by Nicolas Brown, Producer/Director, Arctic and Mountains
“Is one of you Mr. Brown?”
Shock, blood rushes to my face. “Who knows me here? This is the most remote airport I have ever been to. (Have I done something wrong…?)”
We are in Ummannaq, which is nearly 600 km North of the Polar Circle, halfway up the West Coast of Greenland. The town sits on a tiny island (12 sq km) dominated by a towering rock called “Hjertefjeldet”, or Heart–shaped Mountain. It is easily the most picturesque fishing village I have ever seen – and the most far flung.
The woman in front of me laughs at my bewildered look. “My husband is Ole Jørgen Hammeken. He is friends with your father.”
Soon I am seated across from Ole Jørgen — the man my father calls “The Eskimo Errol Flynn”. The comparison is apt. Ole Jørgen has a stage presence that fills a room. A decade ago, he led my father on an expedition to the northernmost mountain in Greenland, now dubbed Hammeken Point. Ole is the first native Greenlander to be honoured as one the world’s elite explorers.
We laugh at the coincidence — Ole has been to my home thousands of miles away in Gypsum, Colorado, in the heart of the American Rockies. There he ate venison that we harvested from the forest behind our house. Now, totally unplanned, I am seated at his table, eating halibut harvested that morning from beneath the Ummannaq sea ice.
Weeks later, Human Planet takes us to Nepal. It is another place I have never been. Once again, I am greeted with a shock.
“You look like your brother…” muses a Nepali man standing before me. “But he is a strong climber—strong as a Sherpa. Are you?”
I stare into the beaming, mischievous smile so characteristic of Nepali Sherpas. A flash of recognition hits me. Put goggles on his eyes, an oxygen mask on his face—yes, it is Pemma Sherpa, who led my brother to the top of Mt. Everest last year. I’ve seen the pictures (it was my brother, Michael Brown’s, fourth successful summit).
I can tell that Pemma is going to push me. I’m not the mountaineer my brother is. I curse myself for not training harder for the expedition ahead…
When I started work on Human Planet I knew we would be exploring places I’ve never been before. But I never expected to keep bumping into people I know! In the famous words of my fellow countryman Walt Disney, “It’s a small, small world!”
Dale Templar, Series Producer – Icebreakers
Last week we had unfermented mud in Mali stopping a shoot, this week we’ve had sea ice breaking up far too fast in Greenland. Pushing complex filming trips back at the last minute is not ideal but bringing them forward can be a total nightmare and that’s exactly what it has been. Whether or not you believe the global warming theories, things ain’t what they used to be in the Arctic. One morning last week our “Queen of the Ice”, Bethan Evans got the call she never wanted from North-East Greenland. Overnight a big storm had come across the region and many kilometres of sea ice had been literally blown away – the team had to come and film “now!”, not in four weeks time as planned. With director Nick Brown away in Nepal (see above), the camera crew and safety co-ordinator booked to work elsewhere and flights every two weeks at best, we were starting from scratch. Willow Murton, our assistant producer had to drop the other story she was working on in Siberia and it was Arctic action stations. Somehow, I do not know how , we have an amazing team on location with one of the world’s top Arctic cameramen, Doug Allan. He had another shoot pencilled in for the series Frozen Planet that got cancelled due to weather! How lucky was that?
by Charlotte Scott
Assistant Producer, Jungles/Oceans team
As one of a team of four working on the Jungles episode of Human Planet, I said “yes” without any hesitation when asked if I’d like to take a colleague’s place at the last minute and go to Colombia. On this recce, a research only trip, my task was to go and meet the Emberá tribe based deep in the jungles of Colombia. The Emberá in this region are the last actively known group of people to still tip their blowpipe darts with poison frog venom.
It was only after looking into the whole trip in detail that I realised how much of a challenge this recce could be. The jungle is always a difficult place to work in and if I injured myself I would at times be seven hours away from the nearest help.
It all started with a bang before I got anywhere near the jungle. On my first night in Bogota I was uncomfortably close to a large car bomb that killed two people close to my hotel. So I was only too happy to set off for the jungle the next morning. Two days and a 4 ½ hour mule ride later we arrived at our village in the heart of the Chocó Mountains.
I then had to explain to all the men in the village that I was interested in seeing the process of finding the frogs, making the darts and going on a hunt with them. They were happy to help but first they told me of their malnutrition problems and the lack of electricity and trained health workers and asked if I could tell their story.
The next morning after the first obligatory rain shower (this is one of the wettest places in the world… 13.3 metres p.a.), we set off into the jungle on foot. Around 2 hours later ,after slipping and sliding along vertiginous and muddy paths, we stopped for a well earned rest at a dilapidated hut. Whilst taking a breather, we heard calls from above to say that some of the hunters had found poison dart frogs. They do this by calling to the frogs at certain times of the day until they call back, then they track them down in the undergrowth by following their calls.
I proceeded to film how they transferred the poison from one black-legged poison frog to around 60 darts. This process is only carried out by the hunters once every 6 months to a year as the poison is so potent that it lasts for over a year.
As I was filming the transfer of poison onto the darts, my foot found a bit of rotten bamboo and went straight through. The vibration through the floor caused all the darts to dance in the air. I held my breath, but luckily they all landed safely without scratching anyone…… Just one scratch from a tipped dart would have meant instant death.
Narwhal Alert – Dale Templar, Series Producer
It has been all systems go this week on the series. We have had to go into over-drive to get an extremely difficult shoot off to the north of Greenland to film an extraordinary sequence involving Narwhal. Bethan Evans, the ice queen of Human Planet, discovered that the sea ice has started to break up much sooner than expected. Hunting Narwhal is extremely difficult and one of the key hunting times for a particular community in the far north-west ties into the ice sheet melt. Everyone is looking pale and there are boxes of kit everywhere. The team is rallying around as ever and top Arctic camerman Doug Allan is falling off one frozen trip and straight on to another!