Wildlife Documentaries from the past

April 11, 2014

I was dozing off in a fit of heat-induced somnolence from somewhere out of my dull brain came the thought of my mother…and her love of wildlife documentaries. She was far, far ahead of her times…she had Salim Ali’s bird book with her, though she only watched garden birds..and we often went into the jungles of West Bengal and north India. In a time when wildlife was plentiful, she enjoyed reading about it and going to watch it. I still remember the trips we used to make to places like Betla Game Sanctuary in Bihar, where we saw magnificient tigers…

I thought of two documentaries that my mothe raved about.

One was

The Living Desert, by Walt Disney (69 minutes), made in 1953.

Here’s the description of the amazing way in which this amazing, path-breaking movie came about:

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1953, Walt Disney’s The Living Desert marked a departure from earlier Disney “wildlife” productions in that it was a full-length film. All previous subjects in the studio’s True-Life Adventures series had been shorts.

Disney was inspired to make the film after viewing footage taken by a UCLA doctoral student of a thrilling battle between a wasp and a tarantula. The producer agreed to fund the project which was filmed in the southwest U.S. The film, which focused on the diversity of often unseen animal life was both a critical and commercial success, a rarity for the era.

In addition to receiving an Oscar for The Living Desert, Disney collected three other Academy Awards in 1953, at the time a record for one individual. The Living Desert was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2000 for its’ “cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.”

Here’s a snip from the documentary, choreographed delightfully to a square dance (with an observer, too!)

Another film was “The Flute and The Arrow”, which I never saw. But the name, etched into my subconscious like many childhood memories are, suddenly re-surfaced.

I googled for “The Flute and The Arrow”, and I realized that it is actually a Swedish wildlife documentary, 88 minutes long, made in 1957:

called, “ En djungelsaga” in Swedish

and I tried to see if I could watch it online.

Here is a video about following up on the main character, a Bastar tribal, long after the documentary was made:

this, in itself, is well worth watching! But alas, I am not able to get either The Living Desert or The Flute and The Arrow online…could someone help?

We tend to think only of Discovery or NatGeo when talking about wildlife documentaries, but there must have been a solid body of work in the past, before these became household names. I’m glad I was able to dig out two out of my erratic memory!

How difficult it must have been, to make these films in times where far less technology was available

There was also the Disney documentary, “The Vanishing Prairie”…can others come up with more such wildlife films from the past?