for National Geographic News
To Jon Long, visiting the San people, or bushmen, living in the stark Namibian desert was like stepping into an ancient culture. "These people have maintained much of their way of life for thousands of years," he said. "It was overwhelming."
Long is the Canadian director of the new giant-screen movie Sacred Planet, which opens todayEarth Day. He had never been to Africa before shooting part of his new film. There, he was struck by the importance of sharing among the Bushmen.
"Sharing is so ingrained in their culture that they don't even have a word for 'thank you,'" he said. "It's just a given that you would share what you have with everyone else."
Namibia was just one of several remote locations the team visited. The film also features some awe-inspiring cinematography of old-growth forest in British Columbia, glaciers in Alaska, red rock canyons in Utah and Arizona, rain forests in Borneo, ancient ruins in Thailand, and white sand beaches in New Zealand.
The narrative, meanwhile, is mainly a compilation of interviews with elders from indigenous cultures of these places, who speak about their connection to nature.
"A reccurring thing we found was that most of these indigenous people looked at themselves as being part of nature and not being on Earth to control nature or be above it," Long said in a telephone interview from Nelson, British Columbia. "Their common bond is their respect for the environment."
Long came up with the idea for Sacred Planet during his last giant-screen film, the successful Extreme, which depicted the relationship between athletes and nature.
Together with his future wife, Karen Fernandez Long, he started researching and writing Sacred Planet in 2000. Filming, which began in 2001 and required seven months of work over a ten-month period, took the crew to some of the most pristine locations in the world.
"We tried to look for the most beautiful places we could find but also the most diverse," Long said. "So there's red rock, rain forests, mountains, and oceans."
Long says he wanted to raise public awareness about the environment by focusing on the Earth's splendor.
"Rather than showing the destruction happening around the world, we thought it would be a powerful way to make people think about the environment if we show them some of the beautiful places around the world that still exist," he said.
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