by Rachael Kinley, Researcher, Oceans and Jungles team
Of the three months that I’ve been on location for Human Planet Oceans shoots, over half of this time has been spent waiting for fish to appear. Off the shores of three continents, from sunrise to sunset, we’ve searched the open seas desperately hoping for some ‘sign’ that they are on their way.
First it was waiting for migrating mullet in Mauritania. The idea was to film with the Imraguen people who inhabit the Bank D’Arguin National Park and fish the huge numbers of mullet that pass through their waters each year. Every day for two weeks we optimistically headed out to sea in the fishermen’s dhows, but the mullet never arrived. Was it the moon, the wind or the water temperature? We will probably never know but after much debate we reluctantly decided to call off the shoot.
Then we moved on to Laguna on the coast of southern Brazil to try again to film a similar story. It was hard to decide when was the best time to go as the local fishermen seemed to have wildly conflicting ideas of when the mullet season actually occurred. In the end we embarked on our trip in mid May and although at first it looked as if we were going to be unlucky for a second time, after spending three weeks on location we finally managed to film fishermen hauling in impressive numbers of fish.
OK, so we were successful, but it was touch and go for quite a while and I swore I would never go on another shoot that depended on fish turning up. But what do you know, this October I was off again on another wild fish chase. This time it was off the coast of Palawan in the Philippines, sailing for fourteen hours a day for seven days with deep sea diving fishermen desperate to land a big catch. Sitting out at sea on a boat in the tropics, overlooking palm tree fringed sandy beaches, is not the worst place in the world to be left in limbo, but after days on end of no filming opportunities and burning our budget, even paradise can lose its appeal. But as so often seems to be the case on Human Planet shoots, on the very last day we finally managed to net something spectacular enough to make the cut.
We had what we needed, but I was dismayed to hear that even this catch was half the size of those that the fishermen said they used to get. The problem was not that the people had been lying to us about when and where the fish come in, nor that they had lost their traditional skills, but that there are no longer plenty of fish in the sea. Although newspapers and documentaries such as End of the Line tell us that global fish stocks are declining, as we still see plenty of fish on our supermarket shelves, it is all too easy to ignore the warnings.
I myself was aware of the problem, but it was really brought home to me by witnessing first hand how barren the seas of the world have become. At first the persistent lack of fish on our shoots seemed little more than the annoying bad luck that can plague any film shoot, but talking to people whose lives and livelihoods depend on maritime resources, I have become increasingly aware that diminishing fish stocks are becoming a huge problem affecting millions, if not billions, of people around the world. Having seen just how hard the lives of some of these people are already, I hate to think how they will survive if the fish disappear altogether.
Dale Templar – Series Producer – Human Planet
Heartache for Haiti
About six months ago, I sent assistant producer Willow off to do a recce in Haiti. We were looking for a place to show the huge destructive force of hurricanes and Haiti is regularly caught in the path of the worst storms that sweep through the Caribbean. Ironically, we never filmed in Haiti; in the 2009 season the hurricanes chose other paths. It was a bitter-sweet failure for the series. Willow and I were both aware we’d wasted time and money but also felt secretly pleased that the people of Haiti had escaped yet more devastation and destruction for another year. We could never have imagined the cruel twist of fate that would hit them just months later. Of all the places on Earth for a earthquake of this magnitude to hit. On her trip , Willow was given an insight into the desperation, poverty and hopelessness faced by the majority of the Haitian population. Hours after the earthquake, she and I talked on the phone, both unable to take in the enormity of the disaster. She had been there, I had made films after the Kobe Earthquake in Japan and in Banda Ache following the Boxing Day Tsunami. The hearts of the Human Planet team go out to the people of Haiti. Maybe, just maybe, something good will come from this.
by Willow Murton, Assistant Producer, Oceans/Jungles team
Leaving Haiti I say my goodbyes and hope that I don’t visit the people that I have come to know again this year. For the first time after a recce, I really do hope that I don’t come back. Because if I do, it means the people of Haiti will have been hit yet again by a destructive storm.
For many people, Haiti is synonymous with violence, gun fire cracking over destitute slums, the sound of voodoo drums, a dark mysticism. When I said that I was coming here, some friends looked at me with envy and said that they had always dreamt of going on holiday to Tahiti. Those who heard right looked at me with curious interest and concern. Their eyes were full of the preconceptions that spring from a country whose history begins for many with disease and exploitation. More recently, it has been written by the devastating statistics of its poverty and the language of disaster in the face of social unrest and tropical storms which have hit the country. And so I set off, with the envious gaze of the mistaken and the worried glances of the better informed.
Recces are one of the best parts of this job. You get to be professionally nosey and personally privileged in places that you would never visit otherwise. This is certainly one trip that I would not have imagined making and it still does not feel real until the doors of Port-au-Prince airport open. The tensions and aggressions that I expected to meet me in the Haitian capital are nowhere to be seen. I am struck by the apparent calm, masked in the chaotic bustle of the traffic and roadside. A bored UN policeman, a check point on a road dented with potholes, intercut with colourful tap-tap pick-ups crammed with people. Whilst I have a glimpse of the reality of life about me, I too am on the sidelines, looking out at the passing world. This feeling comes back to me time and time again on the trip. Perhaps it is the distance between the cool air-conditioned rooms of the hotels where we stay at night and the hot, dusty shacks that we visit in the day.
The shoot however will be an immersion, literally. Following a family through a storm and following floods is not something that is easy to plan. I have become an amateur storm chaser, scouring weather charts and learning the grammar of waves and wind. For all the guidance that I am given, there is no way to predict the track of the storms with any certainty. Had there been a way, the people of Gonaives would surely not have found themselves so unprepared for the four storms that struck the town last year, bringing deadly floods and taking lives and homes.
Mountains of dusty rubble dug from the houses still sit in the streets, flanked by blocked canals, lottery stalls and the wrecked shells of cars. At the edge of the ocean, a small group of fishermen gather, making boats and talking, as children and pigs run about amongst piles of empty conch shells. A little boy flies a kite, made from a plastic bag, over a cluster of ramshackle huts. On a door, the words “Site Ana” are sprayed. The settlement is new, named after the storm, Hurricane Hanna, that took the previous homes of the settlers. Children swim in the pools of water beyond, around the ruins of a building she flooded. Crude fishing boats sail out over former salt plots. Life continues in the remains of the storms.
There is an inevitability to the fate of the people who live here which is openly admitted. It is disarming. They have no choice but to stay, to adapt, to reclaim the small spaces of land, the snatches of life that they can. Last year, the families in some corners of Gonaives spent months living on roof tops. Neighbours who had houses with two storeys offered shelter to those without. Fear, loss and finally survival were shared under stormy skies. I still have no idea what story we will be able to tell this year but I hope that it is one which finds that same strength of humanity in the eye of a storm I pray never comes, even if the cold statistics say it will.
Dale Templar – Series Producer – Not so Natural Disasters
When Willow came back from Haiti last week and showed me the photos of Gonaives I was instantly transported back. I have location directed two films telling the stories of the aftermath of what we call a “natural disaster”. The first was the 1995 Kobe Earthquake in Japan. The second was the more recent tsunami, where I filmed in Banda Ache in northern Sumatra, the place where quarter of a million men, women and children perished. Like Haiti, Ache was already classed by the BBC as a “hostile environment” even before the disaster. As I travelled from the airport, which was inland and relatively untouched, we headed towards the coast. Soon the twin natural forces of both a powerful earthquake and the massive tsunami waves started to reveal themselves. I was prepared for the earthquake ruin, I’d seen so much in Kobe but I wasn’t prepared for the scene as I neared the coast. A few months earlier this had been a packed fishing community. Well over a kilometre from the sea shore, there was nothing, just nothing. The ocean had taken everything. When I saw Willow’s recce material the memories of Ache came back, I understood her confusion and disbelief.
It’s called a natural disaster for good reason but when you see it for yourself there is something so viscerally un-natural about it. Somehow it just isn’t right, isn’t possible. On both occasions I was telling the story of the people who had against the odds survived the very worst nature could throw at them. You come away with an insight into two of the great strengths on this Earth, the force of nature itself and the power of humanity.