The Weekend Australian - Review

DAVID AT­TEN­BOR­OUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET (G)

- Stephen Romei Movies · Australia · Netflix · David Attenborough · Costa Rica · Palau · Morocco · Netherlands · World Wide Fund for Nature · Alastair Fothergill · United Nations · Michael Palin · Papua New Guinea · Ukraine · Chernobyl · Chernobyl · Guinea

Short re­lease in se­lected cin­e­mas from Septem­ber 28 (screen­ings listed at au.at­ten­bor­ough.film)

Netflix from a date to be an­nounced

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I am mak­ing David At­ten­bor­ough: A Life on our Planet a five-star film for a sim­ple rea­son: ev­ery­one on the planet who can see it should see it. After­wards, you may agree with At­ten­bor­ough, half-agree with him or dis­agree with him. He will un­der­stand that.

He doesn’t pre­tend to know all the answers to earth’s prob­lems but, af­ter 94 years on this blue mar­ble, most of them as our best-known nat­u­ral historian, he de­serves 85 min­utes of our time.

At­ten­bor­ough de­scribes this film as his “wit­ness state­ment”. It is his ac­count of what he has seen hap­pen to the planet dur­ing his near-cen­tury, his fears for what might hap­pen in the next cen­tury and his sug­ges­tions for how not only to pre­vent it hap­pen­ing but to re­verse it, to re­turn to an ex­is­tence where hu­mans live as part of the world rather than apart from it.

This third strand is the most im­por­tant. “It’s not all gloom and doom,” At­ten­bor­ough says.

If the movie ended with the se­cond strand, with images of what the land, seas and skies might look like in 2100, it would be a de­press­ing view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, not least be­cause what we see is not an­i­mated but real world pre­views of what might come to be: dead co­ral reefs, tree­less forests, po­lar bears swim­ming in ice­less wa­ter.

“This is now our planet: run by hu­mankind for hu­mankind,” At­ten­bor­ough says at this point. “There is lit­tle left for the rest of the liv­ing world.”

As he looks into the cam­era to talk about this, we see a rare side of At­ten­bor­ough. He looks on the verge of tears and is al­most lost for words.

A tick­ing clock of sorts pops on to the screen to mark how the planet has changed through the decades of At­ten­bor­ough’s life.

Three fac­tors are mea­sured: global pop­u­la­tion, the amount of car­bon in the at­mos­phere, each ris­ing and ris­ing, and re­main­ing wilder­ness, go­ing in the other di­rec­tion.

When he is asked why, at his age, he keeps fight­ing to pro­tect the nat­u­ral world, he says, “I wish I wasn’t in­volved in this strug­gle, but I would feel guilty if I saw what the prob­lems were and de­cided to ig­nore them.”

These are wise words, and as he points out, while in­tel­li­gence is our world-con­quer­ing as­set, it is wis­dom we need now.

And so At­ten­bor­ough of­fers his thoughts of what we should do.

“It’s quite straight­for­ward,” he says, and his smile re­turns. And he is true to his word: there is no science fic­tion in what he sug­gests.

It is about low­er­ing global warm­ing, phas­ing out fos­sil fu­els in favour of so­lar, wind and wa­ter power, us­ing the land and sea more ju­di­ciously and rewil­d­ing the world.

He is en­cour­aged by ex­am­ples where this is hap­pen­ing now: the re­for­esta­tion of Costa Rica, the no-fish zones in Palau that led to an in­crease in the fish­ing catch, Morocco’s shift to so­lar power, the growth of small, com­pact farms in The Nether­lands.

This 85-minute movie is made by Netflix along­side the World Wildlife Fund and nature doc­u­men­tary group Sil­ver­back Films. It is di­rected and filmed by peo­ple who have worked with

At­ten­bor­ough be­fore: Alas­tair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes, Keith Sc­ho­ley and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Gavin Thurston.

It will have a lim­ited cin­ema re­lease from Septem­ber 28 be­fore mov­ing to Netflix. I rec­om­mend see­ing it on the big screen, to see our fel­low crea­tures in all their beauty and the planet in all its vast­ness. A just-re­leased UN re­port warns that our fail­ure to safe­guard bio­di­ver­sity means we are now at a cross­roads. The cin­ema re­lease will also in­clude, at the end of the film, a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion be­tween At­ten­bor­ough and Michael Palin. You can find a list of screen­ings at au.at­ten­bor­ough.film

This is At­ten­bor­ough’s most per­sonal film. It in­cludes file footage from his doc­u­men­taries that re­mind us he was once a tall, skinny English­man wrestling with apes or hang­ing out with tribes­men in what is Pa­pua New Guinea. It is here, in what At­ten­bor­ough has filmed dur­ing his life­time, that we re­visit the mag­nif­i­cence he has been bring­ing into our liv­ing rooms for as long as we can re­mem­ber: wild an­i­mals in the wild.

He is full of en­thu­si­asm as he re­mem­bers his early life. He joined the BBC in 1952. Work­ing on nature pro­grams was easy, he says with a laugh, be­cause “no one had ever seen a pan­golin on TV be­fore”. “It was the best time of my life,” he says of his early travels mak­ing doc­u­men­taries. He adds that it was a steep learn­ing process “and I’m still learn­ing”.

This movie be­gins and ends in the same place: Ch­er­nobyl, Ukraine, the site of a sin­gle event that At­ten­bor­ough be­lieves had the same cause as the rapid de­cline in the earth’s bio­di­ver­sity: bad plan­ning and hu­man er­ror.

The fi­nal shots show us a place still de­void of hu­mans that nature has re­claimed. At­ten­bor­ough, who talks about the five great ex­tinc­tions the planet has ex­pe­ri­enced to date, does be­lieve nature will sur­vive, come what may. He just hopes we are wise enough to be here to see it.

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