Aired Fri Jan 18/Sat 20th on BBC 2. Part of the Natural World series.
'A year in the life of' ...it's not a new concept for a natural history documentary and neither is the spirit of conservation that its narrator seeks to impress upon us. But this particular narrator's considered, softly annunciated descriptions and reflections - simultaneously peaceful yet powerfully engaging - takes wildlife documentary to a new level. Earth Pilgrim sends nature soaring: transcending to a spiritual level.
Satish Kumar aged 71, formerly a Jain monk, is a unique narrator whose words work in harmony with the incredible visual expressions of camaraman Warwick Sloss and producer Andrew Graham-Brown (of Emmy award winning AGB Films). Layered upon such oratory and cinematography are a rich body of references pulled from fields of human brilliance, such as poetry and science. And more .... all this is set against the backdrop of Satish Kumar's life story.
Satish, aged four, after watching his father die and despairing at the concept of death, needed answers. As he walks through Dartmoor's purple blooming heather, he speaks of how Jainism brought him to see death as a continuum of life, just as autumn comes full circle in springtime. He left his monastic life in Rajasthan where he had meditated upon life since the age of nine, to walk empty-handed from Gandhi’s grave in New Delhi to the tomb of John F. Kennedy in Washington DC. Having walked 8,000 miles in peaceful protest against the assassinations of both world leaders, we see him today celebrating nature as he walks through Dartmoor, an earth pilgrim.
Watch the kestrel sequence to see where I'm coming from on the complementary layers of this film. As a hovering kestrel fills the entire frame - tail fanned, splayed wings oscillating - Satish appreciates its very existence. He recalls kestrel numbers dwindling in the early sixties when he arrived in the UK and celebrates that through the spirit of conservation its numbered stabilised. The frame remains filled with glorious kestrel as Satish reads from Ted Hughes'poem The Hawk in the Rain,...'his wings hold all creation in weightless quite.'
The documentary's accompanying music might, at times, feel a step too far - perhaps heading into the realms of religious instruction or mind, body and spirit videos. But this said, via genuine sentiment and visual stimulation the importance of conservation is undoubtedly imparted to us viewers. As humans we must be modest and come to accept that we are just another part of Nature’s whole. Take Satish’s example,lean back against the truck of an oak tree and reconnect with the earth. Satish rounds off the film by reminding us that,'Earth is borrowed from the future of our children'.
Earth Pilgrim - a year on Dartmoor is a memorable and spiritual success.
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Satish is editor of Resurgence Magazine