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Aldabra: Wildlife adventure in 3-D on an Indian Ocean atoll

 
photo:  (radio.cz)
 

You’ve probably never heard of Aldabra, an atoll in the Indian Ocean some 1,000 kilometres away from the Seychelles’ Mahé. Reportedly, the last filmmaker to shoot there was Jacques Cousteau in the 1950s. Until now. Czech-American filmmaker Steve Lichtag is bringing a unique documentary about the island in 3-D to Czech screens. For its animal inhabitants, every day on Aldabra is an adventure and sometimes a battle for survival.

 

What’s it like to visit for the first time? That’s a question I put to the director when we spoke this week.

“It’s a little difficult to describe, it is a very special place. The flora and fauna are amazing and everything there is ‘different’. The incoming tides, the rocky, hard volcanic surface, not just under water but on land: it is hard it is not exactly the kind of place would call a piece of paradise. There are animals everywhere you look.”

How would you describe it?

“There are more than one hundred thousand tortoises, there are flightless birds that are major predators and there are enormous coconut crabs which climb up into the palm trees. It is just very bizarre. They are not afraid of humans but accept that we are just part of the community.”

“It’s a little difficult to describe, it is a very special place. The flora and fauna are amazing and everything there is ‘different’.”

How did you hear about this island? Had you heard about it on different projects?

“I was approached by the producer Peter Keller about five years ago and my initial response was to refuse. I didn’t want to make a movie about an island where I had never been. But gradually I gathered information and the more I got into it, the more intrigued I became. So I really wanted to see what the actual island looked like.”

It is a strict nature reserve: did you have to work with many limitations in place?

“Aldabra was my biggest adventure so far. It is a very protected site so the question was how we would make such a big film. When I first saw the contract there was an endless list of things which were forbidden. It was forbidden to feed the animals of course, forbidden to touch anything, forbidden to stay overnight (initially). And I thought it would be impossible. But the producer told me not to worry, that scientists stationed on the atoll would help us and indeed without whom the film would not be possible. Eventually, the crew was allowed to stay overnight – it would not have been possible to return with the equipment every night to our boat, anchored a kilometre away. The scientists helped make the film possible.”

You mentioned some of the different species: there are some who we follow, who become characters in the film. Who do you think the audience will root for – either on land or in the water?

“When I first saw the contract there was an endless list of things which were prohibited and it didn’t seem like we would be able to shoot this kind of film.”

“I will leave that the audience – I don’t know who they will like the most in the end. I tried to structure the film around different stories and certainly there are ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. The bad guys, within the narrative for the family audience or younger viewers, are the sharks and the moray eel and some of the birds, and the good guys are sea turtles or the funny mud crabs fighting for everything. The little guys. Certainly, I am looking forward to audiences seeing the film soon.”

When shooting this kind of documentary to what degree can you plan for the ‘right’ shot or for drama to unfold in front of the camera?

“It can be tricky and what made things much more complicated was shooting in 3-D. This is a complicated process and there is no easy way around it. So I planned the structure, I knew I wanted to film the different inhabitants, I prepared for moments as best as I could. But it was definitely an adventurous undertaking. When we were in the US to talk with Disney, they, like others, wondered how we managed to shoot the film as we did. So, yeah. I knew what I wanted and you have to be prepared for your when your ‘actors’ so something special. But of course this kind of film finally really comes together in the editing room.”

“On one level, for the family audience, there are ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. The good guys are definitely sea turtles or the funny mud crabs fighting for everything. The little guys.”

What do you think viewers will most take away?

“I hope they are able to escape for an hour and a half the stress of daily life and see something they will rarely have the chance to see firsthand. Also, this atoll is protected but we also know the state of the environment today and in many places it is in bad shape. So this is still a beautiful part of the world which exists and I hope continues to survive for future generations.”

 
 
Author: Český rozhlas Radio Praha
 
Added: 06.11.2015
 
 
 

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