There's Nothing Quite Like a Documentary
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 8 Jan 98 13:50:13 -0800
Subject: There's Nothing Quite Like a Documentary
Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Jeff Moore <email@example.com>
In wildlife photography, it can be hard to tell the real from the fake.
In film and video, the ethical line between reality and artifice was blurred
long ago. The ambiguity began with the acclaimed Disney nature films of the
1950s that pioneered the modern approach to wildlife movie making. The
Living Desert, for example, was later reported to have been filmed entirely
with tame animals, including a wild cat lifted by crane into a saguaro
cactus. Disney's 1958 White Wilderness taught a generation of schoolchildren
-- and many adults -- that lemmings commit mass suicide. They don't. The
filmmakers purchased about 1,000 of the small rodents collected by Eskimo
children and, in a scene that has become a wildlife classic, drove the
hapless critters over a cliff to their deaths.
Cannonbass. Videographers share the same difficulties faced by still
photographers when filming in the wild, and many resort to tricks and
shortcuts. Piranhas will be obligingly voracious if they have been starved.
Bass, leaping out of the water on those Saturday-morning fishing shows, may
have been shot from a small underwater cannon. Snakes rarely eat parrots,
except when the birds are fed to them. Wild animals don't take direction,
but trained animals do: In one video, for example, declawed, toothless
grizzlies were trained to engage in what appeared to be a ferocious battle.
Marty Stouffer, whose Wild America documentary series earned him around $18
million over more than a dozen years on public television, staged a fake
mountain-lion attack on a skier (a pet and its owner) in his "Dangerous
Encounters" video. He makes no apologies for this or any other scenes he
has created during an illustrious career as a wildlife filmmaker. Stouffer
insists that every nature movie today contains some degree of illusion or
manipulation. "I'm not a scientist producing a doctoral dissertation," he
argues. "It's infotainment and we need to suspend disbelief. These
re-creations depict authentic animal behavior in the wild, and I'm
comfortable with that."
© 1998 Peter Langston