Award-winning SA film-makers’ new nature documentary is shot at exotic locations around the globe
Award-winning South African filmmaker Bonné de Bod has opened up about the “scary” moments she and her co-film-maker Susan Scott faced while shooting their new documentary film Kingdoms Of Fire, Ice and Fairy Tales.
The makers of the multi award-winning documentary Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War (2018), go on an adventure quest to find three of Earth’s epic wildernesses that capture magic.
They travel to the world famous Yellowstone National Park in the US; the Black Forest in Germany; and the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland.
While beautiful and scenic, the locations brought many challenges including having to manoeuvre around grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park with a can of bear spray.
“What’s different to the Kruger Park, is that in Yellowstone National Park, one can get out of the car and go on hiking trails without a guide.
“This was fantastic. We could hike far into the wilderness to film in order to capture the essence of the place,” says De Bod. “But what you do want to avoid on your hike is a meeting with a grizzly bear. So we had to carry bear spray with us in case we bumped into one.”
“I would lie if I say we weren’t scared. “Just the tutorial from the bear spray hire place on how to use it, got the hair up on the back of our necks!”
The pair also had to deal with freezing temperatures when they visited the Arctic Circle. “Working in -20ºC was a huge challenge. Operating camera and sound equipment with half-frozen hands and fingers was quite difficult.
“I have terrible blood circulation in my hands and feet and although I had hand and toe warmers, they only stay hot for 15 minutes, after which you have to shake them profusely again to warm them up.”
“The Arctic Circle was a tough shoot. We were absolutely shattered when we finished filming there but I would go back in a heartbeat, it’s a tremendously exciting and surprisingly beautiful place.”
Their film follows on from the success of their widely acclaimed Stroop, which explored the global trade in rhino horn and sought to understand why so many of South Africa’s rhinos are brutally poached.
However Kingdoms Of Fire, Ice and Fairy Tales is a departure for the duo from their investigative film-making. “These places inspire awe and wonder, they are timeless, existing even before we walked on Earth. Landscapes not touched by human hands. With life in abundance. These places are majestic. And going on this kind of deep journey allows you to be as free as a person can be today.”
Scott and De Bod came up with the idea for the film while they were on the film festival circuit for Stroop in California. “The reception of Stroop was incredible and we wanted to engage with the audiences at these festivals, some of which were in great locations.
“While Susan was pleased we had a free flight, I kept saying, yes, but we’re still not getting paid… we’re not working. And so I’ll never forget her saying, ‘Okay then! Let’s work!”
“So she chose national parks we could get to once we were in North America or northern Europe.” “The original idea was a series showcasing several wilderness areas around the world, however the Covid-19 pandemic had destroyed any plans the duo had of creating a series.”
“Covid happened and we spent lockdown looking at the footage we had already shot and then going, hey, there’s a film in here, and the project morphed into a documentary, an expedition/nature doc, something more special than the original idea.
“We’re both very pleased and there’s a message. The gloom and doom of the lockdown actually brought something really amazing out that we would never have had.”
Due to the pandemic, the duo had limited time to shoot in the three locations, however De Bod says they had the time of their lives.
“Yellowstone National Park in America is the oldest, the largest and best known national park in America, some say the best in the world.”
“We chose it because we both feel that nothing can come close to our own Kruger, but I must say the park is pretty amazing. “Yes, the wildlife is incredible… bears, wolves, coyotes and many more and I can see why it is called the Serengeti of North America.”
“But what makes Yellowstone so special is that the earth literally moves. “There’s an incredibly high concentration of geothermal energy which comes from the super-volcano that Yellowstone sits on.”
“So not only are you surrounded by the animals in the park but also by geysers erupting with water hundreds of metres up in the air, with steam vents constantly releasing hot steam, with mud pots or paint pots that have clay bubbling and jumping to the surface and with hot springs showcasing the most vibrant colours I have ever seen. In fact, stories from the first explorers to Yellowstone were passed off as hallucinations.”
The Black Forest in Germany was just as amazing. “It appealed to us because it was almost wiped out during the industrial revolution.”
“Two brothers, German academics, the Brothers Grimm collected folk tales from the people who were still alive in what was left of the forest and they became the fairy tales we all know and love today, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, etc and this brought a revival back to the forest from the local communities surrounding what was left of the forest, which we find fascinating.”
“And their search for the ultimate place took them to the Arctic Circle at the top of the world. “Otherworldly is how I would describe it. With the sun never popping over the horizon during polar night giving you only four hours of a muted twilight and temperatures sitting at -20ºC, it was quite strange and unsettling at first but wow… the world up there is just something else!”
“And it is a world that defies reality. Life that survives despite freezing temperatures, landscapes beyond imagination, and then the most otherworldly of all, the Northern Lights or the aurora borealis, that dance across the cold skies up there.”
“But you’re not always guaranteed that you’ll see the aurora, and so you go out every night to try to find it, and as it’s already way below freezing it’s tough filming and then when you do see the lights, they may only last a few seconds.”
“I guess all our hard work paid off because we got some really dramatic footage. The sacrifice of frozen fingers was worth it.”
De Bod added that their main aim of the documentary was for them to reconnect with nature, having gone through a traumatic few years shooting Stroop.
“That four-year journey took a lot out of us because of the traumatic subject matter and the investigative nature of the documentary.” “Filming undercover wasn’t something we were used to. I know this sounds clichéd, but we felt like we had to reconnect with nature, feed our souls a little.”
“Not only did we want to bring these places into people’s living rooms through beautiful imagery, but we also wanted to seek out legendary stories on overcoming fear and rejuvenating souls. And we absolutely found what we were looking for… the planet never disappoints.”
De Bod added that it was also incredible working alongside Scott again. “It was wonderful. Even though one can never ‘leave’ a project… I mean Stroop will always be a part of us, of who we are and will most likely define us for the rest of our lives… but embarking on a next journey is exhilarating.”
“We have just finished Kingdoms and we are already planning the next. There will be many more journeys, all very different from each other, but all stories we feel people need to see.”
“And for as long as we can tell them, and more importantly share them, we will.” De Bod says she’s positive the film will have a positive impact.“
“We are thrilled as Kingdoms of Fire, Ice and Fairy Tales has been officially selected to screen at one of the top film festivals in the States, Jackson Wild this coming week (also known as the Oscars of nature films) and then it will be broadcast on M-Net in December and kykNET in January after which both English and Afrikaans versions will also be available digitally on Showmax,” she said.