Kate Siney, Producer/Director
The shoot started off with one of the longest journeys I have ever been on. 23 hours of flying, not including the connection times between the 3 flights that we took; and that was just to the city of Manaus on the edge of the rainforest. From there we still had to travel into the depths of the Amazon to reach our first location, a sustainable development reserve within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, the UNESCO site we were filming.
Another flight and a 14-hour boat trip later we finally arrived, just in time for our first shoot day. There was no time to acclimatize to the Amazonian way of life or prepare ourselves for the potential dangers lurking within the world’s biggest rainforest. Within hours we were on a small speedboat, stuck in thick jungle, attempting to free ourselves from the spider infested undergrowth, as we followed Tito the fisherman – in a much smaller boat – searching for his perfect fishing spot. As someone who prefers creature comforts to actual creatures, I tried to forget about the stories I had previously read about the Brazilian wandering spider that can kill you before you even know you’ve been bitten. I also tried to downplay Tito’s stories about a fisherman who had been attacked by a jaguar in that exact same spot just weeks earlier. Despite our language barrier, I understood loud and clear what he was trying to tell me: the need to be vigilant in the Amazon rainforest is a vital survival tool; advice that seemingly went out the window when we all decided it would be a good idea to go swimming in the river. Blissfully unaware of the ‘caiman so thick you can walk on them’ and the ‘so big it can swallow a human’ anaconda, we enjoyed a refreshing dip in the world’s most dangerous river. Luckily I escaped with a minor ear infection.
If anything reflected the adventurous nature of the shoot it was our living arrangements. If we weren’t spending our nights swinging in a hammock on the top deck of a boat, we were swinging in a hammock tied to two trees in the middle of the jungle…not my idea of a restful night! Especially not when I somehow fell out of my hammock and woke up on the jungle floor! At least it didn’t rain…that was something the rainforest had very kindly saved for the next day, when we had to spend all day measuring CO2 levels in the canopy at the top of a 52 meter flux tower that can only be described as a giant climbing frame…probably not the best place to be during a mammoth thunderstorm.
The Amazon shoot was not without it’s challenges but overall it was the best and most memorable shoot of my career. I fell in love with Brazil, the people, the food, the dancing, the music, the colors, the caipirinhas and despite myself, even the wildlife, that I realized wasn’t so scary after all.
Rob Taylor, Director of Photography
As a cameraman, filming in the¬ Amazon rainforest presents some unique challenges. On any shoot it’s my job to come back with the best possible pictures. However in the Amazon it feels like you have to do this while running backwards over an assault course with someone pouring water and bugs down your back – which is actually a fairly accurate description of a day in the Amazon.
The Amazon and delicate electronic equipment don’t really go together so the first job for the cameraman is keep the camera and other equipment working. Without that the rest of the shoot isn’t going to happen at all. So a large amount of energy and time on the shoot is spent simply keeping the kit working.
We were filming through huge rainstorms on a daily basis. Even when it wasn’t raining the air is so humid that the kit doesn’t dry out naturally – once something is wet it’s going to stay wet. For this reason we were actually putting the kit away still damp every night. To counter this we filled the flight cases with silica gel sachets. In the morning the kit was dry and sometimes the gel sachets had actually turned into bags of water – quite amazing.
My favorite scene was filming with a local man named Tito. We followed his daily life - from feeding his cows; which were kept in a floating pen for four months a year to fishing to feed his family. He took us deep into the labyrinthine flooded jungle to his favorite fishing spot where he fished using a nut from a tree which he ‘plopped’ on the surface of the water imitating the nut falling from the tree. Before long he had two fish for his evening meal. Tito was such a personable happy guy and gave us an incredible insight into surviving in a unique environment.
It’s very important when in remote parts of the Amazon basin to look after yourself. This is, after all, the most bio-diverse place in the World – and that means lots of little nasty things are out to get you. After one week in the rainforest the crew injury and illness list was running at – infected mosquito bites, an infected open wound, an ear infection and a strange mystery bite that was spreading a rash painfully up my leg. On our return to the town of Tefe we all visited the doctors to have our ailments checked out before we head back away from medical support for a second week. It turned out that none of us had anything that antibiotics couldn’t sort out but we were glad of the check up as you never know quite what you’ve been sharing your bed with in this part of the world!
The last big scene of the shoot was with a scientist who takes CO2 readings to measure photosynthesis in the forest canopy. He works on a tower in the middle of thick jungle. The tower was 52 meters high and the ladders where incredibly tight and difficult to move around on with the camera gear. It rained almost all day and we slept out in the forest in hammocks. After a long hard shoot we were sleep deprived, mentally tired and physically exhausted however the view from 25 meters above the forest canopy was incredible and I’ll never forget it.
Our three weeks living on the rivers of the Amazon basin were an amazing experience. It was also the hardest, featured the least sleep. On returning home it took two weeks to sleep properly through the night. And yet I’d love to go back!