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Filmmaker hopes for another wild response

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-31 10:04

A still from Serengeti II, which has been available for Chinese audiences to watch on Youku. [Photo/China Daily]

The maker of a wildlife series that broke viewing records in China has said the reality of climate change and the pandemic transformed how the follow-up series was made.

John Downer is the director of Serengeti II, which was available for Chinese audiences to watch on Youku on Thursday.

The first series telling the story of life among the animals of East Africa, in 2019, has had more than 100 million views and remains the most popular documentary series the platform has ever hosted.

Whereas series one was set over a year, the second, which began filming in early 2020 before the pandemic hit, has a less regimented time structure. But Downer told China Daily that any plans the producers may have had were soon thrown out anyway by the forces of nature, or more specifically, humankind's impact on the forces of nature.

"Just around the same time that Australia had those devastating bush fires, there were massive floods in Serengeti, some of the biggest ever, caused by climate change," he said.

"Episode 1 of the series leads up to the event, and episode 2 deals with the aftermath, as we observe the extraordinary behavior of the animals as they struggle to cope and adapt."

Downer describes the series, which is in six parts, as being almost like a soap opera, with some animals being like lead actors who come to the forefront in certain episodes, only to then shrink back and not be seen again for a while.

It is narrated by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o, as seen and heard in films including 12 Years a Slave and Black Panther, as well as the Star Wars saga, and Downer said using an actor, rather than a wildlife expert or naturalist, gave the series a distinctive dynamic.

The voice, he said, "can impart a totally different feeling-the narration style should just be support" for what the animals are doing".

"It was important for us people understand how close we are to other animals," he said. "The Serengeti is like nature in perfection-in all those little family dramas in the animal world, we can see our own lives reflected. It's about caring for your young, survival, bettering yourself-the human parallels are so strong. We hope that's the comparison people will make."

Downer added "there's a more interesting, emotional, complex way" of the animals making everyday decisions for the benefit of their families, like humans do.

"Our scripts have about half the number of words of a usual documentary, because they should let the pictures tell the story. I find that so much more interesting," he said.

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