J’ai une immense gratitude pour Disney Nature de m’avoir donné l’opportunité de faire une entrevue le mercredi 10 avril 2013 avec le directeur Louie Swartzberg et l’artisan de cet excellent documentaire intitulé : ‘’Wings of Life’’
‘’Wings of Life’’ est un baptême visuel avec la nature, un endroit paradisiaque où l’on voudrait passer le restant de nos jours, Louie Swartzberg est un magicien de la lentille, il nous emmènent dans des lieux incroyables où nous pouvons admirer la reproduction des fleurs et des plantes grâce à la contribution des oiseaux, papillons, abeilles et bourdons fébriles ainsi qu’aux Chauves-souris.
La sève des cactus au pollen des fleurs, les volants s’en donnent à cœur joie dans une danse lascive communiquant spirituellement avec leurs hôtes. Un film très beau doté d’un d’une perfection sans nom, un message à tous ceux qui ne voient pas notre environnement dépérir et surtout un cri d’alarme pour que les gouvernements et les milliardaires de ce monde réagissent avant qu’il soit trop tard.
Merci Louie Swarztberg!
“I hope to share the spectacle of nature and to spark
in others the sense of wonder I have about the natural world.”
~ Louie Schwartzberg, Director
From Disneynature, the studio that brought you “Earth,” “Oceans,” “African Cats” and “Chimpanzee,” comes “Wings of Life”— a stunning journey full of intrigue, drama and mesmerizing beauty. Narrated by Meryl Streep, this intimate and unprecedented look at butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats and flowers is a celebration of life, as a third of the world’s food supply depends on these incredible—and increasingly threatened—creatures (Buchmann and Nabhan, 1996, recently confirmed Aizen et al., 2009).
“In the chaos and craziness of our day-to-day lives, few of us stop to consider what’s
happening behind the scenes in nature that makes our lives possible,” said Streep.
“This film is a stunning adventure that literally takes flight alongside all kinds of winged
creatures—butterflies, bees and bats—each working hard to pollinate our planet.”
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg and produced by Alix Tidmarsh and Schwartzberg, “Wings of Life” utilizes riveting high-speed, time lapse and macro filmmaking techniques to showcase in spectacular detail these unsung heroes of our planet. Two-time Emmy Award-winning cinematographer Keith Brust served as director of photography.
“For me,” says Schwartzberg, “the joy of doing this film is to be able to explore worlds that humans can’t easily experience—bats sipping nectar in the middle of the desert at night, orchid bees expertly manipulated by a bucket orchid, exotic hummingbirds flying like airborne dancers, and a clustering monarch colony with millions of butterflies. I hope to share the spectacle of nature and to spark in others the sense of wonder I have about
the natural world.”
BEAUTY, INSTINCT AND SURVIVAL
How Flowers Adapt
Emerging in the age of dinosaurs, some 135 million years ago, flowers introduced a new approach to the mechanics of plant pollination. Prior to the flower, most plants relied on the wind to disperse their pollen. Many still do, releasing grains of pollen indiscriminately into the atmosphere with the intent of reaching plants of the same species. The flower takes a more efficient approach. Serving in essence as a living billboard, it attracts other species, pollinators, with a vibrant color, the promise of food, or an alluring scent. As the pollinator continues foraging, it takes the plant’s pollen with it, from flower to flower, an event often invisible to the naked eye, and typically taken for granted.
The flower’s beauty is not intended for us—or is it? Over the millennia, flowers and their pollinators have evolved, creating an unimaginably rich diversity of species and ingenious partnerships. As a species, our own survival also depends on this engagement. Our cultivation of flowering plants began some 10,000 years ago, ultimately facilitating our transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers by tying us to the land with a plant-like rootedness to build our cities and civilizations. Today, despite all of our technological advances and mechanized farming techniques, our agricultural industries are still dependent, in part, on this elemental, intricate, and increasingly threatened interaction between plants and pollinators. It has been estimated that one third of our food crops are tied to this collaboration, put another way, one out of every three mouthfuls of food we consume.
BUILDING HIS “WINGS”
Director Louie Schwartzberg Travels the Globe to Capture Nature in All-New Way
American director Louie Schwartzberg has pursued a lifelong fascination with nature with a focus—literally–on the flower. He’s been running time lapse cameras on flowers continuously, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for more than 30 years. Schwartzberg’s initial impetus for a feature film concerned challenging traditional conceptions of beauty as it appears in nature and, in particular, as it relates to flowers. It soon grew to encompass the accumulating threats to plants and pollinators, punctuated by the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD): the abrupt, inexplicable disappearance of entire worker bee populations from their hives, affecting Europe, North America and beyond.
For Schwartzberg, the underlying thematic key to the plant-pollinator story, its link to mankind and the increasing threats it faces, is the concept of beauty. Transcending primary definitions of beauty, he considers the concept as a tool of survival—a celebration and exploration of how nature uses beauty to attract pollinator species.
To illustrate this story and its history, Schwartzberg’s team first identified nature’s most intriguing pollinator-plant scenarios, past and present. To capture them on film would be another matter; a journey which would take them from the rainforests of Panama to the highlands and deserts of Mexico, from the deserts of Arizona across the plains of Kansas. Utilizing the latest tools in digital cinematography, the result is an illuminating portrait of one of nature’s most beautiful and fundamental dances with sequences and images never before seen in theaters.
Joining Schwartzberg on this journey were his key team of collaborators: producer Alix Tidmarsh (“Earth,” “African Cats,” “Chimpanzee”), co-producer Grady Candler (“America’s Heart and Soul”), two-time Emmy Award-winning nature cinematographer Keith Brust (“Earth,” Sir David Attenborough’s “Life In Cold Blood”), and lead scientific advisor and head of research Dr. Stephen Buchmann (Professor of Entomology, Univ. of Arizona, research associate, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum). Additional scientific advisors include monarch butterfly specialist Dr. Orley R. (Chip)Taylor (professor of entomology, Univ. of Kansas; founder and director of Monarch Watch); bat behavioral expert Dr. Theodore H. Fleming (emeritus professor of biology, University of Miami); bee and pollination expert Dr. David W. Roubik, senior scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama City, Panama) and Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.; Jeff Ollerton (botanical specialist; professor, University of Northampton); and Dr. Richard Prum, hummingbird specialist, professor (Yale University).
Schwartzberg and members of his team visited more than a dozen locations to capture the images in “Wings of Life,” including:
El Valle de Anton, Gatun, Sabanitas, Santa Rita, Colon and Gamboa, Panama to capture myriad pollinators—hummingbirds, bees, butterflies—at work in the equatorial rainforest. The team obtained rare footage of the pollination of a bucket orchid, one of the most intricate and unusual stories in nature.
El Rosario Preserve, Michoacán, Mexico, shooting the monarch butterfly migration — Filmmakers accessed annual overwintering sites in the sacred Oyamel forests.
Tucson, Ariz., various Sonoran desert locations, including Tohono Chul Park and nature reserve, capturing bees and Queen butterfly imagery.
Fort Tejon near Bakersfield, Calif., filming thousands of honey bee colonies moved here from across the U.S. to pollinate blooming almond orchards.
Kino Bay, Sonora, Techaluta, Guaymas, Guadalajara and Jalisco, Mexico to capture the elusive nocturnal pollination of cacti by nectar bats .
Lawrence, Kansas, to film monarch butterflies and milkweed plants – Filmmakers covered the butterflies’ 2000-mile migration route and their unique relationship with the poisonous plant species.
Central California, capturing pine pollen dispersal by wind pollination.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Park, Arizona, shooting night/day time lapse of cacti.
ON LOCATION: EL VALLE DE ANTON, PANAMA
Witnessing One of Nature’s Greatest Deceptions
Filmmakers visited the rainforests and highlands of Panama, with key locations in Gamboa and El Valle de AntÓn. With a biodiversity per square foot rivaling the Amazon, Panama afforded the opportunity to glimpse back in time to film the history of plant-pollinator biology. It also provided an opportunity to film in one of the most breathtaking natural settings on earth—a myriad of landscapes and species with over 30 varieties of hummingbirds, innumerable native bees and wild orchids captured in bloom.
Arriving at the tail end of rainy season, Schwartzberg and his team established one of the unit’s base camps in El Valle de AntÓn. ‘El Valle,’ as it’s known in Panama. It is a destination cherished and frequented by locals, and one whose pristine beauty is fiercely protected. Situated at an elevation of 600-meters above sea level, it is ringed by a series of distant ridge crests; more than a picturesque highland valley, the entire area is in fact the basin of the world’s second largest dormant volcano.
Filmmakers garnered the previously impossible-to-capture pollination of a bucket orchid by an orchid bee within minutes of the flowers opening—to the euphoric relief of all involved. The small green bee was held fast in the orchid’s grip for two hours while it glued pollen packets onto its back. “We found two bucket orchids; one bloomed the first day we were here and we shot it,” says co-producer, Grady Candler. “Amazingly, we got 90 percent of what we needed the first day we were here.
“Before we arrived, they had four days of straight rain,” he continues. “We sat there, looking at the rain, thinking, ‘we’re not going to get anything.’ But on the first day we were scheduled to shoot, the weather cleared, the orchid bloomed and the bees came in and did their thing. We captured it all and it was amazing. But what really makes it interesting, in terms of our film, is Louie’s perspective. We see the interaction of these flowers and insects as this mutualistic relationship. He sees it as a complex and beautiful story.”
“The story of the Orchid bee is the opening of the movie and the key reason I came down to Panama,” says Schwartzberg. “It’s the key to our entire story, the fact that flowers have devised schemes and mechanisms to spread their pollen. They can’t move. They don’t have feet. They’re literally rooted. So they’ve developed other ways to lure these creatures to ensure their futures. Sometimes it’s not win-win. Sometimes it’s not symbiotic. In some ways, it’s like human relationships. In other words, it’s relatable. It isn’t a simple little fairytale.”
Nor was filming in Panama a straightforward proposition. “Nature works by its own schedule, not a filmmaker’s schedule,” says veteran nature cinematographer Keith Brust. Indeed, filming small birds, butterflies and bees in their natural habitat would seem analogous to capturing lightning in a bottle; their visitations to host plants taking place in a matter of seconds, their process of selecting which flowers to visit, seemingly random.
To that end, Schwartzberg’s crew would tap the aid of local spotters, their own knowledge of animal behavior patterns, as well as simple patience and luck, often waiting hours on end to record fleeting moments of footage. As in other locations, multiple digital video cameras were employed, in this instance effectively setting up a perimeter around a 25-meter waterfall known as Chorro El Macho.
Each morning, Brust would set up two digital SLR time-lapse cameras. Fitted to tracks designed and fabricated by the cameraman himself, they would imperceptibly creep across the rainforest floor like miniature robots, offering Schwartzberg beauty shots with which to tell his story by further establishing the audience’s sense of the location’s physical grandeur. A separate unit, led by Grady Candler, would provide aerial footage, or more specifically, a pollinator’s-eye-view of a bird or bee in flight, emulating its approach to a receptive flower. Strapped into a harness and cradling a camera encased in a gyroscope, the cameraman would spend much of his day sweeping down from the rainforest canopy, suspended by a steel cable—zip line—three-eighths of an inch in diameter.
To capture the pollinators themselves, particularly Panama’s indigenous hummingbirds, Schwartzberg and Brust would set their two workhorse high-speed digital cameras, the Red One and the Phantom HD, on particular plants known to be popular on the bird’s feeding routes, identified by the film’s lead scientific advisor, Dr. Stephen Buchmann. “Typically, you’ll have males that stake out a territory and go to particular plants,” says Buchmann. “But it’s a little more difficult in the tropics because we have trap-lining hummingbirds here. They may have 20 or 30 plants on a route that they visit throughout the forest and then keep cycling through that trap-line. The name comes from hunters putting out a line of traps; biologists adopted the terminology.”
CLOSE UP: BEES
“Wings of Life” explores three different pollination scenarios involving three species of bees: the bumble bee, the honey bee and the orchid bee.
Bumble bees and Tomato Plants (Bonita, Arizona)
In the world’s most technologically advanced greenhouses, bumble bees are still used to pollinate tomato plants. Here, the bumble bee uses sonication or buzz pollination, turning itself into a living tuning fork. Much like an orchestra conductor, the buzzing bumble bee produces a frequency centered in the middle C range (512 cycles per second), which it uses to blast pollen from the tomato flower. The tomato plant itself is native to the Andean Highlands. When first brought to Europe, they were grown in gardens as a curiosity, known as love apples, and initially thought to be poisonous. Roughly eight to nine percent of the world’s 300,000 flowering plants are pollinated through sonication. Common crop examples are blueberry, cranberry, chili peppers, eggplants, kiwi fruits and tomatoes (Buchmann, 1983).
Honey bees and Almond Trees (Tejon Ranch, California)
The honey bee provides most of the pollination to agricultural crops grown around the world—their hives often trucked considerable distances in the United States to provide pollination on demand. Honey bees are crucial to the pollination of a host of fruit trees, including oranges and apples. But the story unfolding in the almond groves of California best illustrates the threat honey bees now face from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Of the approximate 2.5 million colonies of managed honey bees in the U.S., nearly one million are utilized for almond production. Almonds are the first crop to bloom in the U.S. each spring, with a short window of opportunity to employ the bees’ pollination efforts. The California almond groves represent one of the first U.S. locations where beekeepers encountered CCD (National Research Council, Status of Pollinators in North America. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2007).
The Orchid Bee and The Bucket Orchid (Panama)
The orchid bee-bucket orchid pollination scenario represents a departure from our playbook understanding of nature’s symbiotic relationships. It is, in effect, a floral deceit by which the plant manipulates its pollinator. A luminous metallic green insect, the male orchid bee is attracted to the bucket orchid, a relative rarity in the rainforest, by its intoxicating scent. Entering the flower’s “bucket,” he is nearly submerged by the liquid within; his only escape is swimming to a small opening in the back of the flower. As he struggles to emerge, the orchid affixes yellow packets of pollen onto its back. The orchid bee learns nothing from this encounter and will move from bucket to bucket, repeating the process and pollinating the bucket orchids in the process. The bee acquires a fragrance to attract a mate, but does not retrieve any food for its own consumption.
CLOSE UP: HUMMINGBIRDS
Native to the Americas, 59 separate hummingbird species can be found in Panama, seven to eight in the southwestern U.S. and only one (the ruby-throat), on the east coast of the U.S. Important pollinators, they feed from tubular flowers like Verbena, but will also prey on small insects. The hummingbird’s ability to hover in mid-air is derived from the speed of its wings, with certain species capable of speeds of up to 90 beats per second. They are the only birds that can fly backwards, but to the naked eye, their fleeting visitations to a host plant belies the actual aerial acrobatics at play. Filmed for “Wings of Life” at around 3,000 frames per second, their movements are slowed down by more than 40 times their actual speed, unveiling a world of airborne dogfights, barnstorming and aerial dance. Species filmed in Panama include the western long-tailed hermit, the white-necked Jacobin, the violet-crowned Woodnymph, the rufous-crested coquette and the white-crested coquette.
ON LOCATION: MICHOACÁN, MEXICO
Monarch Butterflies and their Quest for Milkweed
Each year, the monarchs, one of the world’s smallest migratory animals, make a multi-generational journey some 2000 miles from the southern reaches of Canada and vast portions of the U.S. mainland to their isolated hideaways amidst the scared Oyamel forests of Michoacán, Mexico. Like clockwork, the monarchs’ arrival occurs around November 2 each year, coinciding with the Mexican Day of The Dead celebrations—locals in this highland region regard the returning monarchs as the returning souls of the deceased. Here they remain in a hibernation-like state until early spring, making a return journey north over subsequent generations, ultimately following the bloom of their host plant, the milkweed.
Their precise numbers are hard to confirm, even for experts like Chip (Orley) Taylor, founder of non-profit organization Monarch Watch, who joined the crew at the El Rosario Preserve, one of five separate monarch sites on the outskirts of the small town of Angangueo. “We’re estimating roughly 50 million per hectare,” says Taylor.
Monarch populations are measured by their geographic range rather than their actual number to determine the overall health of colonies. “In the ’90s, we were averaging about nine hectares per year,” says Taylor. “In this decade we’re averaging pretty close to five hectares per year. The population is going down.”
The El Rosario preserve is situated at an elevation of 8,000 feet. The monarch cluster sites are reached by foot from the park’s entrance in less than 40 minutes, following a steep, winding path uphill . The occasional monarch flitters past en route, their numbers building steadily, ultimately filling the skies above a highland meadow.
Schwartzberg employed an expanded crew of 18 with multiple digital video cameras at work and a separate cable-cam crew flying cameras alongside the monarchs in flight. “We did a shot with a jib arm where we went flying with the monarchs to the puddles where they drink,” he says. “What I’m trying to accomplish with these shots is to make people feel what it’s like to be a butterfly.
“You’ve got these technical, beautifully choreographed camera moves, but within those parameters it’s total randomness,” he continues. “And again, we’re shooting in slow motion, so it’s just this fabulous magical moment of silk-like motion. I don’t know what’s in the shot until we play it back, but when we do it’s like opening a box of chocolates.”
On the brisk mountainside meadows of El Rosario, the film captured some of its most memorable sights and sounds; among them, the revelation of a monarch cascade. What appears to be a vast swathe of decaying leaves in a fir tree is in fact a living, breathing, clustering monarch colony—announced by the sudden symphony of beating wings which fill the air like a snowstorm, the butterflies like giant snowflakes as they spiral off.
“The big part of what we’re trying to capture in this film is not looking at the animal subjects from a distance, but really feeling like you’re there with them,” says Candler. “Part of that is flying with the butterflies or a bee, part of it is placing a camera under the cascade of monarchs and recording the sound they make as they take flight.”
While the monarchs of El Rosario are depicted on screen in their most majestic moment, so too is it their moment of greatest vulnerability. Though not an endangered species when scattered across a continent, their concentration each winter to a few dozen acres puts them especially at risk. The Mexican authorities, working at both the federal and local level, have taken great steps to preserve the monarch’s habitats by restricting logging in these areas. In the U.S. and Canada, scientists like Chip Taylor are doing their part as well through educational initiatives and a determined push for habitat preservation of the monarch’s host plant, the milkweed.
“In the United States we’re losing 6,000 acres a day to development; that’s 2.2 million acres a year,” says Taylor. “In the 17 years I’ve run Monarch Watch, we’ve lost an area equal to the state of Illinois. Here, in Mexico, we’re faced with loss of habitat due to the tenuous nature of trying to maintain these forests.”
According to Monarch Watch, this past winter (2012-13), the monarch populations at the nine hibernating colonies of Mexican monarchs only occupied 2.9 acres, a decrease in area of 59 percent from the previous year’s survey of 7.1 acres. These are the lowest numbers of monarchs in 20 years.
Taylor provides the following facts about the monarch migration.
Migration: Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from eastern North America to Mexico each fall to overwinter in the high elevation Oyamel fir forests of central Mexico. Monarchs are unable to survive freezing temperatures and must escape to these moderate climates to reproduce the next season.
Generations: Most of the monarchs joining the migration each fall are 3-4 generations removed from those that made the journey the previous year.
Time and Distance: The migration begins in mid August in the north and in September at mid latitudes. It progresses at a pace of 25-30 miles per day, although individual butterflies often fly further during periods when conditions are favorable. Most monarchs originate from locations more than 1500 miles from the overwintering sites. The duration of the migration appears to be two to two-and-a-half months.
Recolonization of Summer Breeding Areas: The monarch breeding areas in eastern North America are recolonized by two generations of monarchs—the overwintering butterflies that move north in the spring and their offspring. The latter reach maturity and begin flying N/NE in late April, reaching the northern limits of milkweeds by mid June.
Longevity: Migratory monarchs that survive the winter in Mexico are eight to nine months of age and may be the longest lived of all butterflies. In contrast, reproductive monarchs breeding during the summer months live two to five weeks due to the high cost of reproduction.
Numbers: Monarch populations are measured as the number of hectares of trees occupied by clustering butterflies in mid December of each year. The size of the population has varied from 2.19 to 18.2 hectares over the last two decades, averaging close to nine hectares in the ’90s and between five and six hectares this decade. During this past winter, monarch numbers in the nine hibernating colonies in Mexico are at their lowest numbers in 20 years.
Navigation: Migrating monarchs fly in directions geographically appropriate given the need to reach Mexico. How the butterfly determines these directions is unanswered. Components of the navigational system that are known involve a time-compensated sun compass linked to the circadian clock, and a protein (Cry1) that is sensitive to blue light and ultraviolet wavelengths.
Tagging : Tagging by Monarch Watch volunteers has helped define the migration window as well as the timing and pace of the migration. Tagging also shows that the probability of reaching Mexico is related to origin: latitude and longitude, coastal vs. inland, and whether monarchs are tagged early or late in the migration window.
Threats to Monarch Migration : Overwintering monarchs require shelter and water. These resources are diminishing. Deforestation at overwintering sites in Mexico has eliminated a number of former colony sites; others have been badly degraded so as to reduce the shelter and water needed by wintering butterflies. In the U.S., 6,000 acres are converted to development each day, eliminating milkweeds needed by monarch larvae and nectar sources required by adult monarchs.
Conservation: Sustaining the monarch migration will require the cooperation of all three countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico) that are home to monarchs for some portion of the year. Future efforts will be based on the North American Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan, a program that advocates the implementation of measures to enhance, restore and protect habitats.
CLOSE UP: MONARCHS AND MILKWEED
Milkweed, considered a noxious week by most farmers, is the only host plant for monarch butterfly larvae. Without the much maligned milkweed, there would be no monarch butterflies. The milkweeds’ range is similar to that of the monarch’s migration: from Mexico, across the entire United States and into Canada. While milkweed nectar provides food to adult monarchs and other pollinators, the plant’s sap is poisonous and serves as a deterrent against herbivores. Monarch caterpillars, however, are not only able to consume the plant, but sequester its poisons in their bodies for use as adults. When monarch caterpillars emerge as butterflies, they are chemically protected from predators who learn to distinguish the monarch’s color pattern as a warning sign of toxicity.
ON LOCATION: KINO BAY, MEXICO
Showing Bats in a New Light
“Bats are vampires, creatures of the dark,” says lead scientific advisor Stephen Buchmann. “Unfortunately that’s what most people think, but bats are essential pollinators and insect eaters, along with being super cute.”
For “Wings of Life,” Schwartzberg and his team focus on the lesser long-nosed bat, a harmless if spectacular nocturnal pollinator tied to the majestic columnar cacti of the Sonoran Desert. “Bats are important to our story because they’re one of the key pollinators in this environment,” says the director. “Take away the bat, and you take away the cardon cactus and the organ pipe cactus—you’ve got nothing.”
Filming the bats interaction with the local cactus flowers—a nighttime visitation that takes place in less than a quarter of a second—would prove the filmmakers’ ultimate challenge.
Shepherded by bat behavioral expert Ted Fleming, the team set about their work at the Prescott College Field Station in Kino Bay, Mexico, situated on the Sea of Cortez some 250-miles south of Tucson, Ariz. “I knew it was going to be difficult,” says Schwartzberg. “I just didn’t know how difficult. On the first night we set up at 8 p.m. and waited until 4 a.m. Nothing. Not a single shot. They didn’t do anything. I had to remember there are no guarantees.”
In the end, both filmmaker patience and pollinator appetites would pay off. Filming in the desert by day and the cage at night (ostensibly working around the clock for four consecutive days), filmmakers finally got their footage—and then some. Says Fleming, “These bats are very bold feeders once they decide it’s time to feed. Nothing could put them off.”
“The footage we got is amazing,” adds Schwartzberg. “One had recently given birth, so you see a mother flying around with a baby attached to her body. You not only see them fly in, but you can see through their wings, through the skin membranes, as they sip nectar with their tongues. To watch their approach in slow motion, how they stall, hover and emerge from flowers, was worth the wait.”
Like the other pollinators depicted on screen, the lesser long-nosed bat faces challenges to its survival. “They’re threatened in the sense that they have traditional places for mating and maternity and when those caves are disturbed, there’s a large impact on the population,” says Fleming. “There’s a mating cave down in Jalisco (Mexico) that seasonally contains 75,000 to 80,000 mating bats. If you disturb that cave, you’re knocking out a lot of bats. In Mexico, they’ve traditionally done that kind of thing to caves in the hopes of controlling vampires, which is a very misguided effort. Bats help to control insects, pollinate flowers and disperse seeds. They are our friends. But old traditions and fears die hard.”
CLOSE UP: NECTAR BATS AND CACTI
Approximately one out of every five mammals on our planet is a bat. Scientists now count a total of 1,232 species of bats around the world. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and on many islands. They are the only mammal capable of true flight.
The lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) pollinates the columnar cacti of Mexico. They have a north-south migratory route, following the bloom of giant century plants, agave, saguaro, cardon and organ pipe cacti, plus several tree species.
The saguaro can grow up to 60 feet tall with the largest specimens hosting a dozen or more arms. It forms buds in May with a peak bloom from late May to early June. The cardon cactus is even larger than the saguaro and blooms at night. Both plants have a lifespan 150-200 years.
Nectar bats often forage in groups of up to a dozen or more members when visiting these plants. Their time spent at each flower takes place in the flash of an eye, sipping nectar with their long tongues. In the process, their faces become covered with pollen, which is spread from cactus to cactus. Though the cacti themselves are visited by other pollinators, they initially evolved as bat-only plants. It’s likely that the populations of nectar bats, hundreds of thousands of years ago, were far greater than they are today.
Giving New Meaning to Adaptation
Filming nature’s plants and pollinators is a highly specialized undertaking, requiring patience, skill, an understanding of animal behavior patterns and being in the right place at the right time.
Typically, films are shot at 24 frames per second. Meeting the challenges of photographing plants and pollinators, however, often requires compressing and expanding perceptions of time by manipulating the frame exposure rate. From a technical standpoint, filming a blossoming flower is accomplished through time-lapse, a process where the exposure rate is greatly reduced, with several seconds of screen time captured over the course of hours or days. For pollinators like bees, bats and hummingbirds, whose visitations happen in a fleeting instant, the process is reversed with over-cranked exposure rates.
Filming involved the use of multiple cameras (sometimes as many as five, operating simultaneously), utilizing both time-lapse and high-speed cinematography. To photograph fast moving pollinators, two high-speed digital cameras were typically employed, the Red One and the Phantom HD, the latter (a camera originally developed by the U.S. military), capable of exposure rates of up to 1,500 frames per second. The use of digital cameras gives the operator instant feedback on what he’s filming. These cameras also have the advantage of recording continuously, with the operator standing by to save the precious moments of pollinator activity to a digital memory card.
Innovations and modifications to existing equipment employed by cinematographer Keith Brust include the use of a pinhole lens (less than one-eighth of an inch in diameter, combined with a self-styled miniature focus rack), allowing the cameraman to get within millimeters of an insect subject while retaining a clear view of the background. According to Brust, moving the pinhole lens across the face of a leaf creates an effect on screen analogous to “an airplane flying over a field.”
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG (Director/Producer) is an award-winning producer, director and cinematographer who captures breathtaking images and stories that celebrate life, revealing connections, universal rhythms, patterns and beauty.
Schwartzberg’s notable career spans feature films, television shows, commercials and documentaries. He won two Clio Awards for TV advertising, including best environmental broadcast spot, an Emmy® nomination for best cinematography and the Heartland Film Festival’s Truly Moving Picture Award for the feature film “America’s Heart & Soul.” His new film “Wings of Life” for Disneynature won best theatrical program at the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards 2012, best cinematography at the 2013 Waimea Ocean Film Festival and a best cinematography ROSCAR award.
Schwartzberg is active in the TED community, having spoken in 2011 at TEDxSoCal, TEDxSF, TEDxJacksonhole and at TEDxSMU in December of 2012. His YouTube videos have collected more than 30 million views. He is also launching Moving Art™ on Panasonic Smart TVs, an IPTV channel that will inspire, entertain and transform the home viewing screen into an emotional immersive user preference experience. Moving Art™ will also be available as a mobile app on all iOs and Android platforms.
Schwartzberg has an MFA from UCLA Film Studies. He’s a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Science and the Directors Guild of America
ALIX TIDMARSH (Producer) was born in Rome and traveled around the world for many years before settling in London. After gaining a degree in psychology and zoology, she began her career working for L’Oreal and Unilever but subsequently joined BBC Worldwide as director of marketing. While there, she worked on such internationally acclaimed series as “The Blue Planet,” “Planet Earth,” “Walking With Dinosaurs” and several David Attenborough series, including “The Life of Mammals,” “Life in the Undergrowth” and “State of the Planet,” as well as the IMAX® version of “The Human Body.” Her other two documentary feature films as producer are “Deep Blue,” which came out in 2004 and has so far sold more than two million copies on DVD, and “Earth,” which has taken in nearly $109 million at the box office worldwide and ranks as one of the most successful documentary features of all time. Prior to “Chimpanzee,” Tidmarsh also produced Disneynature’s feature films “African Cats” and “Chimpanzee.” Beyond her work as a producer, Tidmarsh runs her own consultancy firm, B8 Media. When not working, she can usually be found cooking or on the back of a horse, practicing dressage.
For almost 40 years, MERYL STREEP (Narrator) has portrayed an astonishing array of characters in a career that has cut its own unique path from the theater through film and television.
Streep was educated in the New Jersey public school system through high school, graduated cum laude from Vassar College, and received her MFA with honors from Yale University in 1975. She began her professional life on the New York stage, where she quickly established her signature versatility and verve as an actor. Within three years of graduation, she made her Broadway debut, won an Emmy® (for “Holocaust”) and received her first Oscar® nomination (for “The Deerhunter”). In 2011, in a record that is unsurpassed, she won her 17th Academy Award® nomination for her role as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” For this role, she has won the Academy Award, British Academy Award and the Golden Globe® for best actress. She was most recently seen in “Hope Springs,” alongside Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe® nomination. Streep will next be seen in “August: Osage County.”
Streep has pursued her interest in the environment through her work with Mothers and Others, a consumer advocacy group that she co-founded in 1989. M&O worked for 10 years to promote sustainable agriculture, establish new pesticide regulations and the availability of organic and sustainably grown local foods.
Streep also lends her efforts to Women for Women International, Women in the World Foundation and Partners in Health. She is a member of the Vassar College Board of Trustees and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has been accorded a Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government, a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Film Institute, a 2008 honor by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, The 2010 National Medal of Arts by President Obama, and in 2011, she received a Kennedy Center Honor.
Her husband, sculptor Don Gummer, and she are the parents of a son and three daughters.
JAKE EBERTS (Executive Producer) was born in Montreal in 1941 and grew up in Montreal and Arvida, Quebec. He attended Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville and graduated from McGill University (bachelor of chemical engineering 1962) and Harvard Business School (MBA, 1966). Eberts began his business career as a start-up engineer for L’Air Liquide in Spain, Italy, Germany and France. After three years on Wall Street, in 1971 he joined Oppenheimer & Co. in London, England, where he became managing director in 1976.
In 1977, Eberts founded Goldcrest Films in London. From 1977 through 1983, Goldcrest financed the development and/or the production of “Watership Down,” “The Howling,” “Escape from New York,” “Chariots of Fire,” Local Hero, “Gandhi,” “The Killing Fields” and “The Dresser.” Together these films received 30 Oscar® nominations, winning 15, including two for best picture (“Chariots of Fire” and “Gandhi”).
In 1985, Eberts founded Allied Filmmakers, based in London and Paris, an independent feature film development and production company. He served as the executive producer or producer of “The Name of the Rose,” “Hope and Glory, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Black Robe,” “A River Runs Through It,