A Bug's Life: now for the sequel

Louise Jury on how the home of wildlife film is about to become a pounds 20m celebration of the natural world

A single television series, Life on Earth, spawned a generation of naturalists. The hushed tones of David Attenborough detailing the mating habits of a rare African mammal proved an inspiration. "I would be a rich man," says Christopher Parsons, its producer, "if I had pounds 100 for every PhD zoologist who's said that watching those programmes set them off on their career."

Now Parsons is aiming to enthral a whole new generation. The tradition of natural history film-making in Bristol, acknowledged worldwide with the success of Life on Earth, is being incorporated into one of the biggest Lottery-backed projects outside London.

Wildscreen@t-Bristol takes the name of the city's biennial Wildscreen film festival which attracts film-makers from nearly 50 countries and awards the natural history equivalent of the Oscars, called Pandas. But the new Wildscreen initiative - part of a pounds 97m dockside redevelopment due to open in the spring - is radically different from mainstream film- making. It weaves the best of wildlife footage into a venture which is neither zoo, nor museum, nor botanical garden, but takes elements of all of them to create a high-tech exhibition of the natural world.

The centre will combine live tiny creatures and botanic houses, where you can walk through rainforest with free-flying birds and butterflies, with the best of wildlife film, interactive technology and a giant-screen IMAX cinema. "This thing, if it's going to work successfully, has got to be perceived as a wonderfully entertaining attraction in the best visitor attraction sense," Parsons says. "We're competing for people when they might otherwise be going to Legoland or Alton Towers."

The purpose is to change people's perceptions of the natural world. Christopher Parsons says that, given BBC impartiality, it would have been wrong for him to have an environmental "mission statement" when he worked for the corporation - which he did until 1982. But working with wildlife convinced him of the importance of the environmental message.

He now sees sustaining biodiversity as central to his work, which means thinking small. "Over 95 per cent of all organisms are less than the size of a hen's egg," he says. "Experts confidently claim that if we eliminated insects, humankind couldn't live on the planet for more than four months." The problem is that beetles aren't sexy; cuddly, brown-eyed pandas are. Wildscreen aims to overcome this.

At the core of the new project is the extraordinary archive of natural history film which has accumulated in Bristol. The city's connection with natural history began with the BBC's regionalisation programme in the 1950s. Bristol became a centre for natural history, not least because Desmond Hawkins, an outstanding producer of such programmes, lived in the region. Sir Peter Scott, founder of the Slimbridge wildfowl centre in Gloucestershire and an early natural history film-maker, was another key player.

The crucial expansion came when Parsons had the idea for Life on Earth in the late 1970s. David Attenborough, trained zoologist, one-time presenter of a series called Zoo Quest and then director of BBC television programmes, was approached to be its front man.

It proved a stunning success, and Parsons was made the first head of the natural history unit which became a fully fledged BBC department. What was happening in Bristol lured other independent wildlife film-makers, notably Partridge Films, to the city. They are all cooperating with the Wildscreen project. The scheme, which is costing about pounds 20m out of the pounds 97m dockside total, cannot afford to have specialist filming in far-flung parts of the globe. Instead, it begs assistance from film crews on location.

Part of Wildscreen includes creating "windows" on the natural world, where visitors can look in on animals at an African waterhole, or butterflies in Mexico. Parsons says: "When we learned that a BBC crew was going to Mexico, we said, `While you're there, could you film a shot in a very special way for us of Monarch butterflies?'"

Similarly, the specialist knowledge accumulated over 40 years is being incorporated into a series of interactive computer games. One depends on deciphering the signals that mating spiders tap out. Another is based on the frogs' chorus.

For Parsons, the initiative is the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to the natural world. He is most proud of Life on Earth, the series which transformed a generation's view of wildlife. But Wildscreen@t-Bristol comes close - "if it works. And the indications are that it will".

Wildscreen@-Bristol (0117 909 2000); previews from 12 August

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star