Wildlife documentaries are compelling by their very nature as viewers get a birds eye view of territorial wars between some of our most ferocious creatures in the animal kingdom, how survival of the fittest works as well as marvel at the picturesque natural habitat that belies the daily struggle of its inhabitants. BBC Knowledge’s Africa takes viewers on another exhilarating and stupefying journey and Debashine Thangevelo got an audience with celebrated wildlife narrator Sir David Attenborough to find out what’s in store this time around…
SIR David Attenborough’s reputation precedes him. With more than 60 years as a presenter/writer for a plethora of wildlife series, he has earned his praiseworthy stripes.
At 86 years, there are no signs of him slowing down. BBC Knowledge’s trump card, he returns to do what he does best, telling compelling stories in their latest exploit, Africa – produced by James Honeyborne.
In the first episode, which aired this Sunday, viewers were wowed with spectacular footage of the Kalahari, the survival techniques employed by the wildlife and their behavioural patterns.
On the five-part series, which took four years to make with a total of 79 separate filming expeditions covering 27 countries, he says of how the storytelling is married to the compelling footage, “My job is the commentary. There were a lot of cameramen working on it. You have a director and an executive producer. And you put it together using the best of the material.”
His response was far from the engaging feedback I expected. I suppose, like a comedian, he does his best work on a familiar platform.
But I push on, in the hope that he might offer a gem of a story on his career achievements.
Of the 2 000 hours of raw rushes that have been captured, it was edited and Attenborough was tasked with adding the compelling commentary.
On how that is achieved, he says, “You have researchers and you also talk to scientists. They are the key. If you decide you are going to do something about lions or giraffes – you go to the top man and take their advice.”
When asked whether he found the travelling exhausting, he corrects, “I didn’t go to all those places.”
The series covers the Kalahari, where meerkats find themselves outsmarted, giant insects prey on baby birds and desert giraffes engage in battle to retain their supremacy. Episode two takes place in the savannah, which finds itself experiencing unpredictable climate changes, and a tiny lizard risks its life to feed on the flies off a sleepy lion’s face. Other pit stops include the Congo rainforest, where chimpanzees have mastered the art of pilfering honey from bees; to the great Cape, which is home to more great white sharks than any other sea on Earth; to the Sahara, where viewers learn of the dwindling rivers on the fringes of the Great Desert to weird naked mole rats living a bizarre underground existence.
Commenting on one of his most extraordinary adventures, he says, “It would be my visit to New Guinea, it is a very remarkable island. Very little is known about parts of it. It is a bird’s paradise.”
Having just got back from China, where he is busy with another project, Attenborough says, “It’s great fun (doing this). I would much rather do that than not to do anything. In my spare time, I play the piano and I read books a lot.”
As for why this doccie is worthy of a watch, he nonchalantly states, “It covers the whole of Africa. Goes into the Congo, Mozambique. I don’t know what it’s like in SA television but in Britain, we get to see a great deal of the savannahs. But there is much more to Africa than that, especially in the hidden rainforest of the Congo.”
Although Sir David was more to-the-point in the interview – much to my disillusionment – his mesmer- ising storytelling, especially for Africa, is faultless and is worth marvelling over.
• Africa airs on BBC Knowledge (DStv Channel 184) on Sundays at 6pm.