This is my entry for “Y” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Y” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Yellowstone: The World’s First National Park and You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.
Release Date: March 2009
Director: [none listed]
Production Company: BBC Natural History Unit | Animal Planet
Yellowstone is a three-part nature documentary series filmed in Yellowstone National Park. The episodes each focus on a season: winter, summer, and autumn (spring gets short shrift but since the snows don’t melt until June, maybe there is no spring). I think if you drop some decent cinematographers with quality cameras into Yellowstone you’re guaranteed to get a gorgeous film, but nevertheless the visuals in this documentary are absolutely spectacular. The theme of the series is “The Battle for Life” so it does veer toward overly dramatic narration.
Winter – Yellowstone’s geothermal features and landscape contribute to long, severe winters with heavy snowfall. Wolves thrive in the winter as they are able to hunt weakened herds of elk. Bison use their heavy heads like a snowplow to search for edible grasses. A red fox dives through the snow to capture mice. And in my absolute favorite part, otters practically swim through the snow and use an opening in the ice created by geysers as a place to fish.
Summer – The season sees the emergence of a bear and her cubs. Other animals including pronghorn, bison, and wolves are also birthing young and keeping them alive in dangerous conditions. Cuthroat trout swim upstream to spawn and are hunted by otters and osprey. Toward the end of the season, bear climb high in the mountains where they feed on army cutworm moths (like blue whales living on krill!).
Autumn – Trees devour their chlorophyll and erupt in gorgeous colors. Whitebark pine cones are spread with the help of squirrels, bears, and Clark’s nutcrackers. Beavers repair their dams and stock up food for the winter. Male elk and bighorn sheep fight among themselves for the right to mate with their respective females. For the first time in the series, we also see humans as the elk and pronghorn migrate to lower ground outside of the park, with the wolves hot on their heels. The wild animals have to face the dangers of hunters, motor vehicles, industry, and residential development, while ranchers are uneasy about wolves attacking their herds.
Release Date: August 21, 1942
Director: David Hand
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
When I was just about 2-years-old, my costume for Halloween was Bambi. Not coincidentally, I learned that Bambi was re-released to theaters that same year. I’m not sure if I saw the movie at the time, but I was familiar with the characters, and remember really liking Thumper and Flower.
Nevertheless, it’s most likely that at the age of 45, I’ve just watched Bambi for the first time. Bambi is an episodic film featuring vignettes of Bambi’s first year or so of life, as he learns to walk, makes friends, and learns to do things deer do like find food. More seriously, he has to deal with the threats of Man which come in the forms of gunshots, packs of hunting dogs, and wildfire.
It’s an endearingly sweet film with some notably tear-inducing heartbreak. And while the animals may be too anthropomorphized to be lifelike, I think the creators of this film really did capture the essence of human toddlers in the actions of Bambi and his friends. The animation is beautiful, with backgrounds that look like oil pointings, albeit they are also too static to represent a real wilderness.
Anyhow, Bambi is a classic for a reason. Don’t wait too long to watch it. And keep some tissues handy.
Author: Jon Mooallem
Title: The Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America
Narrator: Fred Sanders
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2013)
Wild Ones is an honest look into the status of endangered species and their relationship to humans in the present day. Mooallem makes three trips – sometimes bringing his young daughter – to see animals who may be extinct within our lifetimes. He first visits Churchill, Ontario, the only location where polar bears live adjacent to a human community and their strange celebrity status there. Next, he visits the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in the Bay Area of California where Lange’s metalmark butterfly clings to survival in a post-industrial environment. Finally, he visits the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) breeding centers that attempt repopulate whooping crane populations with minimal interaction with humans (the staff where crane-like disguises) and follows the annual Operation Migration where cranes are lead by light aircraft. At each spot, Mooallem interviews the people trying to rehabilitate the endangered animal populations as well as amateur participants and observers.
Supporting his journalistic endeavors, Mooallem also researches the relationships of humanity to animals in America, focusing on figures ranging from Thomas Jefferson to 19th-century zoologist William Temple Hornaday to 1970s whale advocate Joan McIntyre. Mooallem frequently recognizes that the idea of wilderness is impossible in a world so widely-populated with humans. The idea that endangered species can be simply rehabilitated and reintroduced to the wild is being replaced with the reality that they will require perpetual management to survive. He also notes how people’s appreciation of wild animals is inversely proportional to their populations, and animals once endangered – such as Canada geese and white-tailed deer – are now considered pests. But Mooallem also sees hope in a world where humans and animals are more interconnected as the ideas of a seperate wilderness are dismissed.
Mooallem writes in a snarky, fatalistic tone that, while understandable, I find off-putting. Nevertheless, I find this an informative and thought-provoking book.
Recommended books: Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg, Central Park in the dark : more mysteries of urban wildlife by Marie Winn
Release Date: April 6, 2018
Director: David Douglas and Drew Fellman
Production Company: IMAX
The world’s cutest animals get the IMAX 3D treatment so audiences can enjoy seeing the big balls of fluff from China larger than life and right there in front of you. The documentary is narrated by Kristen Bell, herself and icon of cuteness, and has cheerful soundtrack composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. That is when there aren’t pop songs playing, such as the musical cue when a trio of panda cubs toddle around to ZZ Top’s “Sharped Dressed Man” (I guess because their black & white patterns resemble a tuxedo?).
But beneath all of this cuteness there is a more serious story here. The habitat of the giant panda is shrinking and the species is endangered. At the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding we meet the scientist Rong Hou, known as the Panda Mother, who has lead efforts to successfully breed giant pandas with over 200 cubs born. The next step is reintroducing pandas to the wild so Rong Hou visits New Hampshire where Ben Kilham takes in orphaned black bears and cares for them until they can survive in the wild on their own.
Adapting Kilham’s methods to the panda cubs at Chengdu involves bringing in another American, Jacob Owens, and Chinese scientist Wen Lei Bi to work with the cubs. One cub named Qian Qian is determined to be a good candidate for introduction the wild, and Owens forms a close bond with her over a year spend in a 50-acre, protected reserve. Finally, Qian Qian is ready, and a small gate is opened to allow her into the true wilderness.
A dramatic moment occurs when Owens is visiting family in America and the signal from Qian Qian’s collar shows that she hasn’t moved in 24 hours. Wen Lei Bi leads a team that hikes deep into the forest where they find Qian Qian trapped in a tree, and they have to spend several days giving her food and water until she’s healthy enough to return to the reserve for care. The film ends on a moment of uncertainty as a lot of effort went into introducing Qian Qian into the wild but it’s unclear if she will ever be able to survive there or if this approach will work with other great panda cubs. But it’s good to know that there are people trying.
I’m in Washington, D.C. for the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting. I didn’t have room to pack my good camera but I thought I’d share some smartphone photos.
What I’ve done so far:
- Arrived for the Archive-It Partner Meeting held in the Conservation Pavilion at the National Zoo! I presented, thus fulfilling my childhood dream of working in a zoo, at least for 15 minutes.
- While at the zoo, I visited with the Great Pandas, Cheetahs, Gorillas, Orangutans, Tigers, Lions, and my favorite, North American River Otters.
- Ate grits with waffles at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop.
- Visited the National Museum of American History. Highlights include an exhibit on the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and The Nation We Build Together where two character interpreters from the era of the Greensboro Lunch Counter protest recreate nonviolent direct action training with the guests.
- Took in a D.C. United soccer match at their new stadium with a large and vociferous crowd. Wayne Rooney scored twice in United’s 4-1 win.
Buses for the Archives, it’s like they were expecting us.
We’re a Zoo Event!
Bei Bei chilling.
Mei Xiang eating.
Ti.an Tian sleeping
Tiger on the prowl.
Welcome to the grits belt!
Grover and Prairie Dawn.
A vintage Tucker.
Placards from the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.
D.C. United supporters celebrate a Wayne Rooney goal.
The SAA meeting is kind of like a sleepover.
Apparently effective signs.
Related post: Washington, D.C. (October 2012)
Last week we celebrated the end of the school year with our somewhat annual stay at Wolfe’s Neck Oceanfront Camping in Freeport, Maine. We tented in the woods by Casco Bay, roasted marshmallows, biked nearly everywhere, shopped in Freeport, visited the Wolfe’s Neck Center farm, and most significantly, we went hiking with goats!
On Father’s Day, my kids celebrated a whale of a dad by taking me on a New England Aquarium Whale Watch. We were lucky enough to see majestic humpback whales, a mama and a baby, trying to catch a snooze on a clear and calm day. When we returned to Boston, the kids hadn’t reached their fill of nautical adventures, so we took the MBTA Ferry from Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard. There we saw lots of Big Dogs, steel sculptures by Dale Rogers, and played on the playground.
99% Invisible :: Curb Cuts
An important history of the disability rights movement and how curb cuts ended up benefiting society in a broader sense than originally intended.
WGBH News :: On ‘Melnea Cass Day,’ Remembering The Boston Civil Rights Activist And Her Legacy In Roxbury
A day for a great Bostonian.
Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Don’t Call Me Extinct
The story of rehabilitating the scimitar-horned oryx population.
Upon Further Review :: How Actor Jesse Eisenberg Doomed the Phoenix Suns
A funny story of how a young fan’s guilt over a letter to his favorite basketball player.
Around the World for a Good Book selection for Finland
Author: Arto Paasilinna
Title: Year of the Hare
Narrator: Simon Vance
Translator: Herbert Lomas
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010), originally published in 1975, translated to English in 1995
This delightful novel tells the story of Kaarlo Vatanen, a journalist from Helsinki traveling in the northern countryside of Finlan, whose car hits and injures a young hare. Vatanen finds the hare, nurses it back to health, and adopts it. This prompts him to leave his job, his wife, and sell his boat to fund his life as he and the hare travel farther north in the Finnish wilderness where they have various madcap adventures. It’s clear that it’s full of satire of Finnish people and culture albeit I don’t know enough about Finland to get the references. More broadly it has the very 1970s themes of self-discovery, counterculture vs. the emerging globalization of business, and the absurdities of the Cold War. There is another story from the 1970s, possibly a British one, that this reminds me of but I can’t recall what it is.