The nature documentary filmmaker René Araneda (40 years old, Santiago de Chile) was clear that for the docuseries Our Great Natural Parks, available on Netflix, did not want to fall into the image of the cougar feeding her cubs. That has already been seen; he himself recorded it for the BBC either Animal Planet. For the Patagonia-focused episode, Araneda’s team set out to record the feline socializing. The challenge was enormous, considering that until just a couple of years ago, scientific evidence showed that it was a solitary creature. But the knowledge acquired by the Chilean in the half life that he has been working in the area, and the refuge that the Torres del Paine National Park represents for the predator, allowed him to capture up to eight cougars from different litters interacting and sharing their prey around a lagoon.
When producers James Honeyborne (Blue Planet II) and Sophie Todd (Formula 1: Drive to Survive) summoned Araneda to London to invite him to the project, they explained that they wanted to dedicate one of the five episodes to Patagonia for being an example of reconstruction, for the immense donations of wild areas to the State, and because they were interested in showing the amount of land wild in the far south of the world. “One thinks that there are many human settlements in the area, but no. The variety of Patagonia made it possible to tell new stories, with a different appearance, to an international audience that has wanted to know more about the place for some time,” Araneda comments via Zoom.
“What is seen in the program must be 2% of the material, maximum 5%”, calculates the documentalist. His team recorded for a year and a half in different corners of the 12 million hectares that make up the 17 national parks of Patagonia. Some licenses were given outside the area to teach, for example, the decimated araucaria forests in the Conguillio National Park or the methods of conquering the leopard seals in the islands of Diego Ramírez, “the last piece of land in the south before Antarctica around the world”, to highlight the entire surrounding marine area, also protected.
At the meeting with the producers, where Araneda was offered to be one of the five editorial brains of the docuseries, they also told him that Barack Obama, co-executive producer of the program, would also be the narrator, although he could not share that information with no one. Not even with his recording partners. He was also commissioned to capture how the endangered Andean condor learned to fly. Araneda accepted knowing that recording this learning process was practically impossible. Not only because of the low density of the Chilean symbol bird, but also because they nest on inaccessible cliffs protected by vegetation. It took him 10 months to find one. Although strictly speaking it was not he who found the nest.
To carry out the docuseries, different teams worked for three years -two of them during the pandemic-, carrying out dozens of expeditions in national parks located on five continents. They relied on scientists specialized in each animal or insect they wanted to teach. Also in the neighbors of the explored areas. Araneda had alerted the community of Aysén (2,000 kilometers south of Santiago) to contact him if they saw anything resembling a nest. One day he received a call from a married couple. “We arrived just as the bird, about eight months old, was most active, jumping off ledges,” he recalls. The episode sees the chick’s trial and error, right up to the moment it successfully achieves its first flight.
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Each of the sequences were then sent to an expert on the protagonists of the story and a park ranger from the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) for their observations.
The tour of Patagonia was a personal journey for Araneda. The first time he visited Torres del Paine, for example, he remembers the photographs he took of the Gray Glacier from the beach. “It felt much closer than now,” he laments. The melting due to climate change has accelerated its retreat and now there is even a rock with vegetation in the middle of the piece of ice. Despite the size of the environmental crisis, it is not a core issue in the docuseries. The program offers brushstrokes of the problem, but focuses on the progress of flora and fauna achieved in protected areas.
“Within the spectrum of nature documentaries, there are formats that are a little more alarmist about the problem. The mission of this is that the spectators fall in love with the animals, they are left with a positive feeling, they want to visit the parks or they are motivated to protect them. I would say that it is not a scientific program, but an emotional one, ”explains the Chilean who in 2012 fell in love with a small cougar without a tail, the one who starred in his series Wild Expectation (2016). The feline became famous and since then has appeared in all his documentaries recorded in Torres del Paine. In Our Great Natural Parks for the first time it can be seen, already with an aged face, interacting with other pumas around a lagoon.