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Nature Specials...

Ohhhhhhh, today is going to be one of those days. I can tell already.

I was greeted this morning, as I got near my office, by the sound of one of the juvenile hawks crying somewhere nearby. I managed to follow the sound into the Yard (between Widener and Mem Church), only to have it go silent, of course. (And then, pick up as I decided to give up and go to the office; of course.)

Well, I thought, at least that means they're still around!

Just now, I heard the cry again from inside my office. Grabbed camera, rushed out... heard it faintly one more time to provide a sense of which direction it was coming from... and then, nothing. *sigh*

So that's how it's going to be. They're still around, and they are BIG TEASES.

Today is already hot and humid, and it's going to get worse. Not a great day for tramping around at noon, but I may as well try. (With my luck, the hawks will all be too smart to be active in the middle of the day, and will be sitting open-beaked in the shade somewhere, making no noise at all.)

Anyway, on the subject of this post...

I like watching nature specials as much as, or more than, the next person. And of course any nature special involving orcas is going to especially draw me in. But I watched this Wild Kingdom episode over the weekend, about a guy filming orcas, and I just want to say... look. I get that doing specials like that is all about constructing a narrative. Really, I do. But I would prefer a bit more basic honesty in them. Let me explain.

So there was this guy, who is a cinematographer, who decided to go down and study the orcas on the Crozet Islands in the extreme southern Indian Ocean. These very remote and uninhabited islands have a breeding elephant seal colony, and penguins. They're one of the places particularly known for the orcas in the area having developed a hunting strategy in which they body-surf up onto the beach to snatch seals. So this guy decides to go down there and film them, and try to swim with them, to get some underwater footage, and see how the orcas tolerate him.

The special makes a lot of the fact that this is dangerous (not a lot of people go diving with wild orca pods, I guess), even though they also have to admit that there is no record of orcas ever attacking divers. Ever. But you know, nobody wants to be the first. But that wasn't what bugged me. The show went into some detail about how this guy gets dropped off on the island for a 3-month stay (the islands are uninhabited, remember; the boat drops him off and won't come back for 3 months), with all his stuff in a wooden crate, and he's planning on staying in a tent the whole 3 months (on islands near the Antarctic), and so on. Which, fine -- yes, impressive.

But here's the thing. Somebody was filming him the entire time.

You can TELL, obviously, because there are all these shots of him tramping across the island, and shots of him from above setting up to film the orcas, and shots of him sitting amongst penguins, filming them, and then when he goes diving, there are shots following him underwater (i.e. none of these seem to be able to be accounted for by him setting up a fixed camera in order to get the shots).

And, it's like... that old comment about how Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, except backwards, and in heels.

At one point, there's a giant storm that hits the islands, with 50 mph winds and all, and he hunkers down in his little tent, and the next morning, the little tent is half-covered in dark volcanic sand. And he's all, "I was worried that my tent would blow away, and I don't have another one". And I'm thinking, "Yeah, but what about the tent that the film crew must be using? Surely they would let you share?"

And, I don't know... I was just more irritated than usual about the lack of transparency, or honesty, in the narrative, call it what you will. "Lone cinematographer camps out on remote island and swims with orcas!" sounds great, in theory, but he's hardly ALONE. The narrative made quite a bit out of the risk to him in diving with the orcas, and how they got used to him and seemed to come to accept his presence... but they really didn't, did they? Rather, the story there is, they accepted HIS presence and that of at least one other diver, who was filming him filming them, and... how does that change the equation? The question of whether wild orcas will be inclined to regard one diver as pinniped-like enough to be prey? But it's two divers and their equipment, not one. (Plus, orcas are just smart enough to know the difference. They don't mistake humans for seals.)

I guess I don't see what the problem is with setting up the narrative to admit, "We dumped this guy plus a film team on the island, so that we could film what he was doing". Instead, the narrative was just very carefully constructed so as to try to make the other cameramen invisible -- you got plenty of shots of the guy's little lonely tent, but no shots of the tent that they must have been using, etc.

I suppose it's very remotely possible that he did the entire thing himself, setting up a series of fixed cameras in order to film himself, and then walking back to set up specific shots of him tramping across the island or whatever; I suppose it's possible to trigger those by remote, and perhaps even pan with them (though I don't know how you'd focus). Don't know how to explain the underwater shots of him, though. I guess I'd have to watch it again more closely to analyze the shots. But there were like 5 other cameramen credited at the end, so... I don't think that was it. I think they were there with him. And for some reason the entire show just wanted to pretend they weren't. And I find that weird, and annoying.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 17th, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)
I've been really enjoying your hawk photos! I usually see at least one sitting on a light pole during my commute, so it's been cool to see some close ups. I especially love the shot you're using as your userpic. Fantastic.

I also hate this trend of nature documentary as fakey extreme reality show. If I wanted to watch Bear Grylls' show, I would. I prefer my nature doc presenters to be cut more from the Richard Attenborough mold, rather than the Steve Irwin one.
Aug. 17th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
Ahhhh I saw the first half of the same show! The line that really made me roll my eyes was "He was hoping the orcas would accept him as one of their own."

I said, "Come on, they're orcas, they can tell he's not an orca. They aren't stupid. They might tolerate him or regard him with curiosity. but they aren't going to be fooled into thinking he's another orca."

I also noticed all the stuff about the camera work.

And hyping up the "danger" aspect of the orcas- I said, "Hey, it's not like he's working with leopard seals," which really ARE dangerous and have attacked humans.

I watched only half of the show because the lies were starting to get to me. I was expecting better from Wild kingdom.
Aug. 17th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
He COULD have done it all himself - or most of it - but yeah, the underwater shots. (Even if the other cameramen did work, you know, in the helicopter and back on land. :-/ ) Survivorman shoots himself all himself but he tells you that.

SK can't STAND this aspect of shows. TV shows with "historical recreations" make him nuts too, as they never mark what's a recreation and what's actual footage. And yeah, color footage from the Civil War? Probably reenacted, but kids (and stupid people) don't always know that.
Aug. 17th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah - I've had this thought for years - the camera crews are unsung heroes! If you get ahold of the Planet Earth videos (amd get the box set), they have extras - that were shown as part of the episodes - about the camera crews and the trials and the tribulations of the camera crews and shot set ups. The filming of the Birds of Paradise made me laugh myself silly! The cockroach shots in the cave were something else again - my mom couldn't look at the screen! Go get ahold of this and look - goes a long way to inject a little reality in the situation!
Aug. 17th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Oh - and yeah - I can't really watch the history channel at all. I end up snarling at the TV and throwing things at the stupid errors, anachronisms and sensationalism! I managed to turn the Joan of Arc episode off before I threw the TV across the room - would have been satisfying, but I would have regretted it later! Frankly, its far worse than the nature shows!!!
Aug. 17th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
You've reminded me of the difference between Survivorman and that other guy who has the crew and a bunch of extra stuff with him. Survivorman goes on his own, does his own filming. Makes me meep to consider, and it feels much more authentic to view as well. ;)

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )