A Chat with ‘African Cats’ Co-Director Alastair Fothergill

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A Chat with 'African Cats' Co-Director Alastair Fothergill 1

In cooperation with Chip and Company and Sorcerer Radio I was able to have a one-on-one interview with Alastair Fothergill, co-director of Disneynature’s new film African Cats. Alastair is no stranger to wildlife documentaries having produced many award winning programs for television and film such as The Blue Planet (2001) and Planet Earth (2006). He was awarded the “Clean Energy Award” by BMW during the Cinema for Peace award ceremony in 2008. That same year, he signed a multi-picture deal with Disneynature, and now spends six months each year on sabbatical from the BBC developing feature documentaries as an independent producer.

Aljon Go: What was it like filming in Kenya?

Alastair Fothergill: I was a co-director with Keith Scholey and we spent three years filming at the Masai Mara National Reserve. We chose it since we’ve been working there for over 10 years, for television initially. We know these cats really well, like our family almost. We wanted to tell a very dynamic and dramatic story and that’s why we went there. We knew some exciting stories would play out – and they did.

Aljon Go: You were able to assign each cat with a name and their personality shown through out the picture. What was it like carving out story lines for them?

Alastair Fothergill: With the cheetah it was relatively straight forward because at the very beginning of the filming we found a cheetah we knew. She had five tiny cubs. We knew that cheetahs struggle to bring up their cubs. We expected there to be interactions with hyenas and there were a lot of things we didn’t expect to happen. With the lions it was a different decision. There were a lot of different prides in the Masai Mara. “Fang” the old lion with the broken tooth was getting older and we believed if we kept filming something would happen. We also knew about “Carlie” and her son from the other side of the river. We thought that he wouldn’t cross the river, but he did. We thought there would be some type of take over when that happened. We also chose “Layla”, the mother, who was an old lioness from the same pride. She was limping when we found her and she had one easily recognizable cub. We thought there would be  a chance that “Layla” would have some trouble during filming, which played out. So we carefully developed characters to develop a strong story. We wrote a proper movie script, something that Disney wanted, however we reminded them to keep in mind that these animals are not “direct-able” but in the end we got what we wanted which was a pretty emotionally engaging storyline.

Aljon Go: You are no stranger capturing nature and wildlife for television and film. Was type of difficulties did you have during the filming?

Alastair Fothergill: I think the initial decision about which characters to go with was a hard decision. There was a pretty high risk that the cheetah would have lost all of her cubs, which would have been a hard thing for us to deal with because  Disney films have to have a happy ending. Once we had chosen the characters it was then an issue of  – was it going to work out and patience for our camera team. Lions do almost nothing 90 percent of the time and yet moments like when “Carlie” came over with her sons and beat up “Fang” and the pride took half an hour in three years of filming. If we had lost that half an hour we would have lost an important piece of our story. So a lot of patience was the most principal challenge.

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We wrote a proper movie script, something that Disney wanted, however we reminded them to keep in mind that these animals are not “direct-able” but in the end we got what we wanted which was a pretty emotionally engaging storyline. – Alastair Fothergill

Aljon Go: You had a great team working with you in order to build drama in your film, composer Nicholas Cooper as well as the voice talents of Samuel L. Jackson. What was is like working with them?

Alastair Fothergill: We had a massive team working on it. The soundtrack is a very important part of a nature film. We recorded a lot of sound for the film on location. Nicholas Cooper, the composer, started out in wildlife and has done two scores for Harry Potter. We were very delighted to have him. Of course Samuel L. Jackson, were very pleased with him. We knew he was a tough guy, but he did the soft side very beautifully as well. In fact we had to hold him back a bit. The film is more about mothers that nit is about male lions. We were very pleased with his narration and have gotten a great response from his work in the movie.

Aljon Go: What is like working with co-producer Keith Scholey?

Alastair Fothergill: Keith and I are very old friends. We started working 25 years ago in the BBC and we pretty much grew up together. I very much enjoyed working with him. He grew up in East Africa and his knowledge there was an important part of the film. I was more involved in the later stages in the cutting room. I really enjoy working together with him.

Aljon Go: What are you working on currently?

Alastair Fothergill: I’m working simultaneously on the next Disneynature film called Chimpanzees which is slated for next year. Chimpanzzes are our closest relatives. We share 99% of the same genes. You look into the eyes of a chimpanzee and it has more meaning in that look than anything else. We’ve got a great emotionally engaging story there with a different, more claustrophobic location. Cats has more action, however this film is more like a domestic comedy. Disneynature wants to have a film come out every year and I think it’s important that the experiences are very different.

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An epic true story set against the backdrop of one of the wildest places on Earth, “African Cats” captures the real-life love, humor and determination of the majestic kings of the savanna.  Narrated by Oscar®-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson, the story features Mara, an endearing lion cub who strives to grow up with her mother’s strength, spirit and wisdom; Sita, a fearless cheetah and single mother of five mischievous newborns; and Fang, a proud leader of the pride who must defend his family from a rival lion and his sons.  Disneynature brings “The Lion King” to life on the big screen in this True Life Adventure directed by Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill (“Earth”).  An awe-inspiring adventure blending family bonds with the power and cunning of the wild, “African Cats” leaps into theatres on Earth Day, April 22, 2011.

Hear Aljon’s interview with Alastair Fothergill on Sorcerer Radio’s WDW Tiki Room show on Earth Day, Friday April 22 at around 8:00 a.m./eastern time on SRSounds.com! The show will also be available immediately after airing on-demand on the WDW Tiki Room show page on SRSounds.com HERE.

Like Disneynature on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/Disneynature

By becoming a fan of Disneynature on Facebook, participants have the ability to interact with “African Cats” content daily. Furthermore, liking, commenting on and sharing the content with friends spreads the viral reach of the film’s message and philanthropic mission exponentially.

Pledge to see “African Cats” on Eventful:

http://eventful.com/africancats

Fans pledge to see “African Cats” opening week by logging onto http://eventful.com/africancats. Participants can watch how honoring that pledge can effectively save the savanna.  A real-time counter will show how many people have participated, and there will also be a graphical map representing the number of acres across the savanna that are being conserved based upon the number of pledges received. Upon arriving at the theater, fans can check in via their mobile device to win special prizes.

Join the “African Cats” grassroots community and donate to the African Wildlife Foundation on Causes:

http://www.causes.com/africancats

Fans can join the “African Cats” grassroots community on Causes by signing the pledge to help Africa’s lions and other imperiled wildlife survive and thrive for generations to come.  Additionally, users are given the opportunity to enhance Disneynature’s commitment by donating directly to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) via the platform.

Buy tickets through Disney Tickets Together, invite friends and Disneynature will double its donation:

http://www.DisneyTicketsTogether.com

Disney Tickets Together, Facebook’s first social ticketing application, allows fans to engage with the film by inviting friends to see “African Cats” and purchase tickets for local theaters without ever leaving Facebook. For all “African Cats” events created in Tickets Together, Disney will increase the donation to the Save the Savanna fund for every “Yes” RSVP that the events receive. The application launches during the week of April 18.

“African Cats,” which will be released in theaters worldwide, opens in North America on April 22, 2011.  Tickets for groups of 20 or more are available in the United States by calling 1-888-DISNEY6.

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