While we humans shut down for the majority of 2020 thanks to COVID-19, there was another life form that flourished: the natural world. Apple TV+’s “The Year Earth Changed,” directed by Tom Beard, highlights just how quickly animals adapted during lockdown and how careless human beings can be about our surroundings.
“I think research began in April. People were looking at the stories that were coming in, and discussions started happening between Apple and BBC Studios,” Beard tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch above). “I’m sure lots of people saw different things coming up on social media about nature responding in certain ways. Very quickly we were looking into what’s behind these stories and where’s this going to go to? That all happened within weeks and then very quickly we were filming. … The whole timetable was really compressed.”
The brisk 48-minute film follows several species that thrived without human interference, including sparrows singing, as Beard dubs it, “sexier” songs, whales being able to “talk” for greater distances and longer without having to deal with loud ships, and sea turtles being able to lay eggs in peace without having to worry about humans frolicking on the beach. There were also deer in Japan that had relied on being fed at temples and adapted to the human-less environs by heading into town to graze. They all make for stunning footage — that Beard never witnessed in person because of travel restrictions.
“Normally with a natural history production, there’d be crews traveling around and I would be traveling to different parts of the world. None of that was possible, so we relied on fantastic local crews to do the filming. We were able to pair up stories with a network of camera operators around the world,” he explains. “It did mean I was on a lot of video calls to coordinate all of that from back home. That was challenging working across multiple time zones and trying to direct remotely, but we didn’t take a single international flight for this production. I think that’s possibly a first in this global natural history filmmaking and it shows it’s possible.”
“The Year Earth Changed” is narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the go-to voice for nature docs and the three-time reigning Best Narrator Emmy champ. According to Beard, the 95-year-old quickly came onboard the project.
“He just really loved the idea and saw how important this moment could be. He’s obviously incredibly passionate about the natural world and wants to make sure that messages about protecting it and conserving it for future generations in making the right choices in how we live our lives — he wants to make sure all of that is effectively communicated,” Beard says. “And he could see very quickly how important this moment could be, this kind of accidental global experiment that was going on — not one experiment that anyone designed or would’ve wished. But if this is happening to the world, surely we should take stock of the lessons there and use it to the advantage for future wildlife.”
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