The Earth Wins + Q&A with director Jerry Grayson

Thanks to Helifilms Australia and IMAX Melbourne, I recently attended the Melbourne premiere for The Earth Wins. I’m so glad I did, because this film is unlike anything I have ever seen before.

The Earth Wins is the first Australian-produced IMAX film to be released in a decade. That’s right, a decade! From an aerial perspective documented across four different continents with seven years in the making, this film explores the relationship between man-kind and Mother Earth.

I thoroughly enjoyed viewing of this film. The use of music translates to all ages and is extremely refreshing compared to the typical usual droll of narration that we are used to seeing when it comes to documentaries. The footage is absolutely beautiful and stunning. I envy birds, for they are able to constantly view the world in ways we would normally never see, if not for this film.

At one point of this film during the Black Saturday bushfires footage, I started to cry. I believe that with such amazing footage and great music, this film speaks volumes and reaches places that most other films would not. Sometimes, music is louder and more powerful than words. In the case of The Earth Wins, I believe that music and visuals are used brilliantly to create not only a perfect, educational film to encourage us to understand our planet more, but in turn Jerry Graysonhas created an artistic masterpiece.

I was lucky to get a few questions in to the director of the film, Jerry Grayson who answered a few of my questions below…

Were there any places/countries/continents you wanted to film that you weren’t allowed to (for example, legal reasons, government restrictions etc)?
“No, there are very few places you absolutely can’t go but they vary in difficulty.Sara Hine, our producer, is pretty tenacious and so it’s often just a question of giving it enough time in the planning stage. My favourite meeting was some years ago (for a different project) when she persuaded a group of Malaysian Generals to let us fly between the twin towers of the Petronas building in Kuala Lumpur! One day I’d like to film over Russia, but that may just be because I think I’m going to stumble upon Julie Christie in an open sleigh?”

How did you avoid the helicopter shadow in all your footage?
“Filming from the air is like playing a chess game in 3D. The “Queen” is the helicopter shadow so it becomes part of our sixth sense to always know where it is. Often the cameraman is unaware of it because he’s so focussed on the subject of the shot, but I will frequently say something like “don’t tilt down, the shadow is just out of the bottom of frame” or “we’ve got five seconds more of this shot before the shadow comes in from the left”. In the end of course there is always the editor’s scissors, but we do feel we have failed if we let the shadow come through the shot.”

Do you think The Earth Wins translates well to all ages? If so, how and why?
“We certainly set out to achieve that and we tried it out on some very young children, very early in the process. We found that by the age of ten they are able to enter into quite thoughtful discussion on all of the topics. We have personally watched it with six and seven year olds who usually pick up on a specific subject that captivates them. One little girl watched the township scenes through her fingers over her eyes and then asked “Are there people in the world who really live like that?”. I am told by Mums with four-year-olds that they enjoyed watching it together. The little ones just ignored the words on screen, enjoyed the music, and could recount favourite moments such as “when the Cheetah missed his lunch”. In other words there are some pretty grown-up concepts in the film but you don’t have to get any of them to enjoy the film.”

Describe this film in three words.
“The Earth Wins?!”

Do you have a favourite part in this film that you enjoyed capturing?
“All of it! But without doubt the most privileged sequence to have captured was the Southern Wright whales interacting with a pod of dolphins. I was so chuffed at our Melbourne premiere to hear Sid Chakravarty, the Captain of the “Steve Irwin” (of the wonderful Sea Shepherd organisation) say that he had never witnessed such a thing himself. Sid confirmed that this scene is definitely one of the “black pearls” in the film…”

Was there any music in particular you would have liked to have included in this film that did not make the cut, or which you did not get permission to use?
“The Rolling Stones’ “Undercover of the Night”. I tried a cut, we could perhaps have got permission, but we knew we couldn’t afford it!”

I understand the footage of the giraffes were filmed from a 2km distance away. Please explain how this was done.
“We use an advanced camera system which employs gyros to counter any movement by the helicopter. Once you’ve got a very stable camera you can use very long lenses. These gyros are so advanced that I have to be licensed by the State Department of the USA to use them.”

When watching this footage, I couldn’t help but giggle a bit at the giraffes popping up during the film. Are you particularly fond of giraffes?
“Yes, I admit I did keep bringing them back during the sequence of African wildlife, didn’t I? It was one of those wonderful moments to shoot when we were concentrating on the prehistoric shadows that the adult pair were casting on the ground when suddenly the youngster bounded into shot, quite literally out of nowhere. The family interaction thereafter is a joy to behold and, just like the whales with the dolphins, I had much more golden footage than I could sensibly use.”

Should we fear Mother Earth?
“No more than a child fears it’s own mother. Treat her right and she will nurture you forever. Treat her wrong and the punishment can be swift and scary. Keep treating her wrong and you’d better look out! There are words to describe people who can’t or won’t learn from the experience of being punished.”

This film has taken seven years to create, what’s next for you now that The Earth Wins is complete?
“A weekend off? I’ve been listening to the Earth, she seems to be telling us it’s very nearly spring time down here. My garden is a mess.”

The footage of Melbourne’s Black Saturday bushfires effected me the most as I was in Olinda when it happened whilst I was visiting a friend and was rushed home whilst my friend’s family went into survival mode. Since I don’t live any where near that area, I had no real fire plan like they did, and was quite surprised. I had never seen anything like it before. I saw them filling their bath tub with water, pouring water all over the exterior of their house (including roof) and getting rid of any leaves. It was very frightening for me, and I was wondering if Melbourne’s Black Saturday bushfires have effected you on a personal level, to thus then inspire you to include this footage in the film?
“Very much so. Sara and I were born and brought up in the UK, where you’d be lucky to be able to light a fire if you wanted to. When we built our Victorian home and moved in, just six weeks before Black Saturday, our friends and neighbours taught us how to write a fire plan. But there are few things to focus the mind more than the smell of smoke on the wind, and the knowledge that it’s coming your way. This made the filming of it even more poignant because you relate so directly with every property you’re filming and the knowledge that every property has a story to tell, often of their owners who are no longer around to tell it. I had to cut that sequence late at night so that I could let the tears roll down my cheeks without them being seen.

What outcome are you hoping viewers will take away from seeing The Earth Wins?
“That the imagery will live in their heads and that they will want a good bottle of wine over which to discuss what they’ve seen. Then, when they’re ready, that they will return to share it again with some kids that matter to them. I received the most wonderful email today which summed up exactly the reaction we were hoping for…

Whilst we were expecting to attend a one sided extreme doco attended by post grad, militant vegans we couldn’t have been more wrong. You have produced a film that really moved us both, with the breathtaking images of a world of extreme beauty and awesome power. I have never seen anything remotely like it before.

I think I might take that weekend off after all!”

I highly recommend a viewing of The Earth Wins. It is unlike anything I’ve seen before. With beautiful visuals of our planet accompanied by music by The Who, Coldplay,
New Order, The Temper Trap and many more… As a citizen of this planet, I believe everyone must see this film.

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