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The Call of the Forest, Madagascar Planet Earth 2

Mark MacEwen filming in Madagascar for Jungles program of Planet Earth 2.

For much of the last 3 years i have been filming on 'Planet Earth 2', a series recently aired in the UK and is airing in the USA on the 18th February 2017 on BBC America, AMC and Sundance TV.  I was fortunate enough to work on 3 of the 6 programs in a large capacity,  'Islands' , 'Jungles' and 'Cities'.  The series took me all over the world from Komodo island to the jungles of Costa Rica, Madagascar several times and India.

On one of those occasions filming in Madagascar,  I was lucky enough to spend time in the Mitsinjo Association in Andasibe. Home to one of the most amazing animals Ive seen in a very long time, which considering the diversity Madagascar has to offer is no mean feat.

Its here that I met a Lemur called 'David' (named after David Attenborough). David is infact a female Indri Lemur, the Largest of the Lemurs left in Madagascar.

Its one of the most gentle and inquisitive animals I've had the pleasure of filming. Indri are monogamous and live in small family groups, moving with amazing grace and agility through the canopy, feeding mainly on leaves but also seeds, fruits, and flowers.

I was hoping to film them Calling in the forest, this generally happens early in the morning which is always a challenge in Jungle as there is often so little light at that time of day, also Jungle tends to have very thick canopy cover, so if they decide to call at the tops of trees you find yourself scurrying about the jungle floor with a 30kg camera kit on your shoulder hoping to find a small gap in the leaves big enough to film through.

Mark MacEwen

The Call when you hear it is truly amazing, unlike anything I've herd before, the closest sound i can think of is whale song its like a long cry through the trees, the first time i herd it, I was lucky enough to be very close to the group, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, gave me goose bumps and i stood there smiling in disbelief.

Its such a haunting sound to hear when you are walking through a jungle, made all the more significant when you find out that in the past decade, half of the Indri families in Madagascar have disappeared due to deforestation.  

Indri also have the ability to move through the forest as if they are flying, with a single leap they can easily cover 10m, and it was another of the things we wanted to film for Planet Earth 2. To do this I used the Freely MoVI M15, a handheld piece of equipment which allows me to follow an animal and stabilise the camera at the same time. That makes it sound far easier than it is, it gets heavy quickly and to get the shots for the program took lots of time, sweat, a lot of blood shed to various insects but no tears. I had to try and predict the moment the Indri would choose to leap and try to time myself and the camera with it, while not falling over getting stuck on jungle vines and remembering to press record at the same time. Its slightly like an award ballet, the Indris movements are so graceful and mine so cumbersome in comparison, but when timed together hopefully produced some beautiful imagery.

My hope in using the MoVi is to make the viewer feel like they are moving through the environment with the indri as much as possible. It makes filming feel more immersive in a place like this and gives me more creative freedom to use light and the environment. But trying to predict an indri jumping and then watching it leap 50m in around 2 seconds through thick Jungle is a real challenge and very daunting, there were times i did question what i was trying to do as I definitely can't move through jungle like an indri. But when it worked its was thrilling to be part of.

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I can't thank Rainer Dolch and the Team at the Mitsinjo Association in Andasibe enough, and they have done incredible work to re plant and conserve the rainforest and animals, and to be able to spend time with the Amazing Indri there felt like such a privilage , its one of those must sees for me. Look out for it in the opening to the Planet Earth 2 series and especially in the Jungles program. You can see a few of the shots in the trailer below.