‘Nature’s movie stars in waiting’

2011-08-08 00:00

“NATURE, red in tooth and claw”, the phrase penned by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is brought to vivid life in Disneynature’s African Cats, which opened in South Africa last Friday.

Narrated by American actor Samuel L Jackson (Pulp Fiction, A Time to Kill, Stars Wars, Iron Man), the film captures the real lives of lions and cheetahs living in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, on the border of Tanzania.

Filmed over two years, African Cats is made by Disneynature, the first new film label from the Disney studios in over 60 years. It harks back to the company’s early days when Walt Disney produced 13 Oscar-winning true-life adventure motion pictures, including Seal Island, Beaver Valley, The Living Desert and Jungle Cat, between 1949 and 1960.

Asked why the company has decided to return to making animal documentary features, African Cats co-director Keith Scholey said simply, “It was the right thing to do.”

Born and raised in East Africa, Scholey’s prolific nature documentary CV includes the popular BBC Knowledge series Big Cat Diary as well as the BBC’s Life of Birds, The Life of Mammals, Blue Planet, Wild Africa and The Private Life of Plants.

He believes the time he spent making Big Cat Diary, which is also set in the Mara, helped him build up a knowledge base about the cats and what they did.

“The Mara is a great place to make a film. Because there are so many tourists, the cats are used to vehicles and so they ignore them. That means you can do a real fly-on-the-wall film,” Scholey said.

Covering about 930 square kilometres, the Mara is one of the few remaining places in Africa where lions, cheetahs and leopards live in large numbers and in close proximity to each other.

In the heart of this wilderness lives the River Pride, a dominant group of lions that roam the hills south of the Mara River. A second group of male lions — a powerful father and his four sons — rule the area north of the river and are threatening to move into the River Pride’s territory.

Tucked between the clans of lions are a mother cheetah and her babies. All are characters in the film.

Scholey said, “A great movie needs great characters and African cats are vivid and memorable characters who lead incredibly dramatic lives.

“They really are nature’s movie stars in waiting.

“We wanted to follow the most dramatic stories … and choosing which animals to feature was probably the very hardest decision we had to make, because once we decided on a particular animal, we’d have to stick with him or her all the way through filming.

“Selecting a cheetah, for example, involved choosing a cheetah who was mature enough and feisty enough to have a good chance of raising her cubs to adulthood.

“And for the lions, we looked for a pride that was on the edge in some way, a pride where a story would emerge.

Scholey spent much of the shoot following Sita, a cheetah he describes as hugely courageous, adding, “She did crazy things like attacking lions to protect her cubs. We really lived through her ups and downs.

Capturing this kind of behaviour on film isn’t easy, however.

“You have to be able to predict what’s going to happen in half an hour’s time,” Scholey said. • African Cats is showing at Cinema Nouveau Gateway in Umhlanga.







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