Kakadu

Two wins at 2014 Australian Screen Editors Awards

Two editors working on Northern Pictures productions have won awards at the Australian Screen Editors Awards: Melanie Annan won "Adobe Award for Best Editing in a Documentary Program" for Cronulla Riots: The Day That Shocked The Nation

Caspar Mazzotti won the "TwoDogs.TV Award for Best Editing in a Documentary Series" for Kakadu (Episode 4).

Congratulations to both!

The full list of winners and nominations can be found here.

The Australian: Arts Review

WE are emerging, in sensational fashion, from a period where natural history filmmakers stressed a scientific, dispassionate approach to nature, turning a seldom-interfering analytic eye to their subjects at the expense of storytelling. Once they went to remote places and filmed everything that moved with their cumbersome equipment before returning to their editing suites where they spent years cutting it together. Then they presented the result as a film. Bringing natural history narratives alive to new audiences was hardly the point, even though the imagery was breathtaking and the science accurate.

"No people" natural history, it was called.

Now the audience has shorter attention spans and we want stories told with high excitement. Wildlife TV has to do battle with soaps, reality TV and the new cinematic-style HBO-style drama series. Audiences have become sophisticated in their understanding of plotlines and narrative development and the impetus now in wildlife TV is for stories that feature interesting, often eccentric and driven personalities who interact with animals in some way in exotic places.

It's a monumental change driven by the American factual channels, which have had huge success with long-running shows focused on groups of colourful characters, such as Deadliest Catch. Produced by the seemingly indefatigable Thom Beers, it is the most famous documentary-style reality series filmed and Discovery Channel's highest rating series. The same scarred boats turn up weekly, their ratbag crews like turbulent characters in an episodic seafaring novel. If you have never seen it, the series follows the now legendary captains and crews of six crab-fishing vessels doing one of the most perilous, and lucrative, jobs in the world: fishing for king and opilio crab in frigid Alaskan waters.

Almost as dangerous is the work done by the heavily armed rangers who patrol the flood plains and ancient sculptured escarpments of Kakadu, Australia's largest terrestrial park, danger and beauty often connoting the same thing to their wary eyes.

Filmed across 12 intense months, the ABC's new four-part series Kakadu, from Northern Pictures and Beach House Pictures, takes us behind the scenes as the rangers monitor biodiversity, battle raging bushfires, hunt massive rogue crocs that target fishing boats, and stake out the rogue hunters of the human kind. The latter are knockabout, piratical poachers raiding protected fish stocks and taking thousands of barramundi and crabs from within Kakadu's protective borders.

The rangers' beat is the size of Slovenia, about one-third the size of Tasmania, or nearly half the size of Switzerland. The mountains are as old as the convulsions of the Earth, some of the ranges coiled like prehistoric monsters; the landscape is often alluring beyond reason, voluptuous even, but always deadly.

As our rangers warn constantly, it is not a place to abandon yourself to, no matter how alluring it looks. Danger lurks beside the banks of every watercourse, a reptilian hostility, something gruesome and repulsive. Deadly predators lie beneath the surface of the pretty billabongs and creep through the rugged stone towers.

"You don't expect to find a great white shark in a swimming pool," one of the rangers says drolly of the crocodiles that laze about the water holes tourists visit. As Charmian Clift once wrote, "It is a landscape for saints and mystics and madmen."

The footage from director and cinematographer Nick Robinson is stunning, much of it hand-held in the manner of the manic little US surveillance series COPS. Created by John Langley and Malcolm Barbour more than 20 years ago, it still shows police officers apprehending crooks, barricaded criminals and all those half-naked losers and psychopaths, along with undercover drug raids and busts and all the procedural overkill.

Like COPS, much of Kakadu is filmed with hand-held cameras by embedded observational "fly-on-the-wall" operators travelling with the ranger units. The storytelling is driven largely by the commentary of the rangers, who turn back to chat or comment, and on the actions of those with whom they come into contact. The rangers film and record stake-outs and interceptions that may find their way into court.

They are dryly humorous about their adventures and sense of vocation. They speak tersely with a kind of understatement and knowing detachment streaked with the callous touch of the land and a cynical acceptance of the ironies of fate. Actor Tom E. Lewis fills in the gaps with a sparse narration that ties the various narrative arcs together into an overall story of rebirth, renewal and change. It should sell across the world.

The Real Kakadu

A new documentary delves deep into Australia's spectacular Top End and finds it as stunning an experience as the African savannah, writes Tiffany Fox Kakadu is a land of contrasts. The heat is crippling, spear grass forms dense barriers at every turn and dangerous beasts lurk beneath the surface of water holes and along the rugged tracks.

But alongside the danger and drama of Kakadu is a wild beauty which attracts 170,000 visitors every year to its ancient escarpments and vast flood plains.

Filmmaker Nick Robinson spent 12 months capturing the changing faces of the national park for a new four-part documentary series, Kakadu.

The documentary goes behind the scenes of Australia's biggest terrestrial national park to tell the stories of the traditional owners, rangers and scientists who devote their lives to the region.

Robinson said he aimed to create a cross between a traditional wildlife documentary and an observational series that would engage viewers with the balancing act needed to protect the wilderness region.

"Kakadu is an amazing microcosm of so many issues that Australia as a whole faces, whether it be the indigenous partnership that goes on there, or the maintenance of a wilderness area in the face of human pressures," he said.

"It is also the largest terrestrial national park in Australia and it was important to do something there to show people Kakadu is as good as anything you would see on the BBC.

"Everyone knows the wildebeest and the lion from the blue-chip (BBC-style) documentaries but Kakadu has landscapes that are just as fascinating, has large predators that are just as interesting and a myriad of other species that are far more than you would find on an African savannah."

The first episode, which premieres on Sunday follows the efforts of rangers as they attempt to open up the national park to visitors after months of monsoonal rains.

The biggest problem is a 4m crocodile which has taken up residence somewhere in the maze of billabongs and streams between some of Kakadu's more popular tourist attractions, Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls.

Robinson said while the biggest challenges were the intense heat and difficulty in navigating terrain where swamps could stretch for hundreds of kilometres and were accessible only by air, boat or helicopter, the documentary could not have been possible without the co-operation of the people who lived and worked there.

"If you did not like getting bogged and changing tyres and getting mobbed by insects, you would probably find it horrible but luckily we all love camping," he said with a laugh.

"Once you spend a bit of time around the campfire, people really open up and . . . they ended up making the stories.

"They would tell us about this amazing place that you need a helicopter to get to, that they visited once 10 years ago, and we would get the helicopter and go off to look for lost rock art or rare animals or amazing places."

Robinson said he hoped to tap into the same level of commitment and passion on his next project, a film about the Great Barrier Reef, which he was due to start filming soon.

"Animals don't live on the planet alone, we are there too, and the great thing about (Kakadu) is that it shows you that balance and how it can be done to keep some wilderness areas," he said.

"It is not about highlighting how everything is doom and gloom, it is about putting the spotlight on people who are doing something about it."

The Wild Connection

It's rough, it's tumble, and Kakadu is downright dirty. In this era of dedicated documentary channels, David Attenborough on prime time, and Discovery network reruns played ad nauseam, it’s easy to become immune to the grand-scale awesomeness of a world shot in high definition.

Thanks to lavishly produced series coming from the BBC, among other broadcasters, we might now feel intimately connected with the wilds of Africa, the jungles of Asia or the isolated beauty of a frosty wilderness such as Antarctica, but save for those two-second bites on Qantas in- flight commercials, the epic beauty of Australia’s Top End has remained largely untapped.

Until now.

The ABC’s four-part series Kakadu, shot over a year at the park, is bringing the large-scale beauty of this wilderness to our living rooms. And the results are every bit as awe-inspiring.

“I knew Kakadu – I had been there [and] filmed there a couple of times over seven or eight years,” series director, producer and cinematographer Nick Robinson says. “I knew the landscape fairly well.”

“I knew it could be as big as the Masai Mara if we did it right. It should be that big… We have these incredible landscapes that have never been exploited in that same way. And I wanted to try and do that.”

As well as depicting the natural world in all its splendour, Robinson and his team on the ground – astoundingly, just four of them were shooting in the field – set about telling the stories of the people who work in Kakadu.

“Wildlife doesn’t exist in a bubble – we are obviously a part of it,” Robinson says.

“Kakadu is this amazing microcosm, and an example of how you can live in a place that’s wild, keep it wild and not change it to suit your own needs. We are not used to living in places and not changing them to become something more comfortable and less dangerous. And in the process we destroy those places.

"Kakadu is great mix of people living in a place, and they're not changing it; they're learning from the indigenous people there with their intimate knowledge of the workings of that natural world."

In the first episode of the series we meet ranger Kathy Wilson, a tough-as-nails woman who, along with her team, has been charged with hunting down the last remaining saltwater crocs left in the rivers and billabongs near Jim Jim Falls.

It's one of the park's most-popular tourist destinations - and must remain croc-free. What ensues is a weeks-long mission to round up the last remaining crocs and kill them before they can wreak havoc.

Robinson suspects the scenes of the rangers taking out the majestic four-metre croc, butchering it for its meat for the local indigenous land-owners and hauling it away in the back of a ute may cause some viewers discomfort.

"I think that's going to upset some folks," he explains, before going on to add that crocs are no longer a protected species and that they were traditionally hunted by the locals in the area.

"They eat croc, they hunt croc... so taking out a few crocs that might make their way to those areas, providing food to the locals... it's a win-win situation."

The rangers who work there admit it took a while to adjust to the cameras following them.

"When it first started it was a bit different," says Khan Spokes, the acting senior ranger for the South Alligator district. "But Nick [and his team] made it so easy.

"We had a laugh, so it just became real easy and good fun. I actually really enjoyed it, having the opportunity to showcase some of the things we do behind the scenes."

With the series likely to be sold overseas, still more people will get to see.

"I think the story is bigger than Australia," he says.

"It's people doing extraordinary things in a wilderness."

Kakadu, October 6, ABC1, 7.30pm.

TV Guide, Sunday 6 Oct

Kakadu, ABC1, 7.30pm This is supposed to be the next big thing from the ABC's factual department, but I'm not so sure. The cinematography is superb but there's something about its structure and focus that's a bit off-putting. A great deal of this first episode, for instance, deals with park rangers trying to get rid of crocs so the tourists can get in. Obviously this is an important part of business in Kakadu but it seemed odd to me that a celebration of one of Australia's great natural wonders should spend so much time tsk-ing over the pesky wildlife disturbing the tourist trade. Other aspects are more interesting but then we spend so long with anther group of rangers on the lookout for poachers I start to feel like I am watching Border Security. There is some engaging material here, but I switched on wanting to be amazed and inspired, and that just didn't happen.

The Big Picture

In this era of dedicated documentary channels, David Attenborough on prime time, and Discovery network reruns played ad nauseam, it’s easy to become immune to the grand-scale awesomeness of a world shot in high definition. Thanks to lavishly produced series coming from the BBC, among other broadcasters, we might now feel intimately connected with the wilds of Africa, the jungles of Asia or the isolated beauty of a frosty wilderness such as Antarctica, but save for those two-second bites on Qantas in- flight commercials, the epic beauty of Australia’s Top End has remained largely untapped.

Until now.

The ABC's four-part series Kakadu, shot over a year at the park, is bringing the large-scale beauty of this wilderness to our living rooms. And the results are every bit as awe-inspiring.

"I knew Kakadu – I had been there [and] filmed there a couple of times over seven or eight years," series director, producer and cinematographer Nick Robinson says. "I knew the landscape fairly well."

"I knew it could be as big as the Masai Mara if we did it right. It should be that big... We have these incredible landscapes that have never been exploited in that same way. And I wanted to try and do that."

As well as depicting the natural world in all its splendour, Robinson and his team on the ground – astoundingly, just four of them were shooting in the field – set about telling the stories of the people who work in Kakadu.

"Wildlife doesn’t exist in a bubble – we are obviously a part of it," Robinson says.

"Kakadu is this amazing microcosm, and an example of how you can live in a place that’s wild, keep it wild and not change it to suit your own needs.

"We are not used to living in places and not changing them to become something more comfortable and less dangerous. And in the process we destroy those places.

Kakadu, October 6, ABC1, 7.30pm

Coming sooner: TV's next hits

Anyone who complains there's nothing new on television in the next few weeks clearly isn't paying attention. In a perfect storm of programming, the next fortnight will feature more than 20 new or first-run returning series airing across the free-to-air and subscription channels.

Comedies, dramas, documentaries and more will land, most in the week starting September 26, as the networks embrace the practice of fast-trcking shows from the US as they gear up for the final push to the end of the Australian ratings year.

The rush has been caused by a combination of events: the new US ratings seasons that begins on Monday and the broadcast of the football finals creating the perfect opportunity to promote the shows.

Fast-tracking programs to air just makes sense, says Nine's director of digital and daytime programming Les Sampson.

"[Fast-tracking] is important because the audience is now very aware of the content out there," Sampson said.

"They know there's great stuff coming along, like Hostages with Toni Collette.

"You're seeing it promoted, you're reading about it in magazines, so it's great that we can bring it to Australians as quickly as possible."

As well as the overseas commercial blockbusters, local productions will also be prominent.

Kakadu , a four-part documentary from the ABC, is a beautiful depiction of northern Australia.

Redesign My Brain, also from the ABC, shows advertising luminary Todd Sampson testing various brain-training exercises on himself.

For the ABC, where it's usually a matter of spreading content throughout the year, it's a coincidence two of its big programs are being launched now.

At Seven, the key to the decision to launch The Blacklist and Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the fact the network can promote the action-oriented and male-skewed shows during the football finals.

"With our AFL finals then the grand final, we feel we have a very good promotional platform for launching shows and rebooting our schedule for the final quarter of the year, so we'll be launching out of that," Seven program director Angus Ross said.

And, thankfully, not every show will be fast-tracked from the US. Some will be held over for the more traditional February launch period.

"There are a number of shows we'll hold until the start of the year," Ross said.

"[Fast-tracking] really is something you have to consider show by show.

"With Downton Abbey we didn't fast-track that last season and it still did [an average] 1.5 million viewers."