by Karina Moreton, Mongolian Fixer, Human Planet
The Human Planet series is made up of over 70 individal stories, each several minutes in length. As many of you will have gathered from the “Behind the Lens” snippets at the end of each episode, filming these sequences is never easy. Not only were there the challenges of the film crew – such as how to deal with ice melting; cliff edges and tides turning, there are the stories of the people portrayed. For some of them, the whirlwind of a film crew living with them was years ago now and they have gone about their daily lives since. Now that the series is out, will anything change for them?
Berik from the Mountains programme is 16 years old. This is him and his eagle on the front of the book that accompanies the series. The book and programmes will be distributed worldwide and it’s hoped they will reach a huge audience. This is more than 15 minutes of fame! Around the world there is a culture of stardom – what would the teenagers from ‘Fame Academy’ and other talent shows give for this exposure? Some could worry that it might go to his head.
I’d like to show a photo or a clip of Berik looking at the book or DVD and giving his reactions. This however isn’t possible. Although copies of the book are on the way to Berik, they will take another 40 days to reach him. ’Outer’ Mongolia is considered to be the back of beyond, and Berik lives in one of the most remote parts of the country. I don’t anticipate that Berik will be exposed to his ‘fame’ until the next Eagle Festival.
I think initially it will be the pages they feature in that will be the most thumbed through, though, with time, the other pages will be the ones that hold their attention. Over the last ten years of travelling through Mongolia, I have shown the reindeer herders of the north photographs of the camel herders in the south and I have shown young children photos of wolves and argali, animals that they have only dreamt of. Suddenly through this book, the Kazakh Eagle hunters of Mongolia are connected with not only the horse and camel breeders of central and southern Mongolia, but now they have shared an experience with the narwhal hunters of Greenland, mussel hunters of Canada and the honey gatherers of Nepal.
Mongolia is a landlocked country, so the images of the sea gypsies in the Pacific will no doubt enthral them. The bird of paradise hunter with his colourful headdress and nose piercing will amuse them. The naked Suri fighters will bemuse them. It is however I believe the story of the falconer in Dubai that will fascinate them. So much in common – for he also trains birds of prey to hunt, and yet they are in such a totally different world. Coming from a country with a rural population density of 0.9 people per square kilometre, it is almost inconceivable for a Mongolian to comprehend what it would be like to live in Dubai where there are 408 people per square kilometre.
Rural urban migration is a problem in Mongolia. Teenagers are attracted to the bright lights of the city. Berik might still be pulled away from his traditional way of life, but I think that perhaps the series will have changed the prospects for him and other young eagle hunters. By hosting occasional visitors who want to experience their culture first hand, this and other communities like them, have a renewed pride in what they do and a much-needed supplementary source of income.
After the characters in the Human Planet series have had their 15 minutes of fame, the book and the DVD will live on and spread their stories around the world. Many of the traditions and practises shown in the series may not survive until eternity.
Perhaps though, unknowingly, by exposing some of the characters to ‘others’ they may have slowed down the demise of man’s diversity?
By Karina Moreton
Mongolia has mountains, grasslands and desert, so it was a perfect location for filming some fascinating stories for Human Planet. When I was asked to be the teams’ fixer in Mongolia, I had a ‘pinch me’ moment – here was an opportunity for me to show off the country that I love so much , to producers at the BBC’s Natural History Unit! Armed with maps, photos and anecdotes, we discussed a wide range of potential stories and we settled on a few. Based in the UK , my role is to set up recces and shoots for film shoots. However, I am always trying to dream up ways to get on location myself rather than to be just co-ordinating from the office. The winter Gobi shoot for the Deserts programme promised to be a tricky one, so I wangled my way onto it.
In the weeks up to our arrival, my colleague Esee travelled to the remote South Gobi talking to camel herders about wolves. It was a big ask. We wanted to find a family who were affected by wolves killing their livestock; who had pregnant camels due to give birth during our time there; who lived near the snow line – who looked good on camera… and who were happy for a team of us live with them and film them for a few weeks!
Somehow the amazing Esee found the right candidates – camel herder Ganbold and his family. Once the teams started filming, I had a whole host of questions thrown at me ‘how do we film if the wolf attacks at night without freezing to death?”. One moment we would be discussing the likelihood of a snowstorm in the Gobi desert in the first few weeks of February; the next dealing with the fact that the only town in the South Gobi has run out of firewood.
I am sure the viewers will connect with these warm-hearted people and learn from their daily challenges. It is the moments that weren’t captured on camera that will remain with me – the time when 6 year old Otgonbayar and I shared the very intimate moment of a lamb being born; the serene solitude of his elder sister riding off into the empty desert with their flock; and the giggles shared with the girls in the ger.
Mongolia and her people have captured my heart. I am so happy that audiences around the world will be able to have an insight into the culture and landscapes of this incredible country. Over the years, I have gained so much from the Mongolian nomads I have spent time with. Panoramic Journeys, who I work for, always give back to the families and communities they work with. Ganbold and his family now supplement their income by hosting guests who would like to experience their lifestyle first hand.
Little Otgonbayar was keen to know when the photographs and footage that we’d shot would be seen by them all . I was four months pregnant at the time, and so it was handy to be able to say that the Human Planet book featuring the photos of stills photographer Tim Allen wouldn’t be published until my baby was running. I continue to pinch myself, for although my work for HP has come to an end, Ganbold and his family remain friends. My son is nearly walking now – but I will be returning to the Gobi with The Human Planet book and the series on my laptop very soon.
by Elen Rhys, Producer, Little Human Planet
When delightful Dale Templar told me that Human Planet had been commissioned, my brain immediately started working overtime. Waw, what a great opportunity for a children’s spin off on CBeebies. Surely, if they would be filming humans in far flung and remote locations around the world, they were bound to be meeting children too. What a unique chance to work alongside this huge landmark commission to create something special for the BBC’s youngest viewers. And basically, that is how the CBeebies commission, Little Human Planet came to be.
Little Human Planet is a little sister series to Human Planet. It consists of 16 x 5 mins programmes that will be broadcast during the same period as the main series – but of course, at a time when 3-6 year olds are at their most attentive.
It’s a simple idea with a simple format. Each programme follows a typical activity in the life of a child from around the world – a glimpse to a CBeebies viewer of how their counterparts live, wherever they may be. On reflection, an unspoken celebration of what makes children different and what makes them the same in a colourful and often surprising voyage of discovery.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to pack my passport to film the sequences. This was done by the brilliant Human Planet location teams. Yes, we liaised closely together regarding style and vision, understanding that certain things like nudity or blood and gore couldn’t be used. Naturally, this proved difficult in certain locations where few clothes, if any are worn and hunting for food is the norm. I was never sure what I was going to get, only crossing my fingers they would meet some children and film some magic moments . I’m used to having a bit more control, so this was quite difficult for me but I soon realised I needn’t have worried.
Each time a team came back with special Little Human Planet labelled footage it was like the anticipation and excitement of opening Christmas present. Who would, Dan Young, my editor and I meet this time? Could it be Dua, a six-year-old girl who lives in a tree house in a jungle in Papua or mischievous four-year-old, Carlos Eduardo, who lives on the flooded banks of the Rio Negro? Or how about four-year-old Shoree helping her dad build a ger home in Mongolia, or three-year-old Edjongon, who walks long distances each day to collect water from a well in Mali? Even though I have never met these fascinating characters, I feel as if I know them. And though the children’s experiences, circumstances and environments differ hugely, I learnt that at heart children are all the same and their smiles are universal.
Yet, paradoxes come to light. Without generalising, many of these children and families have very little, but yet, seem contented where community and sharing is a way of life. It taught me a lot and got me thinking..As a mum to a six-year-old, have we in the Western world lost our perspective ?
I am honoured, grateful and proud to be a tiny part of the Human Planet family and I hope there will be more opportunities like this in the future. If so, can I please come next time?
Dale Templar – Series Producer
Here’s hoping - Elen!
Little Human Planet is one of spin-offs programmes and extras that are part of the Human Planet . We have already had a post from our team at BBC, Radio Three working on Music Planet and in a few weeks we’ll have one from our BBC Learning team. They are using our footage to make programmes that will be used as teaching aids in scools.
By Jasper Montana, Technical Assistant
On a grassy hillside overlooking the undulating hills of central Mongolia, I grasp a unique insight into someone else’s world. In the valley below is the melee of a hundred charging horses kicking backlit dust into the still air. From high above, the action is distant – played out by toy farm animals and miniature horse herders in colourful robes – but the horses’ thundering hooves and the herder’s pounding hearts are loud in my ears. I am recording sound for a “Human Planet” sequence in the Mongolian steppe and have put radio mics on two of the young riders in the summer horse round-up. In my left ear is Orlana, a 17 year old boy; full of bravado and a fierce rider; in my right, Tungaa, a timid 16 year old; keen to give it all she’s got. Orlana’s voice is clear, bold and commanding. Tungaa’s voice is soft and she sings as she rides – the traditional songs of Mongolian folklore and the occasional muddled verse of an American pop song form the repertoire of my private concert. I shut my eyes, listen and smile.
As I watch the riders charge around the horses like tunas attacking a bait ball, Orlana’s breathing quickens pace. ‘Chu! Chu!’ he shouts encouragingly. The horse tears forward through the herd. Orlana and Tungaa in many cultures would be considered to be just kids, but here in the grasslands of Mongolia, they are in control and are integral to keeping tradition alive.
In the global journey of the “Human Planet” series, the remarkable nature of the human condition will be revealed and as the teams come back from location I am continually fascinated by the amazingly diverse incarnations of the family unit around the world. It is often families that become the subject of our sequences and perhaps this is because, more broadly, it is the family unit that provides the framework for upholding tradition and passing knowledge from the elder to the youngster – the flow of knowledge that facilitates the successful relationship between man and nature in every environment.
The youngest in our Mongolian family is Shure, who is just four years old. We are filming her as part of our spin-off sister series called “Little Human Planet” aimed at pre-school children. As we watch her go about her life, she watches her older siblings and mother intently. Within a few years she will have her own horse and will charge out across the plains with a commanding ‘chu, chu!’ and from her lips will come the recognisable Mongolian folk songs of the past and the muddled pop songs of the future.
Summer in Mongolia – Pack Your Thermals!
A few weeks ago I wrote about my last trip to Mongolia back in the early 1990s when the country was in economic tatters. Well, I have just arrived back and I am delighted to say that everything has changed apart from the weather! Last time I went much earlier in the year and I expected it to be freezing , and it was! This time I really thought that by going in June there would be a chance of getting my legs out. It is after all on much the same latitude as London (where it’s been 30 degrees recently). We were lulled into a false sense of security when we got to the capital Ulaanbaatar – it was indeed sunny and warm.
The next day we flew to the far West, Kazakh country, a dry high desert wrapped up by the Altai Mountains. Here the temperature dropped almost immediately and worst of all the wind picked up, adding the wind chill factor. Our small team spent all week working on a cliff edge in a valley with the winds pounding us. At one point I was wearing three bottom layers and five top layers (I wore less when I went to Antarctica!). Our wonderful local fixing team plied us with hot black tea in Great British tradition, and kept telling us that the weather had been wonderful the week before.
- Dina (left) and Dale (right) wrapped up in yak hair blankets
Dina and I couldn’t wait to get into our Ger each night, but now the temperature dropped even further (as it usually does at night especially in high desert). As you will see from the picture we used every blanket available to us to keep warm; we both looked like extras from some clichéd Spaghetti Western. One thing’s for sure, if you are planning a trip to outer Mongolia in the summer don’t worry about forgetting a toothbrush, you’ll find plenty of those in the shops nowadays but whatever you do, don’t forget to pack your thermals!
by Ellen Davies, Production Manager, Arctic/Mountains team
My location is Cardiff and my office is on the top floor of BBC Wales which overlooks Llandaff Cathedral. Here I enjoy the comforts of my work place where so many of our day to day facilities are taken for granted. I’m comfortable. One of my teams are currently in Greenland, the other is about to head off to Mongolia (for more see below my blog). Geoff from BBC Shipping has a very soft, gentle voice and says: “Calm. Calm.” It works. I’m now calmer and I’m in the process of freighting my second shipment of kit to Qaanaaq, the most northern town in Greenland. Geoff simplifies the process.
We hire, purchase, gather and pack our kit with our wonderful Patrick Murray, Cardiff’s Technical Assistant on Human Planet (what would we do without Patrick?). For Greenland this includes a crane with hothead, a kayak with specially designed rig, camping gear, cameras, sound, first aid kit and enough warm clothes and sleeping bags to make sure the crew don’t freeze.
Getting the kit to our destination is quite straightforward – from Heathrow to Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq to Illulissat to Pituffik to Qaanaaq and onto Siorapualuk. Easy. (I can even pronounce these names now!) The kit gets there. It takes two days. The last ride is by helicopter where you would fly along the rocky coast line over icebergs and fiords. It must be pretty spectacular. The third shipment of kit travels with the crew and I’ve only booked a seven seater people carrier to transport three people and kit! Where and how do we accumulate so much? We’ve now exceeded over 1000 kgs of kit. The Arctic crew are out of the door and I’m already on the next shoot for the Mountains programme….
My Greenland team are filming two stories for the Arctic episode and one involves filming on sea ice that is starting the break up. Because of the dangers of trying to film the narwhals (sea unicorns) from the kayak and on the ice edge, we have a strict protocol – Bethan Evans (researcher) or Nicolas Brown (producer/director) must call me at 16.00 hrs daily. If I don’t hear from them after four hours, I then make contact to their local police. I look forward to my cup of tea after I’ve received their phone call. I can relax for another day. My schedule and two mobile phones rest on my bed side table and I warn my husband that I might just get a call. I put my phones on silent but vibrate.
Sometimes I wish I was the one going on these amazing filming trips but generally I enjoy being on the end of a satellite phone, the welcome voice of home for the guys on location. By working on this series I’ve really come to understand the incredible way people live in these remote environments. More than ever I appreciate the comforts of my home, my family and friends and the BBC office. Roll on 2011, when I will enjoy watching the fantastic footage and amazing stories on my 52” plasma screen in HD!
Dale Templar, Series Producer, A Return to the Last Disco in Mongolia
I don’t get out much these days, one of the few down sides of running Human Planet. On Sunday I am due to return to Mongolia to film golden eagle nests. I say “due” because I’ve just had a phone call from Dina, our researcher, to say the eagle chicks we wanted to film have been taken! Poor Dina! As I write, there are men on horses galloping around the western Mongolia mountains looking for eagle nests. They are seven hours ahead and if there is no joy soon we may have to cancel the shoot.
Anyway, back to my original story. If we do fly on Sunday this will be a strange return. The last time I filmed in Mongolia was in 1993, soon after Russia pulled out of the country. It ‘s still one of the most God forsaken places I have ever visited. The economic rug had been pulled from underneath the country – they’d been left abandoned. Ulaanbaator was a sad, bleak capital city filled with stark Stalinist buildings, empty shops, abandoned hospitals and truly disgusting food. No longer needed as a buffer zone with China, they’d been left to start again.
I had gone to make a film with Fergal Keane about the sewer children and spent a fair bit of time underneath the rat ridden streets of the capital. We had knives pulled on us, stones thrown at us, sewer covers slammed on us……. umm Mongolia, can’t wait to return. Thank goodness for the disco at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel !
Seventeen years on, I’m told Mongolia has changed significantly. I actually can’t wait to see it. The boy I filmed was called Batzayan, he will now be a man. Hopefully he will be successfully forging his way, feeding his children and keeping them warm as this now established democracy pushes open the doors of the market economy.