BBC shoots riskiest series as it follows Fongoli chimp clan
FOR MORE than 120 years, the Songhai dynasty in West Africa was a global behemoth anchored on its gold-dominated economy and an advanced socio-political system.
The empire began to crumble in the 16th century when King Askia’s many sons launched a mutiny against their father, whose influence began to wane the older he became.
In present-day West Africa, another bold but ageing leader is fighting to maintain control of his dynasty amid circling rivals prepared to kill and usurp their king, who needs to fight off enemies while contending with a shrinking and hazardous natural environment caused mainly by debilitating pollution and rapid industrialisation and urbanisation.
Meet David, the Fongoli chimpanzees’ ruler, who, for three years, has been the alpha male in a 32-chimp family – ruling it with astonishing socio-political nous, while ensuring the group’s economic sustainability.
This amazing leadership is impressively captured in the BBC’S new five-part series, Dynasties, which follows five of the world’s celebrated but endangered creatures – chimps, emperor penguins, lions, African painted wolf and Indian tiger – and how they survive in some of Earth’s most iconic habitats.
Each episode focuses on a family, and stories are told in an anthropomorphic format, where producers ascribe human characteristics to the animals in creating a gripping natural history thriller.
“We sort of cast these creatures, the ones we wanted to use,” said Michael Gunton, executive producer.
“The choice was that these were going to be political stories. Every episode is really about family politics, which is the basis of Shakespeare, Sopranos and The Godfather.”
For the chimpanzee episode, producer Rosie Thomas said her crew spent more than two years in Senegal, filmed for over 300 days carrying roughly 80kg of film kit daily in order to get the story.
Thomas was pregnant for parts of the filming, and had to have a short maternity leave.
“It’s a big commitment, but there are many people involved, and it’s about getting the commitment from them as well,” she said.
Series producer Rupert Barrington said this was probably the riskiest the BBC has produced because the channel and its producers had put all their eggs in one basket to get the story.
“There are so many things that can go wrong when you have put all your resources into one basket.
“If David had been killed in the first three weeks of filming, where do you go from there?
“Once you start putting your resources into one place, there’s not really a Plan B,” Barrington said.
The anthropomorphic format introduces many characters to the chimps’ episode, where David has to battle internal politics through forming alliances and waging war when necessary.
It is an intricate socio-political system which highlights the stark similarities between human and animal familial structures.
As the renowned narrator Sir David Attenborough so succinctly put it: “The family is one of the most powerful forces in nature.”
DINOSAUR fanatics are in for a treat this weekend as the annual dinosaur expo returns to Johannesburg this weekend.
Life-size animatronic dinosaurs will be on display and, apart from a fossil display as well as a 15-minute tour, the expo will also have activities for children to enjoy.
This includes dino fossil digging and dino egg instant photos.
The event will take place at the Rietfontein City Park in Sandton. Tickets cost R100 to R120. For more information visit www.friendsofrietfontein.org
KUCH KUCH HAPPENS
A BOLLYWOOD classical tale will be retold this weekend in Joburg when Kuch Kuch Happens will be presented at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City Casino today and tomorrow.
Producer, director and choreographer Shivani Kara once said that “Gauteng audiences were starved for local professional Bollywood productions”.
Tickets are available at Computicket and Gold Reef City box office.
For more information visit: www. tsogosun.com
Sir David Attenborough