11 Apr 2006 NOT TELEVISION
There is a difference between the Archive and a Natural History documentary film.
'Viewers must recognise that something unfamiliar is on the screen. The Archive is a visual record, not a narrative. It can only be incidentally entertaining . . .'
A VIDEO ARCHIVE IS NOT TELEVISION
Given the ubiquity of television documentaries in general and the popularity of natural history documentaries in particular, I suspect that it will be well-nigh impossible for viewers of the Archive not to be instinctively drawn into the documentary mode of viewing.
But to fully benefit from looking at the Archive in all its rich variety, viewers must recognise that something unfamiliar is on the screen.
The main purpose is to give viewers a sense of what outstanding biodiversity is. This requires them to make a connection between all the Archive’s parts so that they’re aware that one section relates to another already seen, and that indeed all the myriad things they are looking at live in this one small place on earth.
One thing that attracted me was creating a succession of pictures within a picture, by pulling back from zoom shots to wide shots, which apparently is against the tenets of good documentary film-making.
But the chief clue that the Archive is not a documentary is the absence of story and music. This removes the element of televisual entertainment, making it seem more demanding for the viewer.
The simple fact that the subject-matter is biodiversity, means that there can be no ‘picking favourites’ – which typifies so much wildlife documentary-making where the marquee creatures, whether cute or dangerous, tend to command attention and the ordinary and ‘insignificant’ are likely to be ignored.
At some point the realisation crystallised in me that in pursuing biodiversity as my subject, each of life’s varied and abundant forms was as worthy of inclusion in the Archive as any other, from the tiniest moth to the mightiest rainforest tree.
There are few ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ moments. These seem to be the stock-in-trade of so many wildlife documentaries which, in my view, needlessly pander to an atavistic demand for death as a spectator sport.
Such moments in the Archive are mainly confined to spiders snaring and devouring prey. Mostly, the fauna is sleeping, eating, staying stock still, drinking, or moving about – in short, just living.
And there are no speeded up or microscopic sequences, beloved of documentary film-makers. Predominantly, the Archive reveals what can be seen with the naked eye.
Nevertheless I would like to think that my video presentation of biodiversity could form the basis for a documentary series for an international audience.
Tamborine Mountain is an ideal location for such a documentary because it can be seen in its entirety from 1500 metres in the air and is not remote or in the Third World or only accessible to the intrepid few. It is not where people commonly expect to find outstanding biodiversity.
The challenge would be to write a comprehensive story, combining good science and contemplative awe, and abandoning much of the stock-in-trade of the wildlife documentary.
I would like to see the focus on the subject rather than film technique (granted that the two are not mutually exclusive). The pioneering techniques of some recent films may be stunning and informative, but repetition eventually dulls the impact and diminishes the value. Bringing genuinely new subject-matter to the screen can have a more profound impact than pioneering techniques.