by Willow Murton, Assistant Producer, Oceans/Jungles team
9th October 2009
This time a year ago, I flew to La Paz in Bolivia, the highest capital city in the world and there, short of breath and cheeks full of Andean colour, I began life on the Human Planet team. I type this blog now under the stifling heat of the Algerian Sahara, many miles from those early cool heights.
Sometimes it is good to stop and reflect. There has not been much time over the last year for moments to look back – so much looking forward into the matrix of kit lists, itineraries and budgets that the months and the countries can go by.
This October evening, we gathered on a carpet outside under the date palms and the eager gaze of the local well workers who we have been filming with. Swirls of white turbans and the excited movement of children surround a small screen as we play out clips of what we have filmed over the last few days. They watch the images and the sounds they have patiently repeated in order to get just the right shot, in the right light. They laugh and we relax. This is one of the best moments of film-making, sharing the work of crew and contributors. We hope all our ridiculous demands make some kind of sense when seen on screen, and we too begin to understand more as questions bounce between us.
The claustrophobia of the small tunnel where we have been filming opens out into the warm evening. Small glasses of sweet mint tea are passed about amongst the comments. Filming is a demanding and long process which the workers have participated in with huge patience and good humour. In order to give them a glimpse of how the final film may come together, as well as a chilly insight into another underground world, we put on an edit from an Arctic sequence. There we are, warm in the evening air, watching people wrapped up from icy cold. There are gasps when I say that the temperature there is thirty degrees below Celsius. The days here in the desert are usually thirty degrees above and not unusually much higher. Beneath the arid surface of the Sahara, the workers here have dug through thick red clay to make tunnels to feed an ever-growing irrigation system. They cannot believe the effort of these distant Arctic dwellers as they dig into frozen crevasses. They are even more incredulous when they realise why. What the Inuit consider a gastronomic delicacy, the workers of the Sahara struggle to imagine edible. The frozen walls of an igloo protecting those inside from the cruel cold of the Arctic belong to another world, far from the rich red buildings of this small village, where people seek shade from a relentless burning sun.
Yet, further North, the Arctic is beginning its own dark turn to the winter once more. This year on Human Planet has spanned continents and captured moments of incredible feats, emotion and beauty. As the workers leave to sleep before they are called to prayer again and back to their work, I contemplate a year which has taken me to a frontline in the Simien mountains, above Greenlandic glaciers, into the path of avalanches, under sea ice and onto its floe edge, from Arctic darkness to midnight sun, from the green of a desert oasis to the barren hillsides of a Caribbean island. Like the Andean heights where I began, it takes my breath away.