Mal Wolfe, Director
Mal was responsible for developing the story. He decided what to film, then gathered those shots while on location.
Did you have any preconceived notions or ideas about any of these places?
In fact, I had quite a few, as I did a lot of research on each place back when we were selecting the locations. It's very different to actually seeall the wildlife in Africa, even though I knew it'd be there since I read all about it. Same thing for Tibet: I knew it was a big place with nomads, but reading about a place just never fully prepares you for being there. I didn't expect these places to be as beautiful or as immense as they were; that's something that's hard to relate and is a real challenge to convey on film.
What was the most stirring or surprising experience for you in each place?
Greenland: I was surprised by the immensity and the beauty of the icebergs; the ice cap is almost 10,000-feet thick, and the island is 95 percent or more covered in ice year-round.
Madagascar: The lemurs are surprisingly beautiful. This is one of the most unusual islands in the world: It's very small, but has great diversity in climate and terrain. It ranges from semi-arid and almost desert to nearly rain forest, all just a few hours apart.
Chang Tang Plateau: This was the most challenging place for the crew--at 15,000-feet over it's an effort to change your clothes, let alone work! "Chang Tang" means "Lonely Place"; in Tibetan and it is definitely that; barren but beautiful. The nomads were wonderful to work with. They're a beautiful people, always smiling and very nice. I was surprised by how deeply their religious beliefs go. Nomads will go on religious pilgrimages that take them months. We'd run into them in the middle of nowhere, 400 miles from the nearest outpost, and they'd be walking to a monastery someplace.
Iguazu Falls: It was like looking at 10of Niagara Falls, all rolled into one! There's just an unbelievable amount of water going over it.
Amazon River: This was my least favorite spot. I'd never seen so many insects anywhere in the world...a true test of character! Everything was so green, I found that if I looked at it, it all looked rather similar. You have to look pastthe greenery, throughit, to see the wildlife, and that's a tremendous challenge for a cinematographer.
Namib Desert: I'd filmed in a lot of deserts across the world, but Namibia is unique in that the desert goes right up to the ocean. There are miles and miles of dunes, and then a wall of sand at the water's edge. No other desert has sand dunes that tall.
Okavango Delta: The immensity and prevalence of wildlife is breathtaking. I'd never seen so many elephants or cape buffalo at once--giant herds of them. When people think of "Old Africa"--what it was like back before tourists--that's how the Okavango Delta is today.
What animals did you find to be the most interesting?
That would be the wild dogs and elephants of the Okavango Delta. One night on the scouting trip, we ran into a large group of wild dogs. We killed the engine and the dogs ran up to jeep and bit at the tires. We were able to watch their pecking order and see how the other dogs responded when the alpha dog moved up to the truck. They can be quite vicious when they want to be. We also watched them take down a full-sized impala. And the elephants... It was really special to see those giant elephants with their young, taking sand- or mud-baths. It's absolutely amazing to see them swim. You don't realize how large they really are until they get out of the water!
The macaws in the Amazon were also very interesting. They're beautiful birds, and they were quite challenging to film because they live so high up in the trees. Some days, the crew had to wait four or five hours for the macaws to come into the clay licks; they're not always the most reliable creatures.
Which locations would you recommend people attempt to visit?
I can see why people would want to go to any of these places--even the Amazon could be enjoyable, with the proper insecticide. Every place is very beautiful and well worth going, but do your homework first and pack and prepare accordingly. Going on African safari in the Okavango Delta is probably the most enjoyable, as long as you have a good outfitter.
What image or impression of each place comes immediately to your mind when it is named?
Greenland: Ice desert; beautiful, but treacherous.
Madagascar: Unique, unusual wildlife; species that are only found there.
Chang Tang Plateau: Spiritual nomads.
Iguazu Falls: Treacherous water.
Amazon River: Heat, humidity, insects.
Namib Desert: Quiet beauty.
Okavango Delta: Multitude of wildlife.
What was the scariest moment you experienced?
I never ask my crew to do anything I won't be doing right there with them, but I'm still always concerned for their safety. I worry about everyone's health and well-being on a shoot. The scariest moments were probably when we were filming around animals, because they're always unpredictable, and many can be vicious. For instance, we were quite close to the hippos when we were filming in the Okavango Delta. They're very fast, dangerous animals, and if they'd charged, there wasn't a tree in sight for us to climb! Another dangerous moment was in Greenland when we were filming musk oxen. They're pretty dangerous, too, if they're provoked, but at least they give you some warning by snorting at you a few times first. One huge ox began snorting, and Chuck asked our guide if it was safe to move his camera any closer. The guide responded, "That just depends on your personal courage."
How did these places affect you physically?
Heat affected all of us differently. For instance, Chuck, the film's Director of Photography, loved Greenland but he hated the heat in Namibia. I enjoy the hot temperatures, but the insects and humidity in the Amazon brought me down. You just have to be prepared to roll with whatever you find.
Did any place engage your senses more than the others?
At night in the Okavango Delta you can listen to the lions, or to the hippos munching grass nearby. In Madagascar, you can hear the lemurs at night. And in Greenland and Namibia, it's absolutely silent. On a windless day, sometimes all you can hear is a deep, deafening silence.