This man has interrupted the lovemaking of crabs at Waterloo. He's shaken the beds of sleepy swamp snakes, and braved the faecal stench of a bubbling Beetham sludge lagoon to show us the beauty of Black-necked stilts. His name is Robert Clarke, and he's the adventurous narrator/guide persona of Bush Diary 2.
Bush Diary 2 is the recently released sequel wildlife DVD to the popular and award-winning 2012 Bush Diary 1 DVD. While the first collection featured four episodes (Caroni Swamp, Mangroves, Avian Wonders and Forest Fires), Bush Diary 2 spotlights three themes: Leatherback Turtles, Nariva Swamp and Wildlife Rescue. Atlantic Energy generously sponsored DVD manufacturing costs for Bush Diary 2.
Each episode portrays a different, unique story about our local wildlife and the special places where they live. Cameraman Rajnauth Lal and the team capture some beautiful visuals throughout the DVDs, whether it's clouds drifting over a full moon in Matura, a panoramic swamp shot, or a dramatic closeup of a jewel-like dragonfly.
Both Bush Diary collections are well-produced local nature documentaries, split into 30-minute episodes, made by the resourceful team of Idiom TV, which is a small local film production company led by editor-producer-writer Paolo Kernahan.
The episodes are precisely the kind of fun, intelligent local shows that we see far too little of on local TV: unique indigenous cultural products that educate, inform, and also, at their best moments, delight you with unexpected encounters.
But the peculiar nature of competitive advertising, and local TV stations expecting to be paid to show quality programmes (as if all shows were ads), has lately turned Idiom TV away from that route. "It is not practical for any producer to produce television shows, and then pay a TV station to air it, because that is not sustainable," commented Kernahan.
Even if a show is educational, and in the public interest, and will attract and build future audiences, "that has absolutely no bearing" when it comes to local TV screening policies, said the Idiom team. No matter what the type or quality of the show, whether it's an election broadcast or a nature show, all local content producers must pay for local TV screen time, unlike in some other countries with more enlightened public television policies which have mandates beyond the purely mercantile.
Travelling around Trinidad
Despite a modest budget, the Idiom team in Bush Diary succeeds admirably in telling important local environmental stories while also being entertaining. They've also learned how to transform their equipment limitations into virtues, by force of necessity; so that, for instance, they've evolved a "stealth mode" of shooting birds to compensate for not having a super long lens.
We get a chance to see, hear and learn not only about our own tropical animals, but also vicariously explore beautiful nooks and crannies of Trinidad where we may never have been. And the environmental education happens almost by accident, thanks to Kernahan's skilful, unobtrusive scriptwriting and research.
Unlike the famous Australian TV wildlife personality Steve Irwin, Robert Clarke the Trini narrator does not deliberately set out to antagonise animals for human entertainment. Rather, it's more a case of waiting patiently in the bush for the chance to capture just that special moment when the animals are going about doing their natural animal business. So just one minute of film can easily represent many, many hours of patient effort – not only waiting for the elusive animals, but also battling wind, rain, mosquitoes, equipment failures and attacks from hardened bush cockroaches!
Tattooed and with a clear speaking voice, Clarke makes a competent narrator for the wildlife escapades. The Guardian interviewed Clarke and Kernahan on June 6 in the T&T Guardian's Chaguanas office to hear more about Bush Diary 2, and how the whole series came to be.
How it began
The Bush Diary series began as a seed in Kernahan's mind from the days when he was a reporter working on rice farming stories in Nariva, and saw Red Howler monkeys, and other wildlife, for the first time.
"That was mind-blowing for me, because I didn't know that we had all of this here," confessed Kernahan.
"Ever since then, I'd always wanted to do an action-oriented nature programme, because people need to know much more about wildlife and the environment. For instance, the silky anteater or 'poor-me one' (in Bush Diary 1) was a revelation, not only to many viewers, but also to us, when we went out into the Caroni Swamp. So Bush Diary came from this interest in educating the public, and myself along the way, about all the tremendous wildlife and biodiversity here."
Kernahan thought Clarke would make a good, adventurous show host, and alongside fellow media workers Narrisa Mandol and Rajnauth Lal, the core Idiom team formed in 2009, and production took off.
"As we went along, we realised more and more that the show was also about conservation," said Bush Diary host Clarke, adding:
"In my own background, I was always that way inclined. I couldn't bear to see animals hurt. I don't like to see habitat destroyed. As we filmed, we realised how fragile these ecosystems are. And how much they need to be protected."
Filming the show dramatically raised the Idiom crew's awareness of diverse threats. A big one is encroaching human habitation, which is wiping out wild spaces, they realised. We humans are the biggest threats to our own very special, unique, biodiverse natural heritage–but it doesn't have to be that way.
"If we don't pay attention to what we are doing, we could very well lose it. As David Attenborough said, people cannot be expected to cherish something that they know nothing about. So that is a very important mission of Bush Diary," said Clarke.
"We didn't want to hammer people over the head with the conservationist ethic. Instead, we wanted to show people: look, this is yours, this belongs to you. So you need to play a greater role to ensure this remains with us for future generations."
The team found inspiring examples of how just one individual, or a few people, have made a great difference to the survival of different wildlife in their areas. The Turtle Village Trust at Matura, for instance, emerged from the vision of just a few people who saw that turtles were worth far more alive than dead. (Atlantic Energy sponsors the Turtle Village Trust.) Meanwhile at Grand Riviere, a whole destructive village culture of butchering nesting turtles and eating them at beachside smokeouts became transformed and reversed years ago, once villagers became educated and saw the longer-lasting ecotourism benefits of preserving their unique local wildlife. Local fisherman Len Peters in Grand Riviere has now become an expert on turtles, with "encyclopaedic knowledge," said Clarke: "His knowledge of turtles is as good as, or perhaps better than, any scientist."
"We want people to value these animals as economic assets. That means you need to know the wildlife you are talking about. It is absolutely unacceptable that if we bring tourists here and they ask us about an animal, we cannot answer. So Bush Diary is trying to make experts of each and every one of us. It's more than a case of being proud of what's here; that knowledge will also help us sell this country as an ecotourism destination," said Clarke, adding:
"We should never give up fighting for wildlife, because we have, in our own lifetimes, some fantastic examples of people who have raised their voices against others, to ensure that these animals have a future."
Bush Diary DVD 2 Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kjc9mBfJgpU
To order DVDs, email: email@example.com. The team will personally deliver it. Also on sale at Paper Based Bookshop at Hotel Normandie in St Ann's; Rainy Days at Ellerslie Plaza, Maraval; and Signature Stationary in Valpark Plaza.
Sidebars (if space allows):
Who is Paolo Kernahan?
Paolo Kernahan is a writer and video producer for both the traditional and digital media. He produces content that tells T&T stories. His works include the video series Bush Diary with Robert Clarke, The Road Less Travelled, Battle of the Belly, Dinner in A Snap, and A Very Trini Christmas. Kernahan has been a talk show host at CNC3, Head of News at Gayelle and a television producer at TV6 and TTT. He currently writes a weekly column for the Guardian.
Who is Robert Clarke?
Robert Clarke is a freelance journalist and writer who also works in television production. He is the author of Sidney Knox, A Biography and has ghost-written several biographies for Trinidadians who made their names in various endeavours. Clarke, who has his Master's of Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, worked as a broadcast journalist at Gayelle and was Guardian's reporter of the year in 2003.