Blue Planet to return for a second series with Sir David Attenborough in 2017
Blue Planet is set to return for a new series on BBC One later this year.
The seminal nature documentary series will return for seven episodes in 2017, accompanied once more by the comforting, familiar tones of Britain’s beloved naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
Blue Planet II will contain footage filmed over four years using the latest in marine technology, including unmanned submarines able to capture footage 1,000 metres below the surface of the Antarctic Ocean.
The new technology will bring newly discovered and never-before-filmed creatures to television screens, including hairy-chested Hoff crabs, snub fin dolphins and tusk fish.
The results include footage of newly discovered and never-before filmed creatures, including hairy-chested Hoff crabs, snub fin dolphins that spit water, and a tool-using tusk fish.
The groundbreaking first series of Blue Planet originally aired in 2001 and won international acclaim by scooping two BAFTAs and two Emmys.
Speaking about Blue Planet II, Attenborough said: “I am truly thrilled to be joining this new exploration of the underwater worlds which cover most of our planet, yet are still its least known.”
Move over Making a Murderer – ‘O.J.: Made in America’ is the documentary of the decade
With a current rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 96% on Metacritic, it wouldn’t be terribly audacious of me to assert that ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America is the best factual film of the 21st century so far. Having devoured the first two instalments of this five-part feature at its London premiere last week, where director Ezra Edelman later fielded questions from the press, I proceeded to polish off the remaining hours of the programme in under a day. It is with equal ardour that I convey to you just how brilliantly powerful, unflinching, intelligent and substantive O.J.: Made in America is.
What makes this documentary so compelling is the remarkable scope of its ambition. Unlike Netflix’s Making a Murderer, or This American Life’s hugely popular podcast Serial, Edelman’s film ventures far further than the injustice confronting a purportedly wronged individual. Looking at how the wider social injustices of racial inequality, domestic violence, and even celebrity culture played into the hugely controversial outcome of a hugely controversial murder trial, this film’s many jigsaw pieces gradually come together to create a comprehensive picture of a time, a place, a public feeling, and a very complicated individual. As its title suggests, this is so much more than a film about one man. It’s also so much more than a sports documentary, and it’s incredibly heartening to see such an in-depth and sensitive discussion about issues such as domestic violence being broadcast to the largely male audience of a sports channel.
Illustrating how the particular interests of Edelman’s film are woven together, part one opens by charting the rise of a high school football hero – arguably the best that America had ever seen to that point – who also happened to be black at a time of great civil unrest. It’s long before any mention of the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, as we take our time receiving a well-rounded character study of the man at the centre of it all: a man who was charismatic, handsome, ambitious, a smooth talker, and perhaps most importantly, completely aloof from the 1960s black power movement which surrounded him, and which continuously implored him to lend his support. Those of us too young to know of O.J. Simpson beforethe life of scandal and speculation will find ourselves moved by just what an incredible athlete this man once was. “He wanted to be a great American hero”, a school friend recalls, loaded with dramatic irony. Yet we also learn how O.J. chose to divorce himself from his race and roots through his entire career; the facets of his identity that he would ultimately exploit to get away with murder.
Without the crutch of narration, the documentary conveys its nuanced argument via archival footage and first-person interviews alone. The stories told by O.J. Simpson’s closest friends, members of the LAPD, jurors in the murder trial, the families of victims Brown and Goldman, or even just interested bystanders, are left to speak for themselves, setting O.J.: Made in America apart from most documentaries by its incredible balance. With music and the occasional juxtaposition of images as his only real guiding techniques, the director takes special care not hammer a personal agenda down our throats.
As Edelman told me in London last week, he was approached with the idea of an O.J. documentary, rather than it being any personal passion project. He also revealed that he sat for up to six hours with each interviewee, regardless of whether he sided with their point of view or otherwise. “I wanted to make sure that they got their say; that they said their piece, and that every time I sat down with someone, they weren’t sitting across from someone who already clearly has an agenda”, he said.
This is what makes O.J.: Made in America such a great work of art as a documentary. Using the extraordinary case of O.J. Simpson, his background, his motivations, and his interactions with those around him, we see how this highly televised celebrity trial both reflected and contributed to an extremely divisive period in American history. Perhaps most crucially, the ‘historic’ images we see of racially motivated police brutality from the 1960s – 1990s, or the polaroids of a desperately vulnerable Nicole Brown’s battered face, are so visceral, and so current, that we can’t help but be confronted by the lack of positive change in these areas over so many decades. The atmosphere of its context feeling so familiar, an historical incident is thrown into the present, forcing us to question not only how people today can still defend Simpson’s innocence, but for how long we’ll let these abuses of justice continue.
Ezra Edelman’s deftly directed and expertly edited exploration of O.J. Simpson’s rise and fall from grace will have you enthralled for every minute of its eight hour duration.O.J.: Made in America begins on Monday July 11th at 9pm, and continues at the same time every night until Friday July 15th, only on BT Sport.
Want more? Listen to our podcast discussion of O.J.: Made in America here.
The best All 4 Shorts to watch on demand this July
In the mood for some on-demand entertainment, but short on time to spare? Never fear! Thanks to All 4 Shorts, we’ve got a whole host of great programming for you to enjoy without taking up too much of your day. From celebs to cars, and strippers to hip hop, these specially commissioned, short factual shows are the perfect quick fix for your weekend boredom.
Aspiring actor and hilarious Irishman Seán Burke interviews the biggest names in showbiz, gleaning tips and wisdom as he bids to break into Hollywood. In this episode he prattles away with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson & Kevin Hart to discuss their side-splitting action flick Central Intelligence, bulging muscles and badass scars.
For over three decades, hip hop has made millionaires of people who started with nothing. Multi-award winning journalist, entrepreneur and hip hop head Joanna Abeyie heads to the US to discover the roots of hip hop, and speak to the people who keep hip hop booming today.
Joanna also visits the childhood homes of Dr Dre, The Game and Kendrick Lamar, meets Director X (music video director of Drake’s Hotline Bling and Rihanna’s Work), speaks to US-based UK rapper Estelle, and chats with Dizzee Rascal about the difference between the UK and US hip hop scenes.
This short documentary explores the world of striptease, seeking to challenge common misconceptions about the profession. Through various voices, the film sheds light on an unexplored side to stripping with lead characters Stacey Clare and Kitty Velour, who discuss the exploitative working conditions of a traditional strip club. The duo speak candidly on how strip clubs can charge exotic dancers to work in their venues, with women often being a couple hundred pounds down before a shift begins.
Stacey Clare is the founder of the East London Strippers Collective; a group of female night performers who have united to improve their working conditions, break down stereotypes and show what they call ethical stripping. The film focuses on a range of vibrant personalities who are striving to make it safer and better for fellow workers in their industry.
Britain’s Best Boy Racers
Ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 British Grand Prix, 4 brings you Britain’s Best Boy Racers and lifts the bonnet of some of the most extreme cars in the country. In this series, car modification is taken to new levels as we see two people per episode battle it out for a trophy. From loudest car to best bounce and individuality, contestants are tasked with revving the judge’s engines to claim the prize of Britain’s ultimate modified car. Categories include Best I.C.E. (In Car Entertainment), Best Bounce, Biggest Personality and Most Badass.
Smoke, noise and pushing motors to the limit – that’s Drifting and what’s not to like? Buckle up for Mad Max mayhem, driving at the edge of control. For these car junkies, racing doesn’t just mean going forward. Drifting is a way of life, and we find out what it is that keeps them shackled in the driving seat. It’s a daring game – buckle up and experience the smoke, as we screech round the track with obsessed competitors searching for the ultimate adrenalin rush.
Joe Wicks Food Series
Instagram sensation and Body Coach phenomenon Joe Wicks brings his unique brand of nutrition and exercise to All 4, enrolling celebrities in his revolutionary fitness regime. In a series of six episodic shorts, the likeable body coach challenges celebrities to enter his world of high-intensity exercise and enjoy tasty, nutrient dense dinners so they get fit, strong and healthy.
INTERVIEW: Dr Suzannah Lipscomb on new documentary ‘Hidden Killers of the Post-War Home’
The years after the fall of Nazi Germany saw a revolutionary period of change across the globe, particularly in Britain. The subsequent economic recovery in Europe saw more individuals than ever before define themselves as middle class and enjoy the luxuries that status and money brought with it – but few recognised the dangers they had brought into their homes.
In new documentary ‘Hidden Killers of the Post-War Home’, Dr Suzannah Lipscomb uncovers the household dangers that caught families of the 1950s unaware – to drastic consequences. We met up with historian, author and television presenter to talk about the new documentary, which airs on BBC Four this Wednesday, May 25 at 8pm.
Why did you choose the post-war period?
There were lots of periods we’d like to look at but this one felt quite compelling because the 50s is such a pivotal decade of change – after the drabness of war, and the removal of rations, and the brightness and colour of affluence and optimism. Introducing all these [new] things into the home, it’s a really domestic period. And yet many of those things are dangerous – it was perfect for our series basically.
Were you surprised how many killers in the home there were in a more modern period than your other shows?
Yes, absolutely! The 50s house that we’re using is a very beautiful house, but it does remind me very much the houses of my grandparents. I think most people will be familiar with a house like this, and the fact that there are quite so many things that are so dangerous is astonishing actually. In fact, what’s most worrying about it is that there are several strands where I think these things remain dangerous, so in some ways it’s a sort of health and safety programme.
It’s actually quite striking how many of the things that effected families in the 1950s are still dangerous, for example preparing chicken…
I’ve been washing my hands a lot. There’s nothing like seeing the bacteria on those petri dishes to make you really convinced to the value of washing your hands!
Do you think new things seemed less dangerous which actually made them more dangerous? For example, in the old days people would be aware of dangers like fire.
Absolutely. I think the appearance of modernity is deceptive. Even with things like the sofas: [a family buys a] beautiful new sofa, and then it’s made of material that’s flammable. I think the appearance of being brilliantly modern makes you think that they’re safe.
Was there also trust in the manufacturer as well?
Advertising has been around since the Victorian period but this is the age where you have the first advertising on television. It’s a booming age of advertising and it’s very simplistic from our point of view when we look back at it – “Buy this, it’s good!”
I never like to say about past periods that they’re more gullible than us, because I think we’re very gullible to all sorts of things – I believe it when the shampoo says it’s going to do XY and Z for my hair, I have no idea – I think they’re just going along with what they’re told.
Do you think the manufacturers should have taken more responsibility?
One of the things that has to be said for the 50s is that consumers start demanding responsibility from the manufacturers. It was when Which? magazine started and we have a consumer association starting, so there is a sense that they’re kind of wising up to requiring that from a manufacturer, but I suppose we’re all kind of a bit gullible about new things.
Whenever we do this we say what are they going to say about us? Is it going to be the WiFi? “Did you know that they live within WiFi all the time?” “Do you know they held mobile phones right up to their heads – and slept with them next to them?”
Did anything shock you more than anything else?
When we went to look at those chemistry sets, my word! It was just extraordinary what people – boys mainly – could do in the safety of their own bedrooms.
It’s very sobering, isn’t it? Because it is fun to watch but then you also reveal the consequences.
It’s an interesting tone with these programmes, because we’re moving from things that are actually genuinely funny – because it’s absolutely ridiculous – to fatalities and trying to keep those two things [separate]. We want to have a sense of fun and not be too earnest because otherwise it does become a health and safety programme, but actually realising that these things are important and real and that there were consequences.
Is it most fun for you doing the experiments?
The experiments are really fun for me because what’s really different about this is that we were originally commissioned through a science stream at BBC Four, which is unusual because I’m a historian and so it’s very science-heavy here. And obviously [despite] what I might know and think and read up about the period, I generally don’t know anything about science really. I stopped science at GCSE. So whenever I go and meet these scientists, I am being absolutely dazzled by new information and I think that works in TV terms because I don’t have to go along and pretend to not know.
How would you sell this show to someone who wasn’t a fan of history?
I’d say this is an astonishing story of these deadly dangers in the home that are in living memory and actually many of them still in the house. So frankly, it’s kind of must see really because who knows what you might be putting yourself in danger of. And also we blow things up.
Watch Dr Suzannah Lipscomb in new Hidden Killers of the Post-War Home on Wednesday, May 25 at 8pm on BBC Four.
INTERVIEW: DJ Sara Cox talks social media’s effect on friendship
From Facebook to Snapchat to Skype, the ever-growing digital world is encouraging us to be more and more distant from real-life friendships. In Sara Cox ON Friendship, the Radio 2 DJ explores… read more
INTERVIEW: DJ Sara Cox talks social media’s effect on friendship
From Facebook to Snapchat to Skype, the ever-growing digital world is encouraging us to be more and more distant from real-life friendships. In Sara Cox ON Friendship, the Radio 2 DJ explores the effect that the growth of social media is having on our friendships. She discovers what it means to be a “friend” in this era, delves into the science behind these online relationships and learns whether technology can actually aid friendship.
Sara Cox ON Friendship is the first of three documentaries to air on UKTV’s new flagship channel “W”. Starting on Monday 15th February, Sara Cox, Grace Dent and Sophie Ellis-Bextor explore what our ever-changing technology is doing to us in terms of love, friendship and being famous.
We sat down with Sara herself to find out more:
What were you expecting to find before embarking on this mission?
I was expecting to find out that I thought Facebook was a complete waste of time. Despite the fact that something like one billion people were quite into it, I was still thinking, nah – those one billion people don’t have a point. So I was expecting to go on Facebook for the show and then never really look at it again in all honesty. I’m definitely not addicted to it but I don’t think I’m doing it right, which is a really nana thing to say, isn’t it?
Are you still using your new Facebook account?
Yes, I’ve still got it but under my married name which is nice as lots of people are on there with their proper names or married names so it’s quite private. For the first time I’m able to put up pictures of the kids which I would never do on Twitter or Instagram; that’s what I really like about [Facebook] because now my mum (who’s up North) can see pictures which is quite sweet.
I’m more comfortable with the photos. I’ve not sat down and written a big long post. I find that quite weird, it’s quite self-indulgent isn’t it? I’m saying this about a decade late – everyone’s always been moaning about this and I’m like, have you noticed this annoying thing about Facebook?
So, after holding off for so long, were you quite reluctant to join up?
Yea – in the meetings with the producers their faces lit up when I told them I wasn’t on Facebook. I got a bit bloody-minded about it. It’s like the fact I haven’t seen an episode of Sex and the City – I didn’t want to do it as I’ve held off for so long.
But you are a big fan of Twitter (@sarajcox), do you see a real difference between it and Facebook?
Yes, because I love the whole 140 characters thing. You can really have fun with language; you’ve got to have some self-discipline but I love the way you can try and get a gag across or a little quip in just so many characters. I think it’s really fun.
It was in the news that it’s going up to 12,000 characters or something which I think will just completely wreck it. I think that’s leaked as a bit of a PR stunt, I don’t think they’re going to do it.
Do you think social media damages our real friendships?
That was what I was looking into, but I think in reality people are aware of who their real friends are. I think where it is damaging is that people have such a fear of missing out on what’s going on, that we’re all constantly on our phones. I know I am, I’m terrible for it.
I keep meaning to put it on airplane mode and put it in a cupboard when I’m doing homework with the kids or whilst I’m cooking dinner. They’re coming up to me and trying to show me something and I feel like the mum in Matilda, when she keeps trying to show her mum something and she doesn’t notice.
Life is going on around you and instead you’re looking at what Bear Gryll’s wife has been posting. So I feel there’s an issue with that – not really being in the room because you’re just looking at your phone.
Does it make you worry about your kids?
We just try to limit screen time. We went out for lunch recently and I brought felt tips and paper; my son will play hangman quite happily and my little daughter will draw. They all wanted phones and Lola (my eldest) had her phone with her so it’s like a domino effect. I was thinking how terrible they looked but really that’s me not wanting people looking thinking “oh look at her, she’s not doing very good parenting”.
It’s silly really; I think board games shouldn’t just be for Christmas. Around Christmas we play Connect Four, we all love charades but it just feels random on a Wednesday night to say, “charades anyone?”
Does Lola [Sara’s 12-year-old daughter] have any social media accounts?
She has a private Instagram account – I think she’s got about 6 pals on it. I’ve told her that she shouldn’t put anything on there that she wouldn’t want on a cinema screen in her school hall, in front of all her teachers and headteacher and grandma and possibly the Queen and the Prime Minister. It’s mainly pictures of hamsters or the dog. And so is mine really, just horses and hamster – so sad.
What was the most shocking thing you discovered whilst filming the documentary?
I really did love the brain scan – it proved that your pleasure receptors reacted when you see pictures of your close friends. It’s such a nice thought that when you’re with your friends it’s like ding ding ding! I learnt so much; your brain is amazing. To think as you’re walking through somewhere like Soho, past thousands of people, it’s doing it’s facial recognition thing, judging if you know that person. Then if you do see some you really love… ding ding ding!
Do you think in 5 or 10 years everything will come full circle and social media will just be a bit of a fad?
That’d be nice… but I don’t think anything can stop this tidal wave now. Technology is just so brilliant now, isn’t it? I mean, what did we do before we could just Google something on our phones?
(At this point in the interview Sara’s manager interjected to remind Sara that when she asked for representation, it was with an actual hand-written letter. Shocker).
Overall, do you think social media has an overwhelming positive or negative effect?
I don’t know, maybe it’ll break even eventually. I find it entertaining because you can sit and watch Strictly or The X Factor and there’s 775,000 people watching with you. It’s like the world’s biggest couch.
The banter on it (I hate that word) is brilliant. There are some really funny people on there. It’s changed for me a little bit now I’m on Radio 2, I find people are generally quite nice to me on Twitter. When I was on Radio 1 I got, “You’re so f***ing old, get off my radio!” Now on Radio 2 it’s more like, “Are you going to play that Toyah track?”
I rarely get any horrible ones, if I do I like to chide them. I’m never abusive – I’ll say, “that was terribly unkind of you to copy me in to that tweet, what a nasty thing to do. I hope you feel pleased with yourself.”
Catch Sara Cox ON Friendship on Monday 15th February at 9pm on W. Watch a preview clip of the show here.
REVIEW: Chelsea Handler does documentary like a stone cold pro in Netflix’s ‘Chelsea Does’
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Chelsea Handler and her insistence on shunning the virtues of tact and political correctness. Nevertheless, something about the promos for Handler’s latest… read more
REVIEW: Chelsea Handler does documentary like a stone cold pro in Netflix’s ‘Chelsea Does’
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Chelsea Handler and her insistence on shunning the virtues of tact and political correctness. Nevertheless, something about the promos for Handler’s latest documentary series made me stop and listen. The queen of crass showing some heart when tackling ‘big topics’ like racism and the war on drugs? Finally, the Chelsea Lately host had grabbed my attention. And thank goodness she did, as Chelsea Does is probably my favourite documentary series since Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends.
Exploring subjects of ‘personal and universal curiosity’, the woman whom I had once dismissed as too sarcastic and too unsympathetic reveals herself as smart, sensitive, and even able to profoundly move people in Chelsea Does. She is also very, very damn funny. Sure, we don’t learn anything that’s really ‘new’ in her features on marriage, racism, Silicon Valley and drugs respectively, although we certainly like seeing discourses of this nature being broadcast to what’s sure to be a huge international audience. What we really gain from the series is a newfound appreciation of our host, and her ability to verbalise what we’re all thinking in a way that’s enviably witty, considered and concise.
In just four episodes of this ingenious show, which benefits greatly from its skilful direction by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Eddie Schmidt, I’ve been well and truly converted into a Handler devotee. Here’s how Chelsea does it:
Part 1: Chelsea Does… Marriage
The main thing to take away from “Chelsea Does… Marriage” is that it’s documentary done on a very personal level. Like each successive episode, it takes off from a dinner party situation where Handler sits with a handful of her famous friends, chatting about the topic of the hour in a swanky restaurant; very à la Master of None.
In these interludes, and the conversations we see between Chelsea and her father and siblings, we at home feel personally involved in the discourse. Why won’t someone propose to Chelsea, already? She’s such a catch! Does she even want to get married? Why, or why not? These are all questions we ask ourselves as we’re instantly drawn in by this first of three distinct dynamics employed throughout the series (the second sees Chelsea ‘out in the field’, meeting professionals or members of the public to gauge their knowledge or opinions of the topic, while the third, and most revealing of Handler, shows her intimate conversations with clinical psychologist Dr Steven David).
All three of these approaches play into Chelsea’s journey of discovering how she feels about marriage, charting her own individual experiences rather than taking any kind of wide-reaching social stand (we’ll get to that in our next instalment). As the straight-faced host speaks to a wide cross section of American society – from an ex-boyfriend to a preschooler who wants to marry her cousin, to the owner of Vegas’ famed Little White Wedding Chapel, to a BDSM trio with their own views on relationships – she encounters a myriad definitions of marriage and romance to ultimately inform her own. This is where the likeness to Theroux is most apparent, as Handler adeptly selects each uniquely fascinating subject to either silently ridicule of offer a loving platform to.
Is it narcissistic of Handler to spend a feature-length documentary trying on wedding dresses and asking people what they think of her marriage chances? Perhaps. Is it entertaining? You betcha. As a side note, we particularly appreciate her love for Eric Bana. Bring on the next episode!
Part 2: Chelsea Does… Racism
If you only have time to watch one of Chelsea Does‘s feature-length instalments, make it this one.
“I would never, ever apologise publicly”, announces Handler near the beginning of the episode in reference to the perceivably racist comments she’s been known to make in the past. Had she not made such a positive impression on me in “Marriage”, I would be railing against her stubborn rejection of political correctness at this point. Instead, I approach with caution.
Handler’s unapologetic argument about her attitudes to race is that it’s okay to be a bit racist, so long as you’re making fun of everyone equally. While I’m still not entirely convinced by the validity of this as a catch-all justification, Handler ably demonstrates through her conversations with civil rights leader Al Sharpton, former Israeli president Shimon Peres, and even the family of Walter Scott – the South Carolina African-American shot down by white police officer Michael Slager on April 4 of last year – that she is one of the few people on this earth intelligent and sensitive enough to spit in the race fire.
As she speaks with the Scott family in their home, Walter’s father notes that it’s one of the first times he’s laughed since his son was killed. It’s this humanity secretly underlying Handler’s barbed personality, when coupled with her complete disdain for advocates of what she perceives as ‘actual racism’, that offers a real way of handling America’s incendiary race issues with real understanding, heart, and humour combined. It makes for one of the most compelling discussions of race I’ve seen in some time.
We don’t want to give the whole game away about Part 3: “Chelsea Does… Silicon Valley”, and Part 4: “Chelsea Does… Drugs”, but we can say we enjoyed both of these episodes as much as the first two. While both offer completely different tones – one filmed in the beating heart of the world’s most cutting edge technologies, and the other primarily featuring a remote Peruvian ayahuasca retreat – by this point we’re delighted to spend more time with Chelsea, regardless of the topic or situation (even if we disapprove of Netflix’s screamingly obvious opportunity for self promotion in Pt. 3). For this reason above all, the experience of Chelsea Does is one that won’t be easily forgotten. Well, that and Willy Nelson’s ramblings about marijuana. We hope to see it picked up for further instalments.
All four episodes of Chelsea Does are available on Netflix from tomorrow, Saturday 23 January.
Back in 2009, the future of the documentary was changed by The Cove; a strikingly powerful feature length film exposing the gruesome capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Described by… read more
Back in 2009, the future of the documentary was changed by The Cove; a strikingly powerful feature length film exposing the gruesome capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Described by its director Louie Psihoyos as an ‘eco-thriller’, The Cove was unlike any environmental documentary before it, employing the pace and tone of an epic Hollywood blockbuster as a team of activists and filmmakers embarked on a covert mission to shine light on a dark and deadly secret.
Today, the team behind The Cove unveils its latest masterpiece. Directed by Louie Psihoyos and broadcasting via Discovery to 220 countries and territories around the world, Racing Extinctionsets out to be a global documentary event that makes an actual change.
This deeply informative and inspiring production brings our attention to both the clandestine and everyday activities putting thousands of endangered species at risk of extinction today, combining revelatory field material with the research of environmental experts, along with appearances from such famous names as Elon Musk and Jane Goodall.
I caught up with director Louie Psihoyos on his recent visit to London to discuss Racing Extinction, and how we can each make a positive difference to the world we live in.
TVDaily: What first made you fall in love with the ocean, and nature in general?
Louie Psihoyos: “I was brought up in Iowa, in the midwest of the United States, surrounded by the woods. So that’s where we took refuge when I was a kid, on the Mississippi River, swimming, fishing… Just hanging out in nature. And watching Jacques Cousteau specials when I was a kid. Television has been a big motivator for me in wanting to see the wild.”
Just as seeing your film allows we viewers at home to see places we would never get to see, or creatures that we may never get to see now.
“Exactly. This is on my brain right now because I saw the newBond film last night, but I always wanted the film to feel big and epic, like when you went to a new place, you were there to witness something really beautiful and cool and interesting, and there was a reason that you’re there. Like when you go to Mexico to see the blue whale, or the species being decimated in China. I want it to feel like an adventure. It’s a thriller. It doesn’t feel like a normal documentary.”
And a clue to that is given to us in the title ‘Racing Extinction’, which captures the urgency of this cause. Do you feel that this is a fight that can be won in time, before it’s too late?
“It’s the race we have to win. Not just for ourselves, but for our legacy. I think we’re doing something very, very foolish. Elon Musk says in the film that we’re doing something really dumb in that we’re playing this experiment with the climate and seeing how much CO2 the oceans can hold, and we know what’s going to happen. We can figure out where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going, and we can see that we’re headed for a catastrophe. We’re one step away from greatness, or the greatest disaster in the last 65 million years. But it’s our choice! The five previous extinctions have happened because of some external force, but we know that carbon dioxide was the smoking gun in each one.
“Right now it’s the anthropogenic, human-caused CO2 that’s the problem. And there’s a reason why we’re coming out with this film on December 2nd. That’s because all the world leaders are gonna be at COP21 in Paris talking about climate change. We feel that with 220 countries and territories seeing this film on a single day, we can make those leaders out there feel like there’s a constituency. Once you have people informed, you can start taking action, and leaders can start leading, instead of following the corporations around to where the money is.”
I was going to ask you the impossible question of what the biggest obstacle is, but obviously the political and economic are so intertwined…
“The biggest obstacle up until now was just getting people on the same page. This is why this film is so important; with television, you can create a global event! You couldn’t do that in history before, but now we’re all connected. With social media, and the Discovery Channel, and a great action campaign, it’s possible to change the world very very quickly. It took us almost 35 years to get smoking off of planes after we knew it was detrimental to health. We had ‘smoking sections’, even though we were all breathing the same air. Nowadays that can’t happen. Corporations can use a media campaign to try to slow things down, but with people being connected with the truth so quickly, it’s really hard to hide.”
So have you seen the power of social media having a positive effect? Things like people getting shamed for taking lion-hunting selfies, and those pictures going viral.
It seems from Racing Extinction that in terms of countries, China might be the biggest problem. Would you agree?
“Well it is a big issue, but it’s not the biggest issue; America’s still the biggest polluter per capita. And they’re manufacturing most of our crap! That’s why it’s so polluted over there in China! They don’t have the controls on it, but we’re probably the biggest problem, because we consume more than anywhere else. It’s poor countries that don’t have that big of a carbon footprint, so they’re not the problem. The problem is when they start wanting to have a lifestyle like we’ve evolved in the western world, and everybody wants to start eating meat and have refrigerators and big cars. That’s when there’s going to be a big problem. We have to be leading now. Showing the world how we’ve done it in the past isn’t going to work. We can’t all be living the lifestyle that we did. That’s not to say that we all have to live an impoverished lifestyle, as all the solutions are actually upgrades. The way to solve the issue is by getting our transportation onto an electric grid that’s powered by smart energy, solar, wind, geothermal, etc. There’s a lot of different solutions out there that are scalable.”
And the campaign for the launch of Racing Extinction uses the hashtag #StartWith1Thing. Can you tell us more about that?
“Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions started working on it about two years ago with Discovery. We knew that we weren’t just making a movie, but we were starting a movement, so we wanted people to watch the movie and go straight to RacingExtinction.com, and find their ‘one thing’, whether that’s reducing their meat consumption, or going electric. People always say ‘what else can I do’, so they can go onto the site to find out, and do a carbon cleanse, figure out what their carbon footprint is and how they can reduce it. The solutions are all upgrades.”
Going back to this topic of the illegal wildlife trade, I found that element of the film particularly fascinating, as I didn’t know anything about that before. If people just see the images of all those shark fins spread out for miles and miles around, I think they’d be immediately rallying for change. And you say in the film that this industry is second only to the drug trade. Why is it so lucrative?
“Unfortunately, the more scarce a creature becomes, the more it’s worth. Part of that perceived value, at least in China, is this idea of the medicinal qualities that they attach to it; that it’s going to make men more virile, that it’s going to cure cancer… And people that are desperate want to believe anything. Even a worm becomes something like $48,000 a kilo wholesale price. That’s crazy stuff. In the case of shark fins, that used to be something that royalty did. That kind of made sense from a sociological point of view, because they were hard to get. Nowadays we’re using military grade equipment to harvest fish! Nothing in the world can escape from the biggest predator in the world, which is humans. Shark fins are nutritionless and they’re tasteless, so there’s no value in it. If you can show people that, and also show emotionally how a lot of them are harvested, it changes the perception. WildAid, coupled with what Shawn Heinrichs has done with that footage, helped reduce the market for shark fins in Hong Kong by over 75%. That’s huge, when you see what one little organisation like WildAid can do with a video!”
Along with getting celebrities involved, like Yao Ming.
“Absolutely. We’re working with Yao Ming again, with a manta ray campaign that we’re going to be doing, so we’ll try to multiply that effect by using his celebrity again.
“Unfortunately in this day and age, you need celebrities to come and endorse your cause. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. We did a campaign called ‘My Friend Is’, and we had a couple dozen celebrities help out on that, and got millions and millions of hits on that. It really helps. Of course, there’s a lot of ways to drive traffic to your site; there’s celebrities, campaigns, the awards circuit… To me, though, the real reward is seeing the change. That’s where it gets exciting, when people come out of the film and start thinking about ways that they can change.
“Everybody feels disempowered, but everybody can become a superhero by helping to save the planet”
“Like I said, I just saw the Bond film last night, and I love that series, but I come out of it, and I’m no better for it, and the world’s no better for it! I still love it, but what if you can make a film that feels like a thriller, but you feel like you’re involved, or at least want to get involved. That’s the point. I think everybody feels disempowered – they feel that they can’t make a big change at work, or with their family, or at school – but you realise that everybody can become a superhero by helping to save the planet, by adopting more of a plant-based lifestyle, and saving the 10,400 animals they eat in a lifetime… That’s a lot of animals! Reduce that amount of pain and suffering, for yourself, and the animals, and the enviroment, and it has this compound effect that doesn’t just affect this generation, but will effect thousands of generations going forward.”
We see this multi-generational reach at the end of your film, in the closing scene of New Yorkers gathered to watch projections across the biggest buildings in the city. Young children, adults, and much older people, are all gathered to participate in this spectacle. And if they all ‘started with one thing’, they could make a huge difference.
“You know, we were done with the movie before we did that. That scene we put on because I’d been trying for four years to light up the Empire State building. There were a lot of reasons for that, too. It wasn’t just because it’s the biggest iconic building in the world, but I wanted to highlight what Tony Malkin had done to that building. I wanted to call attention to the fact that if you take over this big building, you can talk about the magnifying effect it has, and our producers said “Louie, the film’s done, we’ve already got paid for it… Don’t worry about it”, and “nobody’s going to be in New York in August, they’ll all be in Europe, or the Hamptons, and the media won’t show up on a Saturday night because nobody can afford to keep the media working on a weekend anymore”, yet we were the top trending story on Twitter and Facebook for four days running. We had 939 million media impressions.
“To me, when somebody says ‘it can’t be done’, it’s catnip. And changing the world right now is my catnip. I see this path that we’re on, and I see it’s really damaging and destructive. I think that the biggest legacy that I can have, that Discovery can have, and that the television audience can have, is to see the film and change the world. I can’t wait til December 3rd, to see the effect that it has.”
Racing Extinction airs on Discovery Channel UK at 9pm tonight,
Wednesday 2nd December.
Doc the Halls: 5 heart-warming Christmas documentaries to watch this season
Had enough of the snow-covered fantasy lands and melodramatic yarns so frequently associated with Christmas programming? How about something a bit more ‘real’? As we’re big fans of documentaries, we thought we’d share… read more
Doc the Halls: 5 heart-warming Christmas documentaries to watch this season
Had enough of the snow-covered fantasy lands and melodramatic yarns so frequently associated with Christmas programming? How about something a bit more ‘real’? As we’re big fans of documentaries, we thought we’d share with you, our precious readers, some of our favourite alternatives to the fictional Christmas fare. With Santa Claus, Christmas trees and the North Pole in tow, these documentaries are nevertheless filled with oodles of fun, festive spirit. Go on, check ’em out!
From the director of numerous music videos for artists such as Noah and the Whale, Franz Ferdinand, and even Charlie Simpson, this beautiful documentary observes a tree’s journey from deep in the Norwegian forest to London’s bustling Trafalgar Square, as part of Norway’s annual tradition to send a Christmas tree to Britain, in appreciation of her aid in the Second World War. This 16-minute little beauty won the title of Best Documentary Short at the 2011 Minghella Film Festival, and also scored an Award of Excellence at the 2010 Los Angeles Movie Awards. Imagine it to the soundtrack of the Lisa Log song from The Simpsons.
Short but very, very sweet, this 30-minute film takes us to North Pole, Alaska, where tens of thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus from around the world end up each year at Christmas time. The documentary introduces us to the teams of Alaskan volunteers who dedicate their time to answering these letters from hopeful children.
Featured in the 2011 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, this touching film follows the journey of Jack Sanderson – a man who saw Christmas as a burden following the death of his father, before he decided to do a one-eighty and embrace the holiday to the fullest, by studying to become a department store Santa Claus. A beautiful story about the powers of belief.
With his unique ability to scope out the world’s most weird and wonderful, a much younger-looking Theroux spends a strange Christmas with some of the more outrageous stars of his Weird Weekends series, including born again Christians, aliens, porn stars, and hardcore survivalists.
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tony Robinson on his new Wild West documentary series
In anticipation of his latest documentary series, Tony Robinson’s Wild West in 3D, I had the pleasure of speaking to the delightful Sir Tony Robinson as he ate breakfast at his London home.
Over the course of our conversation, the Blackadder and Time Team star’s flair for history is infectious, as he speaks animatedly about the real life legends behind the three-part series, which employs never-before-seen 3D stereoscopic photographs to tell the true stories of America’s fabled West, from the end of the Civil War in 1865, up until the early 20th Century.
“I’ve got raspberries on my muesli!”, Tony declares gleefully at the start of our meeting. “That’s the kind of guy I am. On my gravestone it should say ‘He had raspberries in his muesli’”, he continues in true Baldrickian fashion. The affable Tony then goes on to apologise to his PA, whom he tells me was up late the previous evening caring for his “old and poorly” dog, while he was out babysitting for his daughter-in-law.
But anyway, we’re here to talk business, about the infamous Wild West. When I tell Sir Robinson that I studied the topic at university, he is overjoyed to tell me why his Wild West in 3D documentary makes such a “fantastically good series”. “The history is wonderful, the stories are great, and of course, the backdrop is absolutely gorgeous”, he explains.
“Yesterday I put the commentary on for the second episode, and it really took my breath away. I think people are going to love it. And that’s not just me bullshitting; I’ve made an awful lot of documentaries over the years, and not all of them have absolutely taken my breath away!”
Tony with Bob Boze Bell, editor of True West Magazine, at the site of the gunfight at the OK Corral.
So why choose this topic for the show in the first place?
Robinson tells me it was while he was looking for dinosaurs in Montana for a Time Team special that he first visited the so-called Wild West: “While I was there I just fell in love with the place completely. I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is cowboy country’. I always hoped that one day I’d be able to go back there and piece together the reality behind the mythology that I’d learnt as a kid”.
Did he find that reality to be wildly different from the romanticised mythology we know so well courtesy of Hollywood, in films such as Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, or Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
“Yes and no”, he answers. “As you know, the West was mythologising itself even as it happened. So many of the cowboys were intensely self-aware of their role, and wrote letters to newspapers, and newspaper men came out to visit them. This coincided with the time when electronic communications meant that the stories could be disseminated very quickly, and at a time when books could be produced very swiftly. So the narrative was there from very early on”.
“In a way, there was no difference between the reality and the mythology.”
Tony continues: “There is a difference between the often rather tawdry reality of these people and the rather heroic way they talked about themselves, but there are parts of the story that were absolutely true. The cowboys were taciturn; they were extremely brave; they were extremely tough … they were just like Clint Eastwood and others have portrayed them”.
Why are people so fascinated by these outlaws, even today? Robinson quotes Mark Twain:
“Mark Twain called them ‘the first authentic American culture’, and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. They were created almost out of nothing”, he says. “Suddenly it was realised that this great, deserted area in the middle of America was phenomenally good cattle country, and when people started to herd those cattle, they created a costume for themselves – not because it was a cowboy costume, it didn’t come out of a play box – but because they needed a big hat to protect themselves from the sun, they needed big boots so they didn’t get bitten by the snakes, they needed cheap but very thick shirts to protect themselves from the thorns, great elaborate saddles that were pieces of engineering, so they could lasso cattle, and then tie them onto the end of the saddles… It all had an absolute logic about it”.
I ask Tony whom he believes to be Britain’s equivalents to the outlaws of the Wild West, offering our fascination with London’s notorious Kray twins as an example. I should’ve seen his response from a mile off, though:
“I think the Tudors hold a similar place in our mythology. They were very tough, very glamorous, very self-publicising, and were often much dirtier pieces of work than their PR leads us to believe!”
Tony Robinson and Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder II.
By now we’ve talked plenty about the Wild West, and I want to know more about the show’s 3D element. What are these‘3D stereoscopic photographs’ I’ve been hearing so much about, which are tantalisingly described as ‘forgotten images completely unknown to academics’? The answer is nothing short of fascinating.
“I think most people assume that 3D is a modern invention;
that it was James Cameron who invented 3D.”
“In fact, 3D has been around for as long as there have been cameras”, explains Robinson. “In the 1880s, it was enormously popular, and very cheap. You got one of those holders which looks like a small coat hanger with two photographs taken just a couple of inches apart, and you look into them both and your eye melds them both together and gives you a 3D image”.
“Given what we’ve just said about the self-publicising nature of the Wild West, there were often cameramen about. When Frank and Jesse James died, a 3D cameraman moved in, and for a couple of bucks you could buy a photo of yourself standing next to the dead bodies in 3D. In the Battle of the Little Bighorn, as soon as it was open, the 3D cameramen went in. And when Bill went hunting buffalo and digging for gold, he took a thousand men and a 3D cameraman!”
So this purportedly new technology is actually harking back to what they were doing all those years ago?
“Well, you know how television always says ‘this has never been before seen on television’? It’s actually true in this case!”, says Tony. “A lot of the images that we show never have been shown on television, because there never was 3D television before … It’s rescuing what they were doing back then”.
Before I let Tony get on with his day, the topic turns to what we’re watching on television. He tells me he’s currently loving Abi Morgan’s River on BBC One, which stars Nicola Walker as a policewoman who’s actually a ghost.
And finally, while it’s only early November and yet the Christmas lights are already up on Oxford Street, what would Sir Robinson like to receive from Santa Claus?
If you weren’t already aware, we are obsessed with Discovery’s Alaskan Bush People. The show follows the trials and tribulations of married couple Billy and Ami, who, along with their seven grown-up… read more
The show follows the trials and tribulations of married couple Billy and Ami, who, along with their seven grown-up children Matt, Bam Bam, Bear, Gabe, Noah, Snowbird, and Rain, co-inhabit a cabin that they built themselves in a remote region of Alaska.
In two action-packed seasons, the documentary series has acquired a devoted cult following, and we are delighted to report that a date has now been confirmed for the launch of season 3.
To celebrate the announcement, Discovery has given us a first look at the new season.
In this exclusive video clip, we see a brown bear pawing at the door of the Browns’ recently hand-built homestead. While the extent of the damage it causes is yet to be seen, we know that the family’s perseverance in the face of adversity will pull them through as always.
What other dramas could this bush-dwelling clan possibly run into in the episodes to come? We can’t begin to imagine, and will have to stay tuned to find out!
Season 3 of Alaskan Bush People premieres November 11 at 9 p.m. ET on Discovery Channel U.S.