Silverback Films made a splash last year with Emmy-winning natural history hit “Our Planet,” which quickly became Netflix’s most watched docuseries soon after launching.
Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the ground-breaking series mixed jaw-dropping scenes of nature with an urgent reminder to viewers that everything they are witnessing on screen is imperiled by human activity.
This month, Silverback returns with feature documentary “David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet.”
Billed as Attenborough’s witness statement to the world, it documents the famed 94-year-old naturalist’s life in film-making, the destructive impact of humans on the natural world – and his vision for change to save the planet.
Backed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the film has a theatrical release around the world from Sept. 28, and will then launch globally on Netflix this autumn, and is accompanied by a book too.
“When David first started travelling in the 1950s, the natural world was pretty much intact,” says Silverback co-founder and director of the film Keith Scholey, a former head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit where he worked with Attenborough on numerous documentaries. “There probably hasn’t been another period when the world has changed so much. And he has been a witness to that.”
Scholey adds: “I don’t think people have heard David talking so bluntly, passionately and emotionally about that journey.”
Founded in 2012 by Scholey and Alastair Fothergill, who also previously ran the BBC’s NHU, Bristol-based Silverback has emerged a major force in high-end natural history production. Its productions include Disneynature cinema films “African Cats,” “Chimpanzee,” and “Monkey Kingdom,” as well as Discovery’s “North America,” the BBC’s “The Hunt” and Netflix’s “Our Planet.”
Coming up next month is a major BBC five-parter, “Perfect Planet,” an exploration of the unique conditions that make life on earth possible.
Since launch, Silverback has grown to around 100 people and has gone on a journey of its own: from being filmmakers wanting to highlight the wonders of the natural world to using film to drive positive environmental change.
In this, Silverback very much mirrors the journey of Attenborough himself, who has become more outspoken about issues such as climate change and pollution in recent years, notably with documentaries such as “Blue Planet II” and “Extinction: The Facts.”
While making landmark docs for TV and streaming services still lies at the heart of what Silverback does as a production company, it’s also creating content for a range of platforms. This includes social media to engage young people and drive eyeballs to series through to making versions of films to be presented directly to decision makers in the worlds of finance and business.
For example, Silverback presented “Our Planet” at Davos, where Attenborough was interviewed by Prince William. That led to an invitation from International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde to present to the IMF.
Meanwhile, a version of the series titled “Our Planet, Our Finance,” aimed directly at the financial world, launches this autumn. Scholey says that to solve environmental problems, it’s important to focus on government leaders and business.
Asked if Silverback’s films have become more campaigning, however, and Scholey politely pushes back. “I would hope not. I think campaigning is the wrong word. I hope that we’re just doing the journalism of our time – to really point out the predicament we are in now.”
Scholey says that what is different is that Silverback is now not frightened of depressing viewers with the content it makes. In other words, natural history programme making is no longer just about the splendor of nature. “I think it is time for honesty – so I hope it is viewed as honest journalism rather than a campaigning view because we’re not actually fitting to an agenda. We’re just following the science.”
That said, “David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet” is not entirely depressing as it does offer up a solution to the planet’s problems: rewilding.
The concept of rewilding – letting nature take care of itself to repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes – has taken off in recent years. As trees and indeed all plants absorb CO2, the thinking is that rewilding can help tackle global warming.
“The solution is really, really clear,” explains Scholey. “Fundamentally, we need to rewild the world.”
Adds Scholey: “You can stop emitting C02, but you have to take it out. And the only thing that can take it out on an industrial-like basis is the natural world. So if you actually reinvigorate the natural world, it will do the job for you. We don’t have to build anything, you just have to leave the natural world alone.”
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