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Sir David Attenborough was eight years old in 1934 when he saw his first natural history film. It featured the popular naturalist Cherry Kearton, one of the earliest pioneers of wildlife photography and filmmaking. "Kearton's films captured my childish imagination," says Attenborough. "It made me dream of traveling to far off places to film wild animals."
Years later, those dreams became an illustrious reality. For over half a century, Attenborough has been at the forefront of natural history filmmaking, witnessing an unparalleled period of change in our planet's history. His first-hand accounts offer a unique perspective on the natural world.
As he marks his 60th anniversary on television, Nature presents Attenborough's Life Stories, a three-part retrospective of his life and work, airing on consecutive Wednesdays, January 23, 30, and February 6, 2013 at 8 pm (ET) on PBS (check local listings). The mini-series focuses on three areas that he believes have been transformed most profoundly during his time: filmmaking, science, and the environment. After the broadcast, each episode will stream at pbs.org/nature.
Nature is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET for PBS. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York's public television stations and operator of NJTV. For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions of people with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.
With distinctive eloquence and enthusiasm for his subject, Attenborough is our incomparable guide in a lifelong journey through the natural world. How do you trap a Komodo dragon? Can a lion take down an elephant? Why are animals distributed in the way they are around the world? How do animals communicate with one another? What is climate change? How can the health of the planet be insured?
Attenborough answers these questions and more, recounting with wit and humor all the wonders of the natural world he has been able to share with his viewers - wonders sometimes never before seen on television. The 86-year old veteran of wildlife filmmaking returns to key locations that played a part in his remarkable body of work, shares old photos, anecdotes and rare footage from the early days in his television career. Informed by a lifetime devoted to understanding and documenting the natural world, Attenborough also shares with viewers his unique personal reflections about nature and the earth.
Episode one: Attenborough's Life Stories: Life on Camera
Attenborough revisits key places and events in his career and shows how a succession of technical innovations in filmmaking led to remarkable revelations about our planet and the creatures that inhabit it. The introduction of video cameras in underwater photography was a huge breakthrough in extending the time cameramen have to capture the most dramatic shots of animal behavior, such as swimming with dolphins and marlin hunting, without artificial lights.
Returning to his old haunts in Borneo, Attenborough recalls the challenges of filming on a seething pile of guano in a bat cave, especially when the lights went out, and how to catch a komodo dragon. He also shows how the invention of infrared film cameras made it possible to film one of the most amazing nocturnal hunting sequences ever recorded and proved that a pride of lions can kill an animal as big as an elephant.
Other innovations include the stabilizing camera mount, remote controlled camera, time lapse photography, and digital slow motion cameras. The latter, recording what is impossible to see with the naked eye, caught one of Attenborough's favorite moments: tricking a lovesick hoverfly into thinking that the objects Attenborough was shooting out of a peashooter were females whizzing by.
Episode two: Attenborough's Life Stories: Understanding the Natural World
Attenborough shares his memories of the scientists and the breakthroughs that helped shape his own career in translating these discoveries into film. Attenborough is seen interviewing Austrian scientist Konrad Lorenz who studied animal behavior and geese in particular. Lorenz determined that if he was the first thing young goslings saw when they hatched, they would follow him as they would a parent. This process, known as imprinting, was a boon to filmmakers who could film animals behaving naturally in the wild.
Demonstrating some of the thrilling attempts to bring new science to a television audience, Attenborough is seen standing in the shadow of an erupting volcano as lumps of hot lava crashes around him. He's describing how continental drift, caused by volcanic eruptions on the sea bottom, explains why a closely related group of animals can occur on both sides of an ocean.
Following up on his boyhood fascination with a book illustration showing a bird of paradise being hunted by native tribes, Attenborough ventures to New Guinea in search of the elusive bird and is charged by a group of armed tribesmen until he offers a handshake signaling his peaceful intent. Eventually his cameraman filmed a plumed male and unplumed female, possibly the first film ever taken of a bird of paradise displaying in the wild, but Attenborough returned 40 years later with better cameras and the ability to shoot high up in the trees. Among other topics featured are DNA fingerprinting, chimpanzee behavior and Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.