Expedition Nature's Realm
Ask yourself, "What is your level of coexistence with Nature?"
|Essays from the Directors|
On the dwindling frontier of forests, plains, and waterways, lies a neighbor of 6 billion people. A number soon to increase to 9 billion in 2042, according to the United States Census Bureau. What are the limits? Where are these people going to live? How will the Earth sustain that number of people? Who will suffer and benefit? Most importantly, what will happen to the natural environment by 2042?
The answers to these questions are not simple by any means, but humanity is adaptable and better solutions are possible in the near future. When a problem arises, we possess the ability to solve it. What we do today will affect the state of the Earth tomorrow.
EXPEDITION NATURE'S REALM is an eight part documentary series directed and produced by Cameron Douglas Craig and Kevin H. Jeanes that explores the coexistence between humanity and nature that is Earth. Throughout the series, issues that concern the future of the natural environment are presented with vivid images of nature at work in the past and present with the hopes that viewers make their own decision what is to be done for the future. After all, we are all equal and temporary inhabitants of this precious but fragile dot in a very large universe.
EXPEDITION NATURE'S REALM was, at first, a difficult task in determining its purpose. Many nature films have focused on the beauty, history, and interesting facts of how it functions. We wanted our film to be different. However, how do you not portray something that has been done at least a hundred times and captures the coexistence of humanity and nature?
The answer was there every semester since the fall of 2005 I taught Spaceship Earth, one of the capstone courses Seniors have to take at Eastern Illinois University.
Many students who enroll in Spaceship Earth come in the first day of class thinking that the course will focus on the conceptual aspects of geology and geography (i.e. how mountains form or how the weather evolves over time). Spaceship Earth is much more than that; it delves into issues that ties humanity and nature together to understand the influential interactions. As I tell my students, "here, we learn about ourselves and our environment. With that learned knowledge, we can understand the influences we have on nature and nature has on us that will promote better protection of our environment for future generations. The days of thinking 'we are but miniscule creatures that have no influence on the environment in a vast world is over.'" I finally found the objective of the film. The film must be about the interaction between humanity and the natural environment.
Before realizing the purpose of the film, I asked my student, who has shown a great willingness to understand nature and its functions, if he wanted to do a film project to enhance his education in broadcast meteorology and to explore the natural environment. Without a single question he took on the task. Kevin had not truly experienced a natural environment first hand in his life. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see his reaction to an impressive landscape and take in all the questions he had throughout our journey. He did ask all sorts of questions, not realizing that the questions, in the end, would be the foundation of the film. Then, when reading Kevin's diary entries of his adventure, something caught my attention that really hit the nail on the head, "Nature is more than just animals and trees. It is a representation of the coexistence of both living and nonliving things that is Earth." That statement not only regards the natural living and nonliving, but us and how we coexist with nature.
Creating a title for the film was another task to overcome. We wanted something that was catchy but at the same time create a question in the mind of the viewer, 'What is Expedition Nature's Realm?' The word, 'Expedition,' is used in the title not as a team of people making an expedition to uncharted lands but the exploration of who we are in 'Nature's Realm.' In other words, how we think of and react to nature.
The film is divided into eight 30-minute episodes that WEIU-PBS in Charleston, Illinois has graciously accepted to air each month starting in September 2007. Each episode focuses on the important issues that concern the future of our natural environment. One particular episode highlights invasive species; the importation of a species that does not have a natural predator or controller. Another two episodes focus on the future of water resources and food production for an increasing population. Throughout the series, questions are asked implicitly and explicitly to get the viewer to think about how they would answer the questions. We provide the answers in an objective manner but rely on the viewer to make his/her own decision.
The primary focus Kevin and I determined on the use of images was their artistic value as well as the ability to present them with an appropriate soundtrack to convey the importance of our purpose. Both of us having musical backgrounds, original music compositions are used throughout the film. The music of a documentary film must fit perfectly with the images and objective of the film if the creator wants the viewer to understand the statement. This was no easy task. Watching clip after clip and trying to capture the essence of the subject in that clip was difficult. After hours of coming up with themes that fit both the images and purpose, we believe our statements will be understood and compelling.
In the final cut of the series, we hope to inspire people to think about their own coexistence with the natural world. After all, understanding our place in nature can provide better protection of the resources we need for future generations.
The Making of each Episode
Episode 1: the Questions
Starting the documentary series was a difficult task in that we wanted to present the foundation of the film without giving away too much of the subsequent episodes. In the end, the presentation of questions from my students seemed the most logical. Episode 1 begins with an artistic and poetic opening that was essential to set the stage for the questions. Each phrase was crafted to focus the viewer's attention to the detail of the natural environment. It was a major point to attempt to get the viewer to really note the interesting aspects of the images rather than assume they would see our point of view. Detail is and will continue to be the focus throughout the series. Because we usually see the wider view in real life, our footage is zoomed in that forces the viewer to see the detail.
After the initial sequence of the episode, the narration takes on a conversational character, which was Kevin's idea. This method of narration allows the viewer to be a part of the story. Had we continued with the traditional method of narration, I do not believe that the episode would not have had such a great impact on the viewer. Afterall, we want the viewer to retain some of the questions we present.
The use of experts was a major question in our minds for the first episode. As an academician, I am always hounding my students to provide substantial evidence to backup their statements in term papers. Traditionally, the use of experts provides support to a documentary. However, in this episode we are presenting the questions from students and the general public, which does not necessarily require the use of experts. We will, however, use experts in the remaining episodes to provide possible answers to the questions we presented in this episode.
The film's purpose is to provide the viewer with important information about their role in the natural environment, objectively. In order to accomplish this task, we want the film to relate to the viewer. Analogies throughout this episode are used to relate specifically to the viewer's daily life. The use of analogies that the viewer can relate to provides a better impact to our message.
In two parts of the episode we intentionally inserted musical interludes. The first interlude presents the problems we will focus on. The second portrays images of nature that we want the viewer to retain interspersed with the questions asked throughout the episode. The effect of using images with music is to get the viewer to remember the detail. This is effective as long as the music fits the images presented. What was very unique was that the music, composed after the editing was finished, fit the images by chance. For example, the swaying branch of flowers falls in place with the timing of chordal progression or the changing of the setting sun to an elk passing in front of the sun shining on the water. Although these might be considered choreographed, they were not, which was amazing to view in the final cut. We hope that the viewer will also find similarities between the rhythm and melodic themes of the music to what is being presented visually.
The first episode presents the questions that many have asked. Through the detail of the images, music, and analogies, we hope the message is received where the viewer will see the problems and make their own contribution to the solutions.
Episode 2: the Anthropocene Era
With the thought provoking questions presented in Episode 1, we begin exploring the answers in Episode 2: the Anthropocene Ear. 'Anthropogenic' is a term that is becoming more written about in the news. It is defined as the influence humans have on the environment. Rather than focusing on the current issue of Global Warming, which is a major element of our influence, the episode focuses on the lesser known effects: urban expansion, water pollution, and how we can change the future state of the environment.
For this episode we interviewed Bob Cataneo, Department of Geology/Geography instructor, to explain how much influence we have on the environment and the problems associated with our lack of desire to change. An important point he makes at the end of the episode is, "The biggest enemy to positive change is apathy. Simply not caring...not becoming involved." His contribution is direct and extremely effective.
With this episode, the series begins to delve into the psychology of the human mind with regard to the problems associated with coexistence. The opening segment of the episode presents only the sounds of the city. Psychologically, this drives the viewer insane in that the viewer wants the images associated with the soundtrack. This is the purpose. If we provide the video and audio together, the message is not effective. Forcing the viewer to hear the detail without the video conveys our message, a change from the ordinary. We want people to begin recognizing the finer details of our coexistence.
The first episode was easy in presenting the questions. However, as we continue to develop and write the remaining episodes we are finding that the task is not an easy one. The task involves determining how to get the viewer to continue asking the questions after the last frame of the episode. In isolated cases, discussions have flourished, which is exciting. Interestingly, more questions creep into the discussions about our influence on the natural environment. One question that came up during a discussion after the first episode was, "when are you going to hit us between the eyes?" Our response was this: "how do humans enjoy getting the finger pointed at them? If we pointed the finger with 'it is your fault,' people get turned off." The original script for the first episode actually had a feeling of 'it is your fault.' However, after a few people were asked to read the script, they felt it too harsh for a beginning episode. We agreed. We decided that at some point it was necessary to begin enlightening our viewers with the reality of our mistakes. As the episodes grow in number, the harsh reality gets more intense but in an effective manner that attempts not to turn off the viewer. In addition, the questions presented in the first episode will continue to be asked but in more detail.
The difference in this series from other documentaries on this subject is that the questions form the foundation that increases the interaction between the film and the viewer. Our philosophy of the series is to "explore the coexistence between humanity and nature that is Earth." Do we explore ways to change our world through storytelling only or do we explore through questions? Progress is determined by questions regarding our past and how we answer them for the future. De we progress or digress?