ONE DAY IN THE WILD
C hinese director Fan Lixin found it challenging to work with animals in Earth: One Amazing Day.
British directors Richard Dale and Peter Webber and he have directed the nature film.
“They (the animals in the movie) are from remote areas where it is difficult to reach. But even after you’ve gone there, it’s hard to find them,” Fan says in a recent interview in Beijing.
As the first Sino-UK film after a coproduction treaty signed by the two countries in 2015, the 100-minute film has been produced by BBC Earth Films and SMG Pictures, a Shanghai company.
With a crew of some 100 from China and Britain, the film took 142 days of shooting and three years of editing from more than 12,000 DVDs that capture footage in the wild.
The film has stunning scenes, such as giraffes fighting for territory, millions of mayflies over a river and baby iguanas’ thrilling escape from snakes.
As the sequel to BBC Earth Films’ 2007 hit documentary
Earth, the new film tracks the sun from the highest mountains to the remotest islands and exotic jungles over the course of a single day.
Narrated by American actor Robert Redford, the film features 38 wild species from 22 countries, including hummingbirds from the tropical forests of Ecuador to narwhals in the Arctic waters. China’s giant pandas, white-headed langurs and red-crown cranes are in it, too.
Neil Nightingale, one of the producers, explains the animal selection.
“I think they each fulfill a very specific role in the film. The story is about 24 hours. We have the red-crown cranes at the very beginning, because it (the scene) is a wonderful evocation of dawn,” says Nightingale, who is also the creative director of BBC Earth.
“Of course, we could not feature China without the giant panda. We were very lucky to film a mother and a cub. It’s a beautiful, very charming sequence in the middle of the morning that relates back to bamboo growth and the sun,” he adds.
But the biggest surprise for him and his colleagues was the white-headed langur, an endangered animal that lives in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
They are rarely known outside, he says.
“They are such lovely monkeys. They come down to the forest to feed during the day, but in the evening — just like us — they are afraid of the dark. They are worried about things that might come and eat them.”
The monkeys climb back into their caves in the cliffs when night falls.
To film their movements, the crew flew around 200 drones over the area, some carrying long-lens cameras to keep distance from the monkeys so as not to frighten them.
Another interesting moment came during the filming of pandas.
Fan says the photographers wore costumes with panda excreta to “cheat” the cubs, which otherwise would have gone far away from the cameras.
“China has an amazing biodiversity. The topic of endangered species in the country is also important,” says Fan.
The film’s Mandarin version is being narrated by Hong Kong action hero Jackie Chan. Chinese-American novelist Yan Geling has added local flavor to the script.
Chan, who voices a wildlife documentary for the first time in his career spanning four decades, says he worked for hours on it, and almost “performed animal roles” during recording sessions.
In a scene where a penguin trips on a rock after an exhausting journey to hunt fish, Chan says he added an “whoops” that was not written in the script he was reading.
“He became very engaged with it personally and emotionally,” Nightingale says of the Chinese actor.
“The funniest moment is the dancing bear. When Jackie first saw the footage, he started dancing … He comes across (in) the movie like your favorite uncle who is telling an amazing story about the natural world,” says Stephen McDonogh, another producer.
With the film (in Mandarin) ready to debut in China on Friday, the country will become the earliest market for the theater release of the documentary.
It may hit the United States or Britain in the fall, but the dates have yet to be confirmed, according to the producers.
McDonogh says the success of Disney’s nature film Born in
China has shown that “China has an appetite for this type of natural history films”. Directed by Lu Chuan, Born
in China earned more than 60 million yuan ($8.9 million) last year, making it the highest-grossing documentary in China.
Fan echoes the view, saying he hopes more such quality works will encourage investors to produce documentaries, a longtime underestimated genre in the Chinese movie industry.
“Documentaries can be entertaining even though they get content from real life,” says Fan.