Hairy spiders, giant millipedes, pale, phlegmatic larvae can be the stuff of nightmares. Yet it may come as a surprise to learn that we are not born with fear and aversion toward these critters. We learn those feelings from others. What’s more, among cultures worldwide, we are a minority for not including bugs in our diet. These facts, and more tasty tidbits, are revealed in this playful piece on insects. A swarm of locusts? No, just a side order, please.
John Bedford is a 75-year-old man obsessed with the butterflies. Traveling around the globe — from the jungles of Vietnam to Mayan ruins in Guatemala — to watch and collect the beautiful insects, Bedford’s passion for the extraordinary takes the form of visual poetry in this short documentary. Collecting since childhood, Bedford brings his cherished specimens home to Toronto and carefully preserves them, hoping to make them last forever.
The males are the flashy ones. They puff up their chests, shifting and shaking their feathered bodies in hopes of enthralling the dowdier females. Wings flare in a colorful display, and Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes are there, ready to capture it all. The camera shutter clicks, and the duo marks another bird of paradise off their list.
The birds of paradise are a family of 39 species of exotic and highly individual birds that live in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea. Lack of large predators, relative remoteness and the lush environment there led to a Darwinian experiment that created these ornate birds and their wackily endearing courtship displays. As Laman says, “We might think of this as survival of the sexiest.”
Laman, a wildlife photojournalist with a Ph.D. from Harvard, pitched the idea of documenting these amazing creatures to National Geographic and when he got the green light, he sought a partner to help him. Scholes, a Cornell University ornithologist, was already working on field research on birds of paradise, and so the team was built. Together, they dedicated eight years to hacking through dense jungles, sinking into muck and climbing into forest canopies to document these creatures, some of which had never been seen by outsiders before they began their work. The dedication is stunning, as evidenced by the numbers: Those eight years of work encompassed 18 expeditions for a total of 544 days at 51 field sites to capture 39,568 photographs, which led the pair to becoming the first people to document all 39 species.
In Person: Tim LamanEdwin Scholes