In a recent interview with Matthew Sherwood for the Factual America podcast, British filmmakers Keith Scholey and Colin Butfield, David Attenborough’s long time collaborators, provide first-hand insights into the making of the movie A Life On Our Planets, the experience of working with David and what’s next to come.
The film has the planet feature Sir David as its passionate advocate, a man who has seen it all in his lifetime – the Earth’s wilderness at its peak, and unfortunately now at its nadir – this documentary is the described as the naturalist’s witness statement.
During the conversation, the filmmakers praise Sir David’s approach to work, his wealth of experience behind and around the camera, his understanding of the value of technology and what the new filming techniques have to add to moviemaking.
Because of this, they reveal that the footage is mainly unscripted, apart from the voiceovers, but even those are still just scripted versions of Sir David’s reflections about certain themes and the questions surrounding them.
Talking about how the documentary came together, Keith shares that it occurred in a natural way, while the two of them were working with Sir David on the series Our Planet. “We then realised that all the big changes that have happened to the world, the really significant ones, have all happened in David’s lifetime,” Keith explained, “And we just thought that it’s extraordinary. This is a guy who’s probably seen more of the world than any other human that’s ever lived.
“Let’s hear what he has to think about what he’s witnessed, and crucially, what he thinks we should do now. And that’s really what the film’s about,” he added.
Keith explains that Sir David is a very humble man so the thought of being in the spotlight was a difficult thing for him to take on, but it boiled down to him deciding that he was prepared to go down this road.
One of the movie’s striking features is at the beginning, opening with the Chernobyl scene. Keith explains: “We filmed in Chernobyl for the Our Planet series and it was the perfect parable to go with what’s happening with the environmental crisis.
“In both showcases a big accident can take away our ability to live in this place. And then the other key thing about Chernobyl is that although humans left, nature carries on. And so the moral of the story is that our civilisation may not be able to survive the changes that are coming, but nature will find a way.”
The documentary was due for release in April, but was delayed because of the COVID crisis, which Colin and Keith thinks put things into perspective. They say that it allowed people to reflect on what’s important to them, understand what an unstable world means, and also realise the extent of things which can be solved if the whole world comes together.
As much as some wonder how much energy David has got left, Keith jokes: “Don’t ever bet on it being David’s last one. Because we’ve had hundreds of David’s last ones. And I’m sure there are a lot more to come.”
To find out more, listen to the Factual America episode here.