Chuck Davis, Director of Photography
Chuck was responsible for all aspects relating to the camera and acquisition of shots.
What was the most stirring or surprising experience for you in each place?
Greenland: Massive icebergs: They're spectacularly humbling!
Madagascar: The abject poverty surprised me. People are very poor. Roads are falling apart. There's garbage everywhere in the city.
Chang Tang Plateau: The plight of the Tibetans is shocking. I wonder whether their culture can survive, considering the oppression of the Chinese. Our Chinese censors had to approve every single shot I set up before I was allowed to film. I realize now how much I take my freedom for granted at home.
Iguazu Falls: That's one huge waterfall! You could easily drop Niagara Falls into the middle of it.
Amazon River: It's a beautiful ecosystem, but I was surprised by how hard it was to work under the intense humidity and with so many insects.
Namib Desert/Okavango Delta: The human condition throughout Africa really surprised me. They have some major problems to deal with. For instance, something like 66 percent of all pregnant women in Botswana are HIV positive. Of course, the wildlife in the Okavango Delta was incredible.
What animals did you find to be the most interesting?
In the Okavango Delta, we filmed an elephant that was climbing up out of the water. It didn't look all that huge when it was still in the water, but then it kept going and going. I think it was about the size of the Empire State Building! The lions and wild dogs were interesting there as well. In Madagascar, of course, were the lemurs. And the Namib Desert had some unique sidewinder snakes and beetles. It's a little amazing that anything can eke out an existence in that ocean of sand.
Which location was the most difficult for you?
That's a toss-up between the Amazon and Tibet. The Amazon was difficult because it was so humid and hot, and there were bugs absolutely everywhere.Whenever I sat down, something was biting or crawling on me. And we were all sick there, too. You want to curl up and wait it out but you can't stop working. I was sort of delirious a lot of the time in the Amazon, and there are scenes I shot that I can't even remember!
Tibet was hard because of the high altitude. IMAX equipment is heavy, and I had to pace myself because I found I got winded much faster than usual. The thin air made me feel kind of ding-y sometimes. The weather on the plateau was wild, too. Some nights were like winter: The wind would howl and my tent would flap madly, ruffling and rattling as I tried to sleep. There were a few times I thought it was going to blow right off the face of the Earth. Some mornings we'd find 4 inches of fresh snow on our tents ... and then it would hail, followed by thunder and lightning!
How was the sky different in these places?
I'm sure it varies dramatically from season to season, but the sky and clouds in the Amazon captivated me more than anywhere else. With all that heat rising and humidity, they get incredibly big, puffy, slow rain clouds rising up off the water. The Okavango Delta had more of a mixture of clouds: Some were big and puffy; some were much thinner. The Namib Desert was very similar. There was one incredible day there when we experienced a sandstorm and the entire sky turned to sand. And the sky in Tibet was interesting because it seemed to move faster: The clouds were layered and it felt like they moved at different speeds, probably because of the low humidity you get at high altitude.
What kind of souvenirs did you bring back?
I brought some traditional masks home from Africa. I had one from Madagascar, too, but our truck ran over it and turned it into toothpicks ... I brought it back anyway; maybe someday I'll glue it together! I also have a few Buddhist masks from Tibet, plus some prayer flags and a prayer wheel. Faith is a huge part of Tibetan life. They take their prayer wheels with them everywhere, and you often see prayer flags being carried by the wind.
What are your favorite anecdotes from your experiences in these places?
In Greenland, I wanted to bury the camera in the ice to get a different point-of-view of a dogsled. We set up a remote cord for the camera box, buried the whole contraption, ran the dogs over the top of it, and thenrealized that sled dogs are smart enough to go around--not over--any depression they see in the ice! We tried several times, and every time the dogs ran aroundour carefully buried camera. One of the natives finally suggested we build a ramp over it so the dogs couldn't see it, and that method worked much better. It was pretty comical, sitting around trying to psychoanalyze sled dogs!
In Tibet, when we came down from the Chang Tang Plateau to the city of Lhasa after camping out for two weeks, people were looking at us pretty strangely. I realized later that I probably reeked, considering I hadn't changed my clothes for 14 days.
What types of foods did you eat?
Greenland: We didn't eat much native food; mostly it was standard hotel fare, but with a bland, Danish influence. Expensive, too!
Madagascar: Typical hotel food. I got sick from some bad chicken one night.
Chang Tang Plateau: Outside of the city, the food was pretty bad. We knew we were in trouble when we discovered one of their favorite drinks is a tea made from yak butter: A stinky, oily, foul-tasting liquid with goo on the top! We all lost weight in Tibet; I lost 15 pounds. They cook over gasoline burners, and the food ends up tasting like gas. A lot of restaurants in the outback use wood shavings as chopsticks. The restaurants are awfully unappetizing. You'd get out of your car and climb over an open sewer and some rotten stuff--a few animal carcasses. The floor inside would never have been cleaned, and your feet slide over decades of rancid spills. All you can do is try to ignore it all.
Iguazu Falls: We stayed in a nice hotel, with still more hotel food. It was good but not terribly unique--lots of chicken, fish, and beef.
Amazon River: I hated the meals there, because it seemed like every time I ate, I'd get sick! We all tried to be careful and drank only bottled water, but something as simple as eating off dishes that have been washed with river water can make you very ill there. Antibiotics help, but not enough.
Namib Desert: We ate typical hotel food, but I'm sure the right outfitters could easily have given us an experience like we had in the Okavango Delta.
Okavango Delta: We had excellent outfitters and ate gourmet food--I ate better in the bush than I have in many hotels! Every day, our cook made dough for four loaves of bread, put them into a steel box and buried it with coals in the dirt ... 45 minutes later, we'd be eating freshly baked bread, right out of the ground.
How did these places affect you physically?
The humidity, bugs and dysentery in the Amazon affected me tremendously ... I was miserable! The cold temperature in Greenland makes it hard to work because you have to wear so many layers of clothing. Madagascar took an emotional toll on me because we were there for two months, and that's a long time for me to be away from my family and children. And I was always uncomfortable in Tibet: Between the wild weather and the high altitude, it was hard to sleep. I was always tired and I felt ding-y from getting less oxygen than I'm used to, like running my body on low-octane fuel. We experienced a lot of stress in Tibet, and that can effect you physically, as well as emotionally.
Did any place engage your senses more than the others?
Seeing the nomads' prayer flags on the Chang Tang Plateau affected me in an intensely spiritual way that's hard to put into words. It made me feel like our time on earth is incredibly short, but there is some spiritual aspect of the world that is much, much bigger than our brief human existence.
Did anything strike you about how the native people of each place interact with their geography?
In Tibet, the nomads are completely dependent on the land. The yak is their main workhorse, and it's incredible to see how many ways they've found to put it to use! They sustain it and use its by-products, drink its milk, for many years before finally consuming its meat and using its hide for clothing and shelter.
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