Don’t blame the animals. We’re the boring ones…

Dear RealScreen:...
May 1, 2001

Dear RealScreen:

Everyone in the business is aware that the pendulum is swinging uncomfortably for natural history and wildlife programming. In my view, this is the inevitable result of over-commissioning towards the end of the 1990s and few would dispute that.

On page 32 of your March issue, [one interviewee] is reported as saying that it’s not so much that wildlife isn’t popular – the issue is more about finding new ways to tell familiar stories: ‘There aren’t any new animals to be discovered, and those that we all know, we know everything about them. So, the only thing that can possibly make animal films different would be if we could make the same films using different techniques, which is not so easy or affordable.’

If that were even a fraction true. No new animals to discover and we know everything there is to know? What about the various mammals and birds that have very recently been brought to light, including an ox from Vietnam; a new primate (marmoset) in Brazil; a bird (antpitta) in Ecuador? And it’s not just species. At the Wildscreen Festival, the Revelation Award is given for never-before-captured behavior and I am happy to say that since the Festival began in 1982, there has always been a winner in the category. Despite budget cuts, I am optimistic that this trend will continue.

But, perhaps my understanding of the word ‘animal’ differs. My view is that it means anything that is fauna, ie: anything that is not flora. I would hazard a guess that [their] definition covers what focus group participants have declared to be their favorite categories of creatures,

namely all the big cats, elephants, the primates, crocodiles, dolphins, whales, sharks and perhaps a handful of others. And why do they say these are their favorites? Because these are, in the main, the only species they see much of on their screens.

[Are they] aware that there are ‘only’ 4,500 mammals worldwide compared with a million insects, not to mention 4,500 amphibians, 6,500 reptiles, 9,500 birds, 25,000 fish and 35,000 spiders (note: I’ve omitted the stats for mollusks and crustaceans). Overall, there are 1.75 million species (including plants) known to science and the view is that there are many species out there about which, as yet, we know nothing. Professor Edward O. Wilson, Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, Sir Robert May and many other of the world’s top natural scientists reckon there may be as many as 10 million.

Many, if not all of these species, surely have fascinating stories that, with today’s extraordinary technology, could reveal stranger-than-fiction tales to viewers hungry for excitement and drama. If the filmmaking and storytelling are good (and preferably outstanding), viewers will love it.

There is a plethora of stories from the natural world waiting to be told – let’s see and hear them. Science is currently a favored TV genre. The scientists should inform producers and distributors about the fascinating natural world – before it all disappears.

Jane Krish

Chief Executive, The Wildscreen Trust

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.