Martin and Osa Johnson, from http://www.wildfilmhistory.org
Starting this Saturday (August 25th), BBC4 has a wildlife season, marking 100 years of wildlife films. One might protest straight away that wildlife films were made before 1907, but the argument is that Oliver Pike’s In Birdland (1907) was the first true natural history film, as opposed to scientific analysis films, actualities or entertainment films featuring animals. I think F. Martin Duncan‘s work (from 1904 onwards) ought to be acknowledged, even if he mostly filmed in London Zoo, but it’s a bit late now. Ironically or not, In Birdland is believed to be a lost film.
The centrepiece of the season is the programme 100 Years of Wildlife Films, presented by Bill Oddie. Presumably there will be some acknowledgment of the considerable work done in the silent era in this field, by Oliver Pike, Percy Smith, Cherry Kearton, Paul Rainey, Herbert Ponting, C.W.R. Knight, Carl Akeley, Martin and Osa Johnson, and many more.
David Attenborough with a picture of Cherry Kearton, from http://www.open2.net
There is a programme on Cherry Kearton, in the Nation on Film series, showing on 29 August, called Kearton’s Wildlife (though it’s actually a repeat). The Royal Geographical Society still awards a Cherry Kearton medal for achievements in photographing natural history (David Attenborough is a recipient), and his pioneering work (often with brother Richard) in still and motion picture photography of animals deserves to be far better known. The BBC4 site provides a full list of programmes in the series.
All of this activity coincides with plans by the Wildscreen Trust to develop a centralised collection of films and information on 100 years of wildlife filmmaking, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. There’s a website, wildfilmhistory.org, which promises a full launch at the end of 2007. There’s a book in the offing as well. Such is the power of centenaries.