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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Born at the Right Time?

For those of you who know me well, I am forever lamenting the demise of the classic wildlife documentary. Those hour-long epics filmed on a grand scale, crossing continents within mere seconds to tell the story of an animal little heard of and barely ever seen before. 

Their stories were told with a moving narrative that described more than just their life histories, but evoked a sense of character and personality, and purpose.

Of course I am describing the legacy of Sir David Attenborough and the pioneering members of the BBC's Natural History Unit, who were instrumental in changing our perceptions and awareness of the natural world forever.


Their glory days were during the 80's when little explored corners of the world were suddenly brought to stunning Technicolor life on our TV screens. They must have been exciting times, encountering strange species and glorious landscapes for the first time - a total immersion into the wilderness.

And in those heady days of worlds-firsts and ground-breaking discoveries, the BBC were more than willing to put their money where their mouth was. Budgets were sky-high to accommodate long weeks spent in the jungles, and to equip crews with cutting edge and custom-made camera kits. Shoots were orchestrated on a grand scale - but the final results always justified the considerable investments that were made to produce such films.

Those were the golden days. Things have changed considerably in the three decades that have followed. And when I finally found myself in a position where I felt I had the skill sets and experience to undertake my own natural history epic - I discovered that I was too late...

The world has changed, people's expectations have changed. The TV industry itself has changed. We are now part of a fast food society that digests everything feverishly and furiously, and wildlife documentaries are no exception to the rule. I've been told that audiences no longer have the attention span to sit through a natural history film that gradually unwinds through the course of 60 minutes; that stunning panoramas no longer captivate - now regarded as nothing more than so many minutes of televisual wallpaper. We have become blasé about the things that once stopped us in our stride and sent shivers down our spine.

Where has our collective sense of wonder gone? Speaking as an individual, I still get goosebumps when I see a finely crafted piece of TV or film. Music also does that to me - often. I've spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how to imbue some of that essence into my own productions - whatever the creative medium may be. I even find my days haunted by a great piece of narrative or a clever and insightful tagline. Such distractions have always tended to get in the way of all my other daily priorities - but I wouldn't have it any other way. And I know I am not the only one.


There are so many of us that still retain wonder within ourselves. Those of us who remain addicted to the creative process - to the things that make our hairs stand on end. Surely we are not in the minority? Surely we are not alienated to the millions out there who we create our products for? It confuses me. It exasperates me. It has made me question my own creative decisions.

Sometimes I come to this conclusion - I should have been born much earlier, and started my career in the 80's. When things were still so new, when technology and individual expression and risk-taking were just starting to bear fruit on the TV screen. Those would have been the real Wonder Years.

But then again, I catch myself in the midst of my melancholy, and set myself straight... Perhaps I am in this business at the right time...

Complacency, tedium and carbon-copy television may rule the airways - for now. But then I guess that's where a new way of thinking has to come in - to approach the obstacle from a different point of view - to catch an audience before they even know they've been caught. To make 'em think once more, to give them back their child's eye...


The Tuskerman's time in the field may be coming to an end, but I can now take control of the driver's seat and steer a new generation of TV-makers - in the right direction...

And suddenly, perhaps this challenge will be worth the effort after all...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Mountains of the Moon...

That's what it felt like - to be standing on a landscape, so spellbinding, and yet so alien - that it almost felt unreal to actually be there.


The steppes of Mongolia spread out like some vast cloak of grey and green over a gently undulating terrain. It seems almost too tidy, too well planned out - compact stands of pine trees cresting every mountain-top. Boulder-strewn riverbeds twist, serpentine, across the valley floors. Closely cropped pastures of grass cling to the ground - everything is in its right place, even the wildflowers grow in a pleasing kaleidoscope of colours.


Its the vastness of the place that gets to you though - you feel insignificant in the scheme of things, as your jeep struggles along a dirt track riddled with potholes. The sheer scarcity of people hits home, as you survey the horizon, and over a distance of say, twenty kilometres or so, only two or three homesteads lie huddled together, with a small herd of livestock scattered nearby. The characteristic yak-skin tents known as Gers are all that these people of the plains have to protect themselves from the elements. We are here during summer and there's already a chill in the air. But when winter hits, it does so with a vengeance - as temperatures fall below zero and the entire country becomes frozen beneath snow and ice.


Yes it is beautiful, but it is a lonely kind of beauty. Even for someone like me who is happy to escape from the boundaries of human society from time to time - this vastness could well become overbearing after a while. Its no wonder the Mongol people seek out each others' company in annual festivals and fairs. A sense of Community is a survival strategy in a place like this, where you could easily lose yourself in a constant landscape that stretches further than the eye can see and the mind can comprehend...

They are tough, these people - sturdy, enduring and tireless in the undertaking of their daily chores. As most of them are herders, horses take centre-stage in their lives. These wiry steeds are almost like living extensions of their riders. They move imperceptibly together across the plains in an ageless scene that could be centuries old. The Horse and the Rider - defining symbols of Mongolia.



We spent a precious few days in their company, and it wasn't long before all my sense of bravado about being able to live this kind of life, flew out of the window. They live right off the land, quite literally. And despite best-laid plans, every day is determined by the elements themselves. Only forward-planning gives these people a fighting chance, plus the ability to react fast to any given situation, be it positive or negative.

"Expect the unexpected" is an unspoken mantra, and the Mongolians' approach to life is to grab it by the throat and hold on for the ride.
Yes it is a beautiful life. But a life that they have to work hard for. The blood of the Khans certainly endures out here, in the vast empty plains...



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fisherman's Moon

I have sailed the inbound sea. I have led a nomad's life, wandering with the great shoals; sleeping under Orion's light, singing the liquid song of my loss and my regret. For the sake of my brothers, I keep my mind from wandering to that dying horizon, where my lover awaits with the comfort of dusk.



The dunes afford no future. For my brothers and I are fishers of the sea. We have turned our blistered backs from the lie of the land. Far from the delicate embrace of women. Denied the saving grace of a child's cry. But we are sons of the sea. Children of the sand. And the ocean calls our name.



My possessions are few. A driftwood hut to shelter from the sky. A clay pot to cook my daily meal of rice and fish. A covering cloth to protect me from the fevers of morning and midday. And the tools of my trade. The cloaking net to imprison. The rusting knife to impair.

I entertain the cavorting egrets and the whispering winds. Dune water refreshes me, and saltwater goads my skin. But the pulse is strong within our hearts. From dusk until dawn, we will fight the sea. Until the waves surrender, and she delivers her bounty into our weathered hands. And we will grow old with our struggles. The sea will bend our backs. Broken like the great heads of the reef. Eroded like the jewelled cliffs of the abyss. As the waters recede and the debris of the ravaged sea washes in with the tide - there we will be, like so many empty shells and lost coral memories.



But now the tide favours us. And we set sail towards the night. I cast my net in this dreaming ocean, feeling the cool brine washing my dark hands; watching the fisherman's moon rise over me.



(In remembrance of Sri Lanka's southern coast fishermen, whom I spent some memorable days with, many moons ago...)


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Magic In The Wilderness

It never ceases to amaze me how Nature continues to weave Her magic disappearing spells on us, even in this age of mass deforestation and urbanization.

As species go extinct as fast as the seconds hand on a clock, so too do others seemingly disappear and then suddenly re-appear like some monumental game of hide and seek.

A recent case in point is the beautifully enigmatic Borneo Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia). Although first identified 138 years ago, almost nothing is actually known about it. In fact the cat has managed to completely elude researchers and conservationists. The first photo of the cat wasn’t taken until 1998 and the first video was shot just two years ago, but that's about it - nothing is still known about its life cycle or behaviour.

You know, scientists dream as feverishly and as frequently as the rest of humanity, and someone's dream obviously came true when this gorgeous red and brown creature recently wandered through their camera trap!


Photo by Jo Ross and Andrew Hearn/Global Canopy Programme

It disappeared just as soon as it appeared, but it was enough to rekindle that spark of enthusiasm that draws us back to the wild, time and time again.

Who knows when it will be seen again; who can predict when it performs its next magic trick? But just the very knowledge that something as sizable and as stunning as the Borneo Bay Cat can continue to elude us even in this ever-shrinking world; now that's a good feeling...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In Remembrance of Cocoa

Our precious Cocoa, whom we fostered and then adopted over 11 years ago had to be put down recently (9th November 2013) as her cancer had spread and she was in pain. 

She was diagnosed with cancer in September this year (a lump on her front paw which bled profusely) and succumbed to the disease in November. We knew that the cancer was aggressive and we would lose her, but we did not expect it to be so fast.

She was the most amazing child that we ever had the honour of knowing and we miss her tremendously. Thank you God for entrusting her to us; she was the light of our lives.



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

LIFE LESS ORDINARY

I love telling personal stories; about how people are able to change themselves and the world around them. People who make an impact for the better...

Not only are they inspirational to me, but their work has a contagious effect that you can't help yourself being drawn towards...

I was asked to take part in the production of a series called Life Less Ordinary for Channel NewsAsia, and it was my particular pleasure to tell the story of Kiran Sethi - a game-changer in more ways than one!

Watch the full episode:

BOOMTOWN ASIA

It's been a busy New Year, and I have been hard at work on several programmes for Channel NewsAsia.

The station is really diversifying and spreading its reach across Asia and beyond, and so has provided some interesting opportunities in terms of subject matter and storytelling.

I just recently finished series-producing and co-writing a technology series for CNA, entitled Boomtown Asia; a local take on the ever-popular Megastructures series...

We were able to employ some cool graphics to create a glimpse of the future:

Watch the full first episode here:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tuskerman Transmissions #02

ARMPIT ALARM

I learned today, that the Silverback male Gorilla will emit a strong body odour from his armpits when he is either threatened or excited, and to also notify other gorillas of his location.

Of the 98.67% genetic similarities we share with this gentle giant, it figures that armpit odour had to be somewhere on the list...

So if you are ever fortunate enough to encounter one of our closest cousins in the wild, don't bring deodorant...