually land in the boat, which is not recommended.

Alastair: The other one that was particularly memorable was the sailfish which are these wonderful big fish that are 2-3 meters long with these great big javelin things on their noses. We had about 70 of them together. It was an extraordinarily lucky occurrence to have so many. And they were feeding on little bait fish, which are small fish. These little fish are very clever and they saw the cameraman as the best thing to hide behind, and the cameraman came out of the water and said, “This is just unbelievable. I’m in there and these javelins are shooting past my ear. I can literally hear the roar of this fish.” They swim at 70 mph. It is a fast fish.

Mark: Anything to do with polar bears is another thing. Polar bears are very unusual animals, in that most animals maybe present a risk if they’re wounded or they’re starving and hungry. Polar bears just see you as a nice, tasty mammal, wrapped up in a bit of plastic wrapper. You are fair game for a polar bear. If you think about where they live, out in the Arctic waste, there isn’t much to eat. When they come across something nice that’s the size of a fat seal, they’re going to have a go, if you’re not very careful.

Q: Where do you go from here if this one is Earth? What is on the slate?

JFC: I think Earth is a perfect film to start with because we start with everything earth. The next one will be about oceans, which is depicted in Earth a little bit but it will really be about the ocean, nothing but ocean. Then we are doing a movie called Naked Beauty which is about pollinators, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and explains the incredible love story between them and flowers and vegetables. We are doing a movie with Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey in Kenya about African cats called African Cats: Kingdom of Courage, where we follow cheetahs, lions and leopards. Mark and Alastair are working on a new thing for us called Chimpanzees, which is being shot in the Ivory Coast in Africa

Q: Can you talk about bringing back DisneyNature after a 60 year absence? What prompted it?

JFC: Several things. The first one is there is a great appetite from the worldwide audience for this type of film. We saw it with Winged Migration, March of the Penguins and with Earth, which has been released already in European countries and Asia. I think it makes so much sense for Disney to bring these beautiful films and stories to the big screen. Sixty years ago we had True Life Adventures but even since, even when True Life Adventures ended, Disney has always been very close to nature and to animals so it was making a lot of sense. I think it’s a perfect period to do it because people care about nature more than they might have cared like 20 years ago. And we had these wonderful incredible directors working with us but also the techniques evolved, and worked so well with today’s beautiful theaters, with HD, and great sound. I think these wildlife feature films belong to the big screen and movie theaters. They are the best places to see these films, which might not have been the case 20 years ago. Today, if you want to discover Earth, and animal behaviors and the incredible stories in nature, the movie theaters are the best place to discover them. On the film we are doing with Mark and Alastair, every six months there is a brand new camera coming out that is even better than the ones before. So it’s a perfect time for us to do this and revisit nature.

Q: What about anthropomorphizing animals, like the young polar bears have the spirit of their father in their hearts, when he might have eaten them. Can you talk about that choice to do that so we can identify with them?

Alastair: You’re completely wrong to say the father would eat his own cubs, but you’re completely right that he’d eat anyone else’s cubs. But you are talking about a very key point. We have to recognize that these are family movies and that’s why I think they’ll work so well in theaters. I think they appeal to four year olds and I hope they’ll appeal to 94 year olds. To be honest, if we chose not to anthromorphize the animals in the script, people would anyway. That’s the way human beings look at natural history. I’ve made a lot of natural history television with very scientific narration and you still get anthromorphizing animals. And what’s wrong with that, for God’s sake? You say the polar bear’s young don’t know the spirit of their father, well they do—that’s what they’re doing. They’re carrying on their father’s genes. If you want to replace the word genes with spirit, it’s a bit more romantic, it’s a bit more theatric. I make no excuses for that.

Q: There are a lot of funny things that the animals are doing, like the courting bird and the little birds falling out of the nest and flying, did you make a conscious effort to balance it with humor?

Mark: Absolutely. It’s critical on a cinema movie. In any movie actually you want the full, rich gamut of emotions—laughter, sadness, pathos. You want them all. And the great thing about nature is it does provide them all so you’d be crazy not to use it. It does give you that full, rounded experience of cinema that we hope people will get when they see it

Alastair: The bird of paradise dance is hysterically funny. The fact that he puts all that effort in and the girl never turns up, well we’ve all been there.

Mark: Particularly Alastair

Alastair: Yeah. But it’s true

Mark: Even the baboons. They’re not wanting to get their private parts too wet or whatever. It’s great, it’s fabulous

JFC: What you said is very important. These are movies for the theaters and we need to have the same type of emotion as in any movie. And they managed to have all that.

Q: The dancing bird was in Planet Earth as well—was that repurposed footage? Did you use anything you’d shot for that and did you try to make things different?
Alastair: The wonderful thing about this movie is that we knew from the very beginning that we were working on a TV series and a movie. Very strictly, we thought for the movie that we would have a completely different storyline. The TV series, if you’ve seen it, is about mountains, rivers, deserts. Very few people can watch the whole TV series anyway. The movie has its own completely separate storyline---the whole planet storyline, the sun’s journey, the three key characters. And we shot a lot of extra material of those key characters. What the TV series helped us to provide was some of the animal behaviors that are in the movie like the bird of paradise, but all of them were completely re-edited for the big screen and there was a completely new music score composed and played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which was an extraordinary privilege. They’re the best orchestra in the world and that was a pretty amazing experience. And also having James Earl Jones’ voice which works brilliantly in the cinema but possibly wouldn’t be so appropriate for a TV series.
Q: Was he your first choice?

Alastair: Absolutely. We’ve used different voices in different parts of the world. In the UK version we used Patrick Stewart.

Mark: But for the U.S., yes.

Alastair: (To Camilleri): I don’t know if it was you who suggested James to us, it was Disney’s suggestion. We’re really happy with it

Mark: He brings a weight, a gravitas fitting of the subject, and it’s a rather large subject, the whole planet

Q: What would you like to have the audience take away from seeing this film?

Alastair: More than anything else we want them to have a good time in the cinema. This isn’t An Inconvenient Truth. It’s not The Eleventh Hour. It’s not trying to preach to people. There’s a lot of bad news about the environment out there. But if you had all the money in the world and ten lifetimes you wouldn’t see ten percent of what we can show you in this movie. It’s all there, it’s still there, it needs preserving. And we just want people to come out uplifted, really.

Mark: It’s funny, people come out saying there’s a conservation message but it’s so subtle and light that it just naturally emerges from the fact that when people see all the things they see in the movie, they realize that’s still out there and what we need to preserve. You just naturally come to that conclusion. It’s a very light environmental slant but it’s actually not so much delivered by us, it’s just the take home that people tell us after the movie. It has a strong conservation message and not really intentionally, it’s just the way it is. It’s inevitable.

Q: How do you market a film like this? Does it go to art house theaters?

JFC: It’s going to have a traditional release. The movie is going to come out on April 22nd on 1800 screens. It’s going to go in regular theaters like any movie

Q: It won’t be promoted with Happy Meals at McDonalds will it?

JFC: Nope

Mark: But there is a fantastic tree planting scheme, which we’re all delighted about.

JFC: The first seven days, for everyone who buys a ticket, we plant a tree in the Atlantic forest in Brazil.

Q: Potentially how many can you plant?

JFC: As many as possible. For each person who comes we plant a tree.

Q: Where did you get your passion for nature?

Mark: We both started rummaging around in the undergrowth, catching slugs and snails to show to our family and spending all of our time…

Alastair: I had a zoo in my bedroom. My mother would never, ever come near it.

Mark: Both of us had rooms full of animals that we probably shouldn’t have had and both of us really enjoyed being excited about them and explaining them to other people. We both went to university to read zoology and then just sort of tried to publicize our enthusiasm and kind of spread it so it was a natural evolution to end up doing this

Alastair: We started in television at the BBC Natural History unit and made a lot of TV documentaries, most of them with David Attenborough. The cinema has been the natural evolution of that for us

Q: What did you learn from making this?

Mark: The amazing tenacity and dedication, all of those animals have successfully pulled through a difficult year on earth and show incredible tenacity and drive and I guess that’s what we all need as well

Alastair: I think that’s true and one of the nice things about concentrating on mothers and their babies is that one of the things you think about the film is we’re preserving the planet for the next generation. That’s one of the resonances that we hope in a subtle way this movie might have an environmental message for people. I think there are very specific and exciting challenges about making nature work for cinema and creatively and technically something that will continue with us. We’re very fortunate to be doing that now with the chimpanzee movie and the big cat movie, which are very different challenges but very exciting as well

“Earth” opens in theaters on April 22nd.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within are in no way those of the editorial team of

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Port Lympne SOS Day

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I'll be giving a series of talks at Port Lympne on the 18th April.


SOS – Save our Species – day is a time to celebrate and learn about British wildlife – from how to rescue a stranded seal or dolphin to knowing the difference between a common toad and frog and why leeches are so important.

On 18th April Port Lympne Wild Animal Park will mark the importance of British wildlife by hosting a range of talks and demonstrations. Attending will be Paul Williams from the BBC Natural History Unit, who will give a talk on his experience of capturing animals in the wild on film. The British Divers Marine life rescue will bring along life-size seals and dolphins demonstrating a rescue situation. Representatives from the Blue Reef Aquarium will give talks about British sharks bringing along a living rock pool. Species such as newts, frogs, toads, tadpoles, beetles, leeches, slow worms and grass snakes are likely to be on hand and the RSPB will be keeping the youngsters amused with face painting.