Pachyderm Love

How many filmmakers come from a background as a game warden in an African national park as well as being a passionate advocate for wildlife protection? Simon Trevor is a unique case. After moving from England to Africa with his family in 1946, he got the filmmaking bug at 15 when he received his first 8mm film camera. After leaving his position as game warden at the Tsavo National Park in 1959, he focused solely on filmmaking that raised awareness of the plight facing Africa’s wildlife, especially elephants. He worked as cinematographer for the popular BBC series On Safari (1957-1965) featuring Armand and Michaela Denis, pioneers in the field of wildlife television documentation, and later assisted Sydney Pollack and Michael Apted as a second unit cameraman on their films Out of Africa (1985) and Gorillas in the Mist (1988). Trevor’s own work is not as well known but deserves to be and a good place to start is his 1971 debut documentary The African Elephant, which was retitled King Elephant in some markets. 

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Beneath the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean

The French film poster for THE SILENT WORLD (1956), Jacques Cousteau’s first feature length documentary.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau was undoubtedly one of the greatest explorers of the 20th century but what he discovered was a world most people had never seen before and it was hiding in plain sight under the ocean. His scientific innovations to deep sea diving and his never-before-seen underwater cinematography introduced most people to marine life, behavior and landscapes that were just as strange, beautiful and mysterious as life on another planet. Although he had made numerous short documentaries on the sea throughout the forties starting with Par Dix-huit Metres de Fond in 1943, it was feature length non-fiction film debut, The Silent Sea (Le Monde du Silence, 1956), co-directed with Louis Malle, that first attracted international attention and inspired school kids to want to become explorers, photographers and oceanographers. Seen today, the film is still a fascinating introduction to Cousteau’s world but, like some nature documentaries, it presents images of unearthly beauty mixed with cruelty and violence that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mondo Cane-like exploitation expose. It also presents a more pristine world under the sea before oil spills, global warming and overfishing helped reduce marine life as well as eradicating entire species of fish. 

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High on Adrenalin

Married news reporters Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard are probably not familiar to most people but over a 15-year period from the early 1980s to the late 1990s they covered news events from their helicopter above Los Angeles. You’ve probably seen some of their televised stories since they were among the first to capture the L.A. riots of April 1992 and the violent beating of truck driver Reginald Denny as well as the O.J. Simpson freeway pursuit in June 1994. Earlier the reporting team had gained notoriety for crashing the Madonna-Sean Penn wedding of August 1985, with the bride giving them the finger. Bob and Marika have since divorced (in 2003) but their intertwined professional career and marriage is chronicled by director Matt Yoka in Whirlybird (2020), a riveting documentary that touches on enough topics from freedom of the press to gender reassignment surgery to fuel the narratives of a dozen feature films.

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