Tag Archives: The Nature of Things

Preview: The Nature of Things opens its new season with “Equus — Story of the Horse”

In 2015, director and anthropologist Niobe Thompson debuted “The Great Human Odyssey” as part of The Nature of Things. It won several awards, all deserved. Now Thompson is back with a new, and expansive, look at the life of an animal that has a close relationship with humans: the horse.

The three-part “Equus — Story of the Horse,” kicking off The Nature of Things’ new season on Sunday at 8 p.m.,  is an ambitious, masterful exploration into the animals through visits to 11 countries, three continents and trips back in time to delve deep into the human-horse relationship.

“No other animal has done more for us,” Thompson says in press materials for the program. “We built the world around us with horsepower. But what is it that makes humans and horses so perfect for each other? And how have we transformed the wild horse we tamed 6,000 years ago into over 400 specialized breeds today?”

Much of Episode 1, “Origins,” does exactly that, with Thompson tracing back to the beginning of this proud, muscular beasts’ entrance to the world. He begins his journey in Saudi Arabia and the Bedouin people, who live on horseback and regard them as members of the family. His two-day experience into the desert is astride the Arab horse, a breed hardy, spirited, quick and able to handle the harsh climate thanks to some unique physical details. The Arab is one of the world’s oldest breeds, but it’s not the oldest.

That recognition is bestowed upon the 45 million-year-old Dawn Horse, a creature that led to modern horses. Tiny, forest roaming, vulnerable to predators, and a fruit eater, fossils of Dawn Horse are brought to stunning (and a humorous) life by evolutionary biologist Martin Fischer and Thompson’s team of 3-D animators. The changing of the planet from a greenhouse world to more temperate place meant the introduction of grasses and shrinking of the places a petite, chubby mammal could hide. So Dawn Horse ran and evolved into the tall, fit animal we recognize today.

With stunning visuals (the slow motion is simply amazing) and Darren Fung’s soundtrack, “Equus — Story of the Horse,” is a gem to behold and will likely garner more awards for Thompson. Future episodes of “Equus — Story of the Horse,” continue with “First Riders,” on Sept. 30 and “Chasing the Wind,” on Oct. 7.

The Nature of Things, “Equus — Story of the Horse,” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of Handful of Films.


Preview: The Nature of Things celebrates the fun and fearsome world of fungi

To me, there is nothing better than a nice pile of sauteed mushrooms nestled up against a grilled steak. But those buttery morsels merely scratch the surface on the beautiful, dangerous and important world of fungi.

The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World, airing as part of The Nature of Things on Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC, is the result of a three-year journey by science documentary director Annamária Tálas that digs deep into fungi, those odd-shaped, sometimes colourful things that are neither plant nor animal and exist much of the time out of sight. Some facts to get you thinking … and possibly freak you out: a fungus in Oregon is 3.4 square miles large and is 2,400 years old. The mushroom you see poking out of the ground is merely the fungi’s fruiting body; the main body is a mass of filaments underground that form the mycelium, a fungal network tied to water, minerals and sugars with trees. Also? Fungi spores are everywhere. Like, on you right now. Yeah.

All of this is revealed in The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World thanks to folks like Professor Lynne Boddy, Dr. Mark Fricker, Dr. Anne A. Madden and Professor Rob Dunn, and stunning still and time-lapse photography from Steve Axford. Through their words and images, we learn how fungi have evolved to survive by consuming and recycling matter to feed itself, defending itself against harm, and that experts have only identified less than one per cent of the estimated five million fungi species.

Fungi have been on Earth for a long time. About a billion years ago, the planet began to be populated by microbes that contained bacteria and, eventually, fungi. Those first critters consumed the minerals contained in rocks and established a foothold on the planet. Later, land-bound fungi and marine algae swapped nutrients to start the process of plant-life evolution and the greening of the planet. And, on the opposite end of the life cycle, fungi consume dead plant life that in turn enriches the soil and encourages new growth.

Meanwhile, the fact we’re mammals seems to be the reason why most fungi haven’t killed us already. The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World is a truly fascinating, and admittedly creepy, peek at an alien lifeform that has been integral to all life on Earth.

The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World airs as part of The Nature of Things on Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of Stephen Axford.


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Preview: The Nature of Things explores the captivating “Science of Magic”

I distinctly remember performing my first-ever magic trick. It involved a plastic tube, a plastic stick and a penny. Remember pennies? Anyway, the trick was to place the penny inside the tube so that it filled the tube crossways. It appeared to be solid, but wait! A quick poke with the plastic stick and—poof!—the penny allowed the stick to go through it. The fact the stick turned the penny on its side didn’t matter. I had tricked my endlessly patient parents. I suspect they knew the truth but were just being polite.

That memory has led to a fascination with magic that has never abated, so I was thrilled to see The Nature of Things would be devoted to magic in Sunday’s newest instalment at 8 p.m. on CBC. Indeed the aptly-titled “The Science of Magic” follows researchers and scientists who are bringing magicians’ tricks into the laboratory.   This extraordinary exploration peeks behind the curtain into a fascinating world where ancient magic meets modern science.

Produced by Reel Time Images, directed by Donna and Daniel Zuckerbrot and with host Julie Eng as our guide, the episode not only delves into the exploration of the human mind through the eyes of magicians but throws a few tricks in for good measure. Eng dropped a card trick in the first two minutes of the broadcast that had me scratching my head. The reason she was able to do it? As Gustav Kuhn of Goldsmiths, University of London explains, Eng and fellow magicians are exploiting limitations in human cognition. Turns out choosing a random playing card from a deck is anything but random; we’re being manipulated. Digging deep into what’s called the magician’s force has given scientists insights into human free will.

As an added bonus, “The Science of Magic” performs several on-air tricks for viewers to try out while watching The Nature of Things as a way of demonstrating how—and how easy it is—to mess with us. Jay Olson, a performer of magic since he was a kid, is completing his PhD in psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal and takes magic to a whole other level; we witness his amazing demonstration involving an MRI machine that seems not only to read minds but manipulate thought. The MRI machine doesn’t do anything—the magnets aren’t in it—but serves to show how easily the human mind is to the power of suggestion.

Meanwhile, Professor Ronald Rensink at the University of British Columbia believes that magicians’ practical knowledge about how to fool the eye and the mind can lead to new research with regard to how small distractions can blind automobile drivers to obvious dangers. Then Kuhn works with Canadian magician Billy Kidd on an experiment into how we can be blind to even our own choices via tricks that fool us despite nothing actually happening.

“The Science of Magic” is an engrossing and, yes, magical episode of The Nature of Things.

The Nature of Things airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of Andy Lee.


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Link: William Whitehead, 86, was a great CBC documentary writer who lived a life of devotion

From Judy Stoffman of The Globe and Mail:

Link: William Whitehead, 86, was a great CBC documentary writer who lived a life of devotion
Viewers might not have caught his name in the closing credits, but William Whitehead – versatile, brainy, witty, loyal, hugely productive – helped create many of the CBC’s most acclaimed documentary programs in a career spanning five decades. Continue reading.


Link: Ice Bridge Is Worth Watching

From James Bawden:

Link: Ice Bridge Is Worth Watching
“I suppose more people will be watching,” laughs veteran director Robin Bicknell whose compelling new documentary Ice Bridge premieres on CBC-TV’s The Nature Of Things Sunday night at 8.

Bicknell spent 25 days over a longer period filming on location veteran archeologists trying to determine whether Ice Age peoples came to North America from Europe via a land bridge. I watched the hour just before controversy enveloped the project via an incendiary story in The National Post. Continue reading.