Friday, September 21, 2018
These are dark days for Canadian TV as viewership shrinks and other platforms compete for viewers.
And then along comes a miniseries as brilliant as Equus and just maybe I'm thinking there is a future for Canadian TV providing the highest standards are observed.
Equus will run three consecutive weeks on The Nature Of Things starting Sunday September 23 at 8 p.m. on CBC-TV. Got that?
This is a mighty impressive undertaking three years in the making and with a cast of thousands ----horses that is plus the requisite humans.
It certainly is a labor of love for Edmonton filmmaker Niobe Thompson who says at more than $1 million an episode it is one of the most expensive documentary projects in CBC's history.
Cambridge educated but with a penchant for explaining complex subjects Thompson tells me on the phone from his Edmonton base that he wanted to tell the complete story of man's best friend.
"I knew the broad outlines --some 6,000 years ago horses were domesticated and changed the course of human history. It resulted in a huge change in human civilization and this was quite rapid. "
So we get to visit Kazakhstan where domestication first occurred on the steppes of Asia. It's here Thompson gets to milk a horse and he says the milk tastes delicious.
But how to document all this?
"Getting the right images to fit our story was the real challenge. We're in Siberia where horses still thrive in the coldest climate of earth.
"We also go to Saudi Arabia and one of the hottest climates and we show how the Arabian horses can exist and thrive in such a hot climate."
In Siberia Thompson worked as part of a crew of three --the images he gets with the indigenous peoples are marvelous--I just think these people delighted in showing how horses continue to enrich their existence. We worked there with two cameramen and no sound man and I think we got some pretty remarkable stuff."
Thompson showcases the work of German anthropologist Martin Fisher who takes us on an animated tour of how horses evolved from tiny creatures able to climb trees to the noble animals of today.
Says Thompson "Fisher was able to show how these tiny forest dwellers evolved as the gigantic forests dwindled and gave way to savannah where the modern horses could truly thrive.
Besides director-producer Thompson the other ace cinematographers are Daron Donahue, Aaron Munson,and Darren Fung's soundtrack is another plus.
The images are sweeping, the editing is very tight but after watching all three hours in one go I was left wishing for more.
For me the recreation of ancient warfare was one highlight --the Egyptian sketches show mighty kings who could race chariots and mow down competitors with bow and arrow --Thompson shows how that was possible up to a certain point. Chariots are even built to the ancient specifications.
There's the obligatory visit to Kentucky and the world of thoroughbred racing.
One outstanding sequence shows how modern First Nations riders celebrate their culture that includes horse races.
I learned horses do have a wide range of facial expressions, sport 360 degree vision but for me there's a sadness at the end. Few young people in cities get to interact with horses and celebrate the uniqueness of this animal.
Thompson says financing this huge project was an undertaking in itself. There'll be a different version delivered to PBS, another cut for BBC.
I'd like to see the three hours presented in a box set for sale.
Another first: Nature Of Things host David Suzuki does not narrate this miniseries.
At a time when Canadian TV seems to be cutting back the three-hour Equus shows us how spectacular Canadian TV can still be with the right material.
EQUUS PREMIERES ON THE NATURE OF THINGS SUNDAY SEP EMBER 23 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.