‘Our Great National Parks’ EP James Honeyborne on Barack Obama being ‘natural fit’ to narrate [Exclusive Video Interview]

Netflix played matchmaker between James Honeyborne and the Obamas. The filmmaker’s Freeborne Media, which specializes in natural storytelling, and the Obama’s Higher Ground production company both have deals at the streaming giant, which introduced the two parties. What eventually came out of that was “Our Great National Parks,” a five-part Netflix documentary series hosted by former President Barack Obama.

“It quickly became apparent that we shared common interests, so it felt like a real natural fit to get together and talk about this,” Honeyborne tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “The president is actually recognized as the president in all of U.S. history who’s saved more wilderness than anyone else, so he’s got a real authenticity to tell the story. It’s really the story of the importance of wilderness, wild places all over our planet. They’re not empty places — they’re incredibly important to us, and in a world that is facing so many environmental challenges, it’s a great new story to share. The wilderness is actually really important and that by protecting over 4,000 national parks worldwide, we are actually saving not only an amazing number of species but also giving ourselves a better chance. We all need these wilderness areas if we’re gonna survive ourselves.”

Spanning five continents, the series spotlights a handful of national parks across the globe and the creatures that inhabit them, both big and small. Narrowing down the parks from more than 4,000 wasn’t as difficult as it might sound as they chose locations that had a personal meaning to the president. The series opens with him in Hawaii, his birthplace, and visits parks in Indonesia, where he spent part of his childhood, and Kenya, the birthplace of his father. “There was, really, for every episode [an objective] to find a place that felt personal to him and I think that also helped with the authenticity,” Honeyborne says.

SEE Barack Obama could win an Emmy for ‘Our Great National Parks’ and be halfway to an EGOT

Working with Obama was also a piece of cake. Honeyborne, who produced “Blue Planet II,” didn’t film on location with him but did recording sessions with the POTUS. “[It was] initially quite daunting but he puts you at ease so quickly. He had also done his prep work,” the executive producer shares. “We were just so thrilled to see he had the passion to tell the story and had thought about his lines and how to deliver them. He was quite a one-take wonder.”

Honeyborne did oversee the filming of the animals in the series. The number of times Obama narrates that a creature or a behavior was “never before filmed” is too great to count. Among the new creatures the series captured is a hammerhead worm in Indonesia that does not have eyes and whose mouth is in the middle of its stomach.

“That’s seriously gross, that animal. It’s gross,” Honeyborne quips. “We wanted to film a hammerhead worm and I believe we’ve discovered a new species in doing so. It’s not scientifically recorded, this worm. They are a very primitive creature. They don’t even eyes. But they sort of squirm along on the forest floor and they’re looking for the trails left by snugs and snails, and when they find them, they follow the trail and track down the slug or snail and then devour it. They surround it with their bodies, squeeze tight and actually ingest it through a mouth in the middle of their stomach, so it’s in the middle of their body. So they sort of engulf it and digest it and leave very little behind. It’s kind of a grim little story but very entertaining because of the creatures and the way they go about — it’s extraordinary. Everywhere you look in a rainforest, there’s still new species to discover.”

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