Tuesday, 16 September 2008

AMAZON: The Adventures of Bruce Parry

My favourite Pub Quiz is run every Monday at 9pm at the Jersey Lily pub here in Bristol but last night I was just too ill to go, so I turned to my television.

I watched the very posh Valentine Warner emphasize that he's never been more at home than with the most Welsh sheep farmer I've ever seen, before demonstrating how best to shoot a rabbit for the pot and how to cook the perfect pork chop. What to Eat Now kept me very entertained and left me wondering where the divide is drawn between cookery documentary and natural history programme.

I pondered away through the BBC2 ads and then was awoken from my trance by the opening scenes from "AMAZON with Bruce Parry". I remembered vaguely hearing of such a programme being on the cards and settled further into the settee...

AMAZON is to be a 6 part series following explorer Bruce Parry (best known for hosting Tribe) from the official source of the Amazon at Nevado Mismi in the Andes of Peru to its end at the Atlantic coast of Brazil.

Episode 1 was simply fantastic!
Bruce started out at the source and then trekked the 6hours to the nearest settlement of Quechua llama herders. We then follow him as he learns their way of life from llama shearing to their deep connection to Pacha Mama the "mother earth". His hosts, the family headed by Rodolfo are a generous and selfless people who despite their harsh way of life seem so content. My favourite scene shows their youngest, the boy Icka (above) spontaneously hugging Bruce before performing a little dance around the workers.
So overwhelmingly caring are these people that after only a few days they are visibly shaken to see him go and send him off with tears and prayers for him on his journey.

Bruce then takes on the treacherous upper waters of the Amazon with a group of daredevil white water rafters before heading downstream for a more relaxing break with the Coca farmers who can't afford not to sell their produce to the cocaine refiners. He sees the conflict between those who must make cocaine to survive and those who enforce the law from both sides, and actually takes part in the refining process before jumping in the back of a machine-gun-bearing truck to try to track down others doing the same. He meets villages that fight the cocaine makers and some who embrace them as desperate survivors. Some portray teenagers wondering around with guns protecting their land with their families.

During this episode the director Matt Brandon falls ill demonstrating how isolated the filmmakers actually are as they desperately attempt to get him to hospital. Fortunately he later made a full recovery but I found myself interested to see exactly how alone and in danger the crew are. It’s clear that many a big series such as Life in Cold Blood has filmmakers working in harsh and desolate conditions but more committed are those who must leave a village for fear of bringing war on their hosts.

It’s not often that I find myself completely engaged by a programme and interested enough to stay focussed through story after story. Frequently with programmes such as Pacific Abyss, in-filler shots and scenes seem to be used to make up the episode’s running time, causing the eye to wander or the viewer to amble off to put a brew on; AMAZON is no such programme. Get onto the iPlayer and watch the the first episode because it’ll be gone by next Monday’s pub quiz!

(AMAZON is co-produced by BBC Wales and Discovery Channel, and first aired on BBC2 on the 15th Sept '08; Producers: Steve Robinson and Matt Brandon.)


Paul Williams said...

Howdy Sam. I liked your review. I've cross posted it on my blog - hope you don't mind. We should talk about making my naturewatch page a more open page - rather than just me, we could get people contrubuting to it - and cross posting. See you laters.


Samantha Dixon said...

Thanks Paul, a very good idea =)

Richard said...

Is Amazon a natural history programme? It seems more of a documentary to me. R

Samantha Dixon said...

Good point Richard. I feel it's on the borderline between natural history and documentary.

Like "Tribe" is explores the culture and I suppose behaviours of communities along the river. I think it's the approach towards understanding them which makes this natural history for me: Bruce, like David Attenborough in wildlife programmes, is observing behaviours and empathising with his subjects.

Besides this aspect it does also include wildlife interactions and descriptions of the river ecosystem.

I very much see your point though. It's an interesting one!

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