by Ciaran Flannery, Assistant Producer, Rivers/Urban Team
Before we film Human Planet sequences sometimes we get to recce the stories first. These often are more fun and entertaining than a shoot because it’s just you and the locals without the pressures of filmmaking. One of the episodes I work on is the Rivers programme and no Rivers programme could be complete without a sequence on the mightiest river of all: the Amazon.
Recently I spent a few weeks in the Amazon researching stories about river dolphins. The Amazon is one of those places that is so immense and overwhelming that film alone cannot do it justice. The sheer volume of water must be seen to be believed. And one of the most intriguing creatures that inhabit these waters is the rare and usually secretive Amazonian river dolphin.
For the first couple of days I was travelling to spots a few hours outside of Manaus to test the visibility of the Rio Negro for filming underwater dolphin shots. I readied my snorkel and fins and slid into the water with my camera and housing, I soon discovered that you can’t see more than 2 metres. I knew the dolphins in this area were human habituated but you can imagine my surprise and slight shock when almost immediately a pink proboscis rose between my legs. Up close and extremely personal! The dolphins are used to getting fish handouts from the locals but were obviously extremely excited by the arrival of an underwater camera kit.
The following day the local guide and I set out to check out another dolphin location some 300 km away. Many hours down the track and about 40 km from our destination the Trans-Amazonian highway turned to a sea of mud. I then discover that our driver had never used a locking hub 4×4 system before. I was brought up in the American Deep South where I used to race and slide cars thorough mudded out parking lots (Dukes of Hazzard fashion!). Later I moved out west and was the proud owner of a hot purple 4×4 pickup which needed H4 traction in the deep sands of the Gulf of California and the deep snows of the Rockies.
For the first time ever my misspent youth suddenly became less misspent! I was able to instruct the macho Brazilians about the fine art of shimmying a truck forward. We managed another 5km but the mighty muds of the flooded Amazon proved to be more than our match and we were forced to turn back – 18 hours of driving and we only had 30 km to go! But at least I got to show the locals how a good ol’ boy from Georgia mudbogs.
Exhausted but safe back at the hotel the next day I got an instant message from a colleague stranded on a shoot in the middle of a blizzard in the Arctic. That’s too bad! I thought – might as well have another caipirinha at the hotel pool as I type my notes…