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Sir David Attenborough on technology's impact on documentaries

Sir David Attenborough is a massively respected individual, recognisable too. By lending his face and voice to the cause of documenting and communicating the knowledge of the natural world, he is known by many, regardless if they remember his name or the program.

He has impacted many with the work that he and his team had done, and this August, "Africa - The Future" will see him return to retell an enduring cause, the exploration on environmental issues affecting Africa's wildlife, including poaching, habitat loss, climate change and human population growth.

This special one-off episode will also credit the works of conservationists and scientists across the continent, the projects that are helping to protected threatened species.

While focusing of the Africa of today, "Africa - The Future" is in some ways a spiritual reboot to Sir David Attenborough's other series, "Trials of Life", some 30 years ago.

In an interview with Sir David Attenborough, he described it as 2 documentaries that he hopes is good, but are ultimately for their respective times.

"Trials of Life" was made with technology available at that time, for an audience of that time, and with expectations of that time.

30 years on, the advances in technology and the growing expectation from that advancement has made documenting the same subjects very different.

When I first went to West Africa, the cameraman went to the rainforest; I haven’t been there myself, I [had] written up this glorious description of what we were going to do in order to get my money. We went there and I got all kinds of interesting animals I was going to film, [but] the cameraman said “this is hopeless, I’m afraid it’s too dark, we can’t film in here”.

The credibility of documenting natural history has gotten tougher over the years though, as many have exploited computer graphics to create unbelievable shots. For a genre that aims to present the unbelievable or yet-to-be-seen, such exploitation are a true hurdle for those who are following in Sir David Attenborough's footsteps.

However, technology is always a double-edged sword, and so it is only fair to acknowledge both sides.

But now, we can do anything. You can go up in the sky, you can go out to sea, you can speed things up, you can slow things down, you can film things that the eyes can’t see with heat cameras. There’s nothing you can’t do. But as [a] consequence, the standard that people expect in your films is now [also] very much higher. In the 1950s, you’d take a shot of an elephant and people will be astonished. It’s not like that now; you have to be very good now.

So much like the reboots of your favourite fairy tales, "Africa - The Future" will be for this generation, made possibilities with the technology of today.


Overall, it may be different despite the similar settings and subjects, but there will always be constants, and in this case, they are Sir David Attenborough and the same programme editorial attitude that have fuelled those behind this amazing eye-opening genre known as Natural History.

Follow legendary wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough on David Attenborough’s Africa: The Future in high-definition on 7 August (Thursday) on BBC Knowledge HD (StarHub Ch 407). Be sure to follow OKJ Discoveries on Facebook to be get on-date reminders with the "Premiering Today" service as well as other knowledgeable articles!

Till then, have a good one.

This exclusive inside into the personal views of Sir David Attenborough was only possible by the people over at BBC Knowledge. A big shout out to them and here's to even more knowledgeable experiences to come!