Darwin’s Brave New World

From Times Colonist:

Documentary film: Darwin rediscovered
Victoria-based father-and-son production team tackle evolution

Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist
Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008

After sailing to victory with its award-winning television series Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery, Victoria-based Ferns Productions is focusing on another legendary historical figure — evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.

The father-and-son team — Pat Ferns and Andrew Ferns — are in pre-production with Sydney, Australia-based Becker Group Ltd., with substantial support from Screen Australia, on Darwin’s Brave New World.

Inspired by a thesis by Australian historian Iain McCalmon, the three-hour docudrama series will focus on controversies surrounding publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

“Darwin’s legacy goes on. It’s the most important idea in modern science and has changed the world,” says Pat Ferns, noting that as with the Cook series, it will be distinguished by material that offers a fresh take.

The series, made with support from the Canadian Television Fund, will be telecast by ABC in Australia and CBC in Canada late next year, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

As with the Cook series, the Darwin project will be filmed around the world, with an international cast and an emphasis on locales in Australia, New Zealand and the Galapagos Islands to offer a “unique Southern Hemisphere perspective.”

It will explore the contributions of Darwin’s disciples Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace, and the bitter battle for publication of the work Darwin originally intended to publish only after his death, Ferns says.

When the veteran Canadian production executive took the Darwin project idea to Screen Australia’s Mark Hamlyn, he discovered his former co-production partner on the Cook series had started discussions on a project with McCalmon.

“We decided to merge our interests,” says Ferns, who got David Suzuki, Richard Dawkins and others on board to lend their scientific expertise.

Darwin’s Brave New World, written by Katherine Thomson, is being co-directed by Australia’s Lisa Matthews and Jason Bourque, the Canadian filmmaker who got his start making shorts and music videos here.

“Jason is more heavily known as a drama director, but his documentary work is wonderful. He has a terrific eye,” Ferns says.

Bourque came highly recommended by Andrew Ferns, who had worked with him on films for Vancouver’s Insight Productions. Although Pat Ferns says he was impressed by his award-winning documentaries such as Dreams of Flight and Shadow Company, the film about international military contracting he made with Nick Bicanic, it was Eterne Sangui, Bourque’s poetic 1999 dance short that sold him.

Reached in Australia, Bourque describes the film as “a dream job … probably my biggest adventure in the industry. I’m proud to be part of it.”

Just being Down Under has been an experience, adds the former Victoria video store clerk.
“I’m amazed by all the beer-drinking. Pub life is alive and well in Sydney,” he jokes, still reeling from another unforgettable experience — seeing a rugby game with a crowd of 75,000.

Darwin’s Brave New World is an ambitious departure for Bourque, who recently directed the thriller Fatal Kiss starring Blanchard Ryan and Sonja Bennet. He is also in post-production on a feature he shot in India.

“Considering last year I was directing The 2 Coreys, it’s a good example of the curveballs you can be thrown in the film industry.”

Shooting starts next month in Vancouver and Victoria. Meanwhile, the company’s first feature, a supernatural thriller The Dark Ones, is in development, with filming slated for next spring in and around Victoria.


© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

1 thought on “Darwin’s Brave New World

  1. Pingback: Darwin’s Brave New World « The Dispersal of Darwin

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