[Marxism] A Netflix Nature Series Says to Viewers: Don’t Like What You See? Do Something About It

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 9 08:55:36 MDT 2019


NY Times, April 9, 2019
A Netflix Nature Series Says to Viewers: Don’t Like What You See? Do 
Something About It
By Jennifer Vineyard

It’s a striking image, watching a walrus climb a rock cliff. During one 
episode of the new Netflix nature docu-series “Our Planet,” we witness 
something that shouldn’t be happening — and is only happening now, the 
producers say, because of climate change. Desperate marine animals 
driven away from their natural habitats are trying to adapt to shelter 
elsewhere, and falling to their deaths as a result.

This is not the typical scenario featured in feel-good nature 
documentaries, but “Our Planet” has a different aim. Its creators 
partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (and a team of scientists) to 
depict how various ecosystems around the world — from the frozen Arctic 
to rain forest jungles to coastal seas — are imperiled by human 
activity, and what can be done to protect or restore them. “We were 
trying to get to the heart of the issue with each of the great global 
habitats,” said Keith Scholey, an executive producer of the series, “and 
to be very clear about the elements of destruction and the solutions.”

[A look at recent Netflix originals worth your time.]

In phone interviews with Scholey and Adam Chapman, who produced and 
directed two episodes of the series, and, separately, with Sophie 
Lanfear, who produced and directed one episode, they shared their 
experiences making “Our Planet.” These are edited excerpts from that 
conversation.

How did your advocacy interest shape the filming and the production?

SOPHIE LANFEAR The only reason I was interested in working on “Our 
Planet” is that it had conservation very much at the heart of the 
series. Often it’s a last-minute thing — two lines of commentary at the 
end of the show. To me, it’s about designing the whole structure of the 
film with a conservation message, and having the visual kinds of 
sequences that show you, not tell you, what is going on with the world.

ADAM CHAPMAN We set up some stringent parameters when we were selecting 
what to do. The obvious one is that they had to be the most dynamic and 
new animal behaviors that we could find. And more important, each 
sequence had to represent a much greater truth about that habitat.

LANFEAR For example, when I was designing [the second episode] “Frozen 
Worlds,” I watched every single relevant documentary I could find, and 
what I found was that none of them told the story of sea ice. Sea ice 
isn’t just this vast nothing. It’s a living habitat. The algae feed on 
the ice, and the krill feed on the algae, and the krill feeds the whales 
and the penguins. And when you lose the sea ice, this white reflective 
surface at the top of our planet, we lose our protective shield from 
solar energy. So it’s not only bad for the animals that live there, it’s 
bad for us.

KEITH SCHOLEY I think the bit that shocked me was the coral bleaching in 
a 500-mile stretch of the Great Barrier Reef. It goes ghostly white when 
the temperature changes. It expels the algae that live in the coral. It 
looks rather beautiful, but then it dies.

CHAPMAN The sequence for me that had the most emotional resonance was 
the glacial calving in Greenland, which is the final sequence in Episode 
1. We waited for the glacier to calve for quite some weeks, without any 
luck. And we were nearly packing up.

LANFEAR I kind of looked at the nose of it, and I was like, “Hmmm, that 
one looks like a different shape.” And we could see, ever so slightly, 
that it was moving, so it was all-systems-go in the last evening in the 
last hour of light. About a third of the glacier broke away in that 
event. It sounded like a war zone. Like cannon fire.

CHAPMAN We then managed to film on the ground and from a helicopter that 
we had on standby. The 20 minutes we spent in the helicopter were 
probably some of the most exciting time I’ve had filming in my career. 
But after the elation of achieving this goal, looking down at this bay 
with this massive iceberg in the middle of it, you realize the portent 
of that event.

LANFEAR We could see through some of the sea ice. It was like glass. And 
that’s when it just hits you. The scientist Alun Hubbard has studied the 
ice cores in that section of the glacier, and that’s thousands and 
thousands-of-years-old ice. Something that is thousands of years old, 
destroyed in the blink of an eye. It’s very sobering. And when you think 
about the sea ice disappearing, then you realize the walruses are like 
refugees. They are Arctic refugees.

The walrus scenes are astonishing. These walruses don’t have enough ice, 
so they’re hauling themselves over rocky areas and up cliffs. But they 
can’t get themselves off the cliffs, and they’re falling to their deaths.

LANFEAR The walrus scenes were the hardest things I’ve ever had to 
witness or film in my career. When I was planning the story, I knew 
about the mega haul-outs happening in the region, and we chose the 
Russian site because it was the largest aggregation in the world, bigger 
than the ones happening in Alaska and Canada. But there was a bit lost 
in translation with Anatoly Kochnev, the Russian scientist studying 
these sites. There’s an old piece of news footage that I had in mind, 
and it was kind of like sausage rolls falling down. I was expecting that 
perhaps the walruses would tumble down, but at the end, they’d be O.K. I 
really wasn’t prepared for the scale of death.

What we think is going on is that the ones at the top can probably hear 
the ones in the water, and they can sense that there is water below. 
They teeter on the edge, and they just can’t work out how to get down 
there. A small group of maybe six or seven would make it down safely, 
and we’d all celebrate. But the vast majority do not. They basically 
walk themselves off the cliff. The walruses are used to a soft landing. 
Their depth perception hasn’t evolved to deal with a cliff situation, 
nor have they evolved to work out how to get back the way they came. So 
it’s just tragic. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

You could also make the argument that it’s not plastics, as usually 
portrayed in nature docu-series, but overfishing that is the issue for 
the oceans.

SCHOLEY We tried to boil down for each habitat what is the really big 
issue. Plastic is really bad, don’t get me wrong on that, but it won’t 
destroy the ocean. The two things that will are the warming of the ocean 
and overfishing. We are hammering the ocean so, so hard. And what 
happens with overfishing, which we try to explain in the program, is 
that the fish all stir up the nutrients. They all keep the system going. 
So when you lose the fish, you lose the whole productivity of the ocean, 
and the whole thing collapses.

The series presents a lot of no-brainer solutions to show how 
populations can bounce back, like developing marine reserves to solve 
overfishing and restoring jungles where orangutans that have evolved to 
use tools like sticks (for finding and eating their food) are now at risk.

SCHOLEY The crucial thing in the orangutan sequence was to point out 
that the baby has to learn so much from the mother. The real tragedy of 
orangutans being wiped out is that if the wild population is ever lost, 
they will lose the learning that the species has evolved [to have]. A 
captive animal could never learn that complex behavior without a wild 
mother.

The way I think of it, humans are just like any other animals. We try to 
do our best for our immediate families. That’s completely natural. 
What’s strange about humans now is that we have to work out how not to 
be like other animals. [Laughs] We need to manage ourselves when it 
comes to nature. We manage our societies really well. We manage our 
economies really well. But the natural world, we’ve just taken it for 
granted. The wilderness was something that needed to be overcome, and we 
need to build it up again. And a lot of that can be done by just leaving 
it alone. Just leave it alone, and it will sort itself out. You don’t 
have to put a lot of effort into it. You just have to go away.




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