“I seriously think this is the most important film I’ve worked on in my career,” acclaimed cinematographer Gavin Thurston admits about shooting Netflix’s “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.” After having collaborated with revered documentarian David Attenborough for over 30 years, it is Thurston who is probably better placed than almost anyone else to declare this film the most personal and essential work that Attenborough has ever produced. Watch our exclusive video interview with Thurston above.
“A Life on Our Planet” is narrated by the legendary 93 year-old broadcaster and natural historian, who himself has won three consecutive Emmys for narrating the nature documentaries “Blue Planet II” (2018), “Our Planet” (2019) and “Seven Worlds, One Planet” (2020). It premiered on Netflix late last year to wide acclaim from critics (scoring a staggering 95% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes) and it features stunning cinematography by Thurston, who won an Emmy in 1996 for “The Private Life of Plants” and has garnered three subsequent nominations for “Planet Earth II” (2017), “Blue Planet II” (2018) and “Our Planet” (2019), his last collaboration with Attenborough.
The film is presented by Attenborough as a “witness statement,” through which the conservationist shares his profound concern for humanity’s impact on the planet in a confronting condemnation of our lack of action on climate change. The film fittingly opens on the austere post-nuclear landscape of Pripyat, Ukraine, contemplating how various ecosystems worldwide are headed towards a similar fate to the area around Chernobyl if human activity were to continue unchecked, with rainforests becoming savannas, the melting of the polar icecaps, the death of coral reefs and the impact on food security and likely mass extinction of flora and fauna.
“A Life on Our Planet” is framed as a conversation between Attenborough and the audience as he stares down the barrel of the camera, wearing his heart on his sleeve as he relays what he has seen what he has learned, in his urgent call to action against the ravages of man-made climate change. Interspersed throughout the film is a mix of nostalgic archival footage and then the glorious vistas expertly shot by Thurston and his team that we have come to expect from an Attenborough-narrated project. What is ever more apparent this time around though, and what gives it such power, is that it is a personal and intimate statement from a man who has been so intrinsically associated with the natural world for decades. Indeed, who else has more credibility with audiences than the man who has been narrating the natural world since the early days of television?
“He’s just showing it how it is,” Thurston agrees. “He’s opened this door into the natural world and he’s brought the natural world into our sitting room. So over those decades, we’ve learned to trust him so anything he tells us, quite rightly, we can believe because he’s not going to tell us something that isn’t true. He’s not going to hype something up. I think when he tells us these things, it is fully engaging because we do believe him.”
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