I am Will Smith’s Simulacrum on Welcome to Earth
It’s a bucket list of daring-dos, descending into the depths of lava-spewing volcanoes, seas where at unimaginable depths life looks alien-like, and in Africa the Wilder beasts epic stampede is a true phenomenon.
Will Smith’s “Welcome to Earth” from National Geographic directed by Darren Aronofsky is superb, stunning and just breathtaking stuff. Nature’s in-built adrenalin rush if you’re prepared to go search.
But as I watched it I gradually begun to realise, “Wait ! I’ve done quite a few of those myself”.
The difference? They were part of work — reporting assignment going into these spaces. I grew up partly in foster homes (getting used to the unknown at a young age), trained as scientist graduating in Chemistry and Maths before becoming a journalist, and then a PhD in storytelling cognition and psychology that led to cinema journalism.
A cinema journalist is a video journalist who uses cinema’s rich langue to create narratives. And by cinema it doesn’t mean fiction. Think of it as a reboot of what the doyens of 1960s journalism called Cinema Verite. Cinema Journalists are factual filmmakers just like as Darren Aronofsky in “Welcome to Earth”.
Often too, nature has a habit of serving up spectacles and events that are epic or cinematic. Standing in front of Niagara Falls, scaling Everest, and on occasion a spectacle in or around our cities that is so captivating we ascribe as like cinema e.g. wild fires.
Smith’s programme is escapism, with translations of the science. A wish you were here, seeing life that relatively few people will get to experience in their entirety. Each segment, from oceanic exploration to life in the desert involves degrees of academic research, and that provided a thought reflecting on some of the conflict spots I’ve been in.
An expedition to Gallipoli with Turkish and British Navy divers was to find a famous WWI wreck, HMS Majestic. The crew included a descendant of the commander of the WWI campaign and a historian whose grandparent had perished in the war. It’s was his opportunity to settle decades of hostility. The feature went out on the BBC World Service ( here), but the story I didn’t tell came after an aborted dive.
On the next one, I got ripped by a thermocline, slammed against unexploded bombs, had to dive to escape my limits of 02 and then run out of air. That’s the adrenalin story.
Earlier this year, a BBC 2 Doc “ENSLAVED” featuring Samuel L Jackson, Afua Hirsch and Simcha Jacobovici showed how wreck diving can be used to reconfigure Africa’s slave trade. Diving off the coast of Ghana, divers were able to find new ships and 3D map the environment.
In Ghana, reporting on US special forces putting soldiers through their paces, this was the stuff Mission Impossible — high altitude low parachute deployment — you know, how near to the ground can you get before you pull your shoot? Not for the faint hearted.
This shot I took was on a War Games mission.
In Norway, now firmly on the ground, I was crawling in the rough. Each year Nato stages its mega war between its members and invite a select group of journalists to cover the war. It’s an opportunity to train young journalists into becoming competent foreign correspondents. For the military, it shows how journalists, like cinema journalists have evolved.
One thought-provoking assignments meant travelling to near the Syrian border on the day the US were deciding whether they should bomb Assad. The amazing story here was working with young Syrians, many former university students, who had become documentary makers. It was really something spending time with them, but also exchanging ideas.
Out of this world nature and learning what people do can be can be as epic as “Welcome to Earth”. It’s easy to fantasise for this worldly experiences, or otherwise they’re similar (simulacrum) with links that can be matched to every day lives.
Thirty years ago, the idea that journalism could change to to reflect a wider canvas of thought was in the offing. Cable and a pre-Internet provided other choices. Back then my colleagues and I presented a show on the BBC, which paradoxically has been redigitised by FIAT/ IFTA and archive producer Jose Velazquez. FIAT’s a global body of archivists to provide context to some of the things being experienced today. In South Africa I was an associate producer for ABC News and Danny Glover.
I found this newspaper cutting of this and who is this on the side? Will Smith — in his Fresh Prince of Bel-air days. That was thirty years ago.
So here’s to the sciences too and cinema programmes that leave us breathless and to a greater link to those that give us immediate feedback to shape the future.
If anyone’s planning a simulacrum of “Welcome to Earth” II and you’re after an experienced field journo, I’m here. I’m no Smith Gallaxy box office draw, but I think I’m way cheaper.