Monday, September 9, 2019

The Nature Of Things Continues To Fascinate

So here I am at Ryerson University for the retirement of eminent teacher and filmmaker David Tucker who in his day contributed several outstanding films for CBC's The Nature Of Things.
And gathered around Tucker are other NOT alumnae who are in complete agreement with me that this is one CBC series which has lost none of its lustre.
Just to prove my point I'm telling them I've just previewed another NOT gem which runs on CBC Friday Oct. 25 at 9 p.m. --First Animals, the title alone is intriguing.
This magnificent example of a pioneering NOT documentary was written and co-produced by veteran Andrew Gregg whose work I have been reviewing since his days on CBC's The Journal.
What really excites me about First Animals is that it introduces a possible new CBC star in evolutionary biologist Dr. Maydianne Andrade who teaches at Scarborough College.
The show is introduced as ever by the legendary geneticist Dr. David Suzuki who once posed nude for a cover of Starweek TV guide and at 83 seems as evergreen and vital as ever.
But this one depends on Dr. Andrade's agility as she sprints up a rock formation in B.C., the Burgess  Shale deposit that has been revealing clues to earth's past since the first Smithsonian expedition there in 1909.
We watch the way shale deposits are cracked open to reveal the very first animals who populated this sea 500 million years Ago.
Trapped in the sediment these creatures were perfectly preserved and they are indeed very odd --looking more like willowy plants than actual animals.
Through Dr. Maydiane Andrade's questions to the soft spoken Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron we become involved in this mystery hunt for the very first animals and with one crack a new species is discovered.
I liked Dr. Caron's line "They are staring at us after 500 million years."
It looks huge compared to the other finds --a sort of space ship with a gigantic shell and eyes at the bottom as it plowed the ocean floor for nutrients but also able to peer above for possible predators.
"Filming conditions were arduous," Gregg reports on the phone. "We weren't sure what if anything could be discovered during our shoot but instead we came away with a major finds."
Gregg's approach is to get to know these biologists and become fascinated by their laborious searching.
"We literally hit pay dirt," Gregg reports."It could be a major find as we track the evolution of  first animals."
This one is so well edited and presented it will have you wanting more.
"Well, there is a longer version, 10 more minutes of info," Gregg says.
But the CBC version is masterfully put together. we get to know just enough about Andrade and the senior researcher on the mountain cliff, softly spoken and humorous Jean-Bernard Caron.
Host Andrade is a natural for TV. She knows how to ask the right questions and Gregg admits "Getting those shots is a matter of luck, too, and we were really lucky this time."
There's a side visit to another site in Newfoundland and its even older --some 565 million years ago this was the sea bed. Some of these specimens lack eyes and a gut but they are not plants.
We're then transported to the back research rooms of ROM never penetrated by the public. We see  artists tracing out how this "Spaceship" creature must have navigated through the water.
Through the magic of animation the creatures live again, we see how they could speed through water, how they must have dominated their watery environment."
"It's quite a journey, I agree," laughed Gregg.
The hour also introduces us to a potential new star for future NOT episodes. Dr. Andrade knows how to ask questions and how to involve viewers in her search.
And the best thing about? First Animals?
There isn't a boring second-- it's so expertly and tight edited it will have you wishing for more.
MY RATING: ****.

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