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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A nature documentary is a documentary film about animals, plants, or other non-human living creatures, usually concentrating on film taken in their natural habitat. Such programmes are most frequently made for television, particularly for public broadcasting channels, but some are also made for the cinema.



Television documentaries started on BBC television, with the long-running series Look, a studio-based magazine progamme with filmed inserts, hosted by Sir Peter Scott. The first 50-minute weekly documentary series was The World About Us, which began with a colour installment from the French film-maker Haroun Tazieff, called "Volcano". Around 1982, the series changed its title to The Natural World and is still in production today at the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol. in 1961 Anglia Television produced the first of the Survival award-winning series. During the late 1970s and early 1980s several other television companies round the world set up their own specialised natural history departments, including ABC in Melbourne, Australia and TVNZ's unit in Dunedin, New Zealand — both still in existence, the latter having changed its name to NHNZ. ITV's contribution to the genre was Survival, a prolific series of single films. It was eventually axed when the network introduced a controversial new schedule which many commentators have criticised as 'dumbing down'.

For a chronology of wildlife films, shown in cinemas and on television see the Appendix in Bousé (2000)[1]

Wildlife and natural history films have boomed in popularity and have become one of modern society's most important sources of information about the natural world. Yet they have been largely ignored by film and television critics and scholars.


Most programmes or series focus on a particular species, ecosystem or scientific idea (such as evolution). Although most take a scientific and educational approach, some anthropomorphise their subjects or present animals purely for the viewer's pleasure.

Although almost all have a human presenter, the role varies widely, ranging from explanatory voiceovers to extensive interaction or even confrontation with animals.

Well-known nature documentary makers and presenters include Oscar-winning Bernhard Grzimek, David Attenborough, Richard Brock, Jacques Cousteau, Marlin Perkins, Heinz Sielmann, Hugo van Lawick, Jeff Corwin, Mark Strickson, Neil Harraway and Steve Irwin.

The Panda Awards for nature documentaries are given every two years, by the Wildscreen Trust, in Bristol, UK.

Most documentaries are for television and are usually of 45–50 minutes duration, but some are made as full-length cinematic presentations.

Such films include:

In addition, the BBC's The Blue Planet and Planet Earth series have both been adapted for theatrical release.[2]


Staged content

Some nature documentaries, particularly those involving animals, have included footage of staged events that appeared to be "natural" but were contrived by the filmmakers or happened in captivity. The most famous example is Walt Disney's White Wilderness, but there are examples in modern nature documentaries, such as The Blue Planet.[3]

Built for the Kill

See main article: Built for the Kill

A series on animal predation that takes a different, more graphical, approach than to most nature documentaries. This award winning series is one of the most comprehensive ever made about predator/prey relations and is popular with a range of audiences worldwide. Originally made by Granada Wild for the National Geographic Channel, it now exceeds 30 episodes, each 48 mins in length, a total of 1488 mins (24 hours and 48 mins).

David Attenborough

Some documentaries are also presented as television miniseries. The most notable of these are the BBC's 'Life' series, written and presented by Sir David Attenborough, whose contribution to conservation is widely regarded, and whose programmes have been seen by millions of people throughout the world. The series comprises:

Steve Irwin

These documentaries are aired on Discovery Channel, Animal Planet. It is based on wildlife conservation and environmentalism. The series comprises:

Bindi Irwin

The following documentaries are based on wildlife and aired on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Bindi inherited her father Steve Irwin's responsibilities after he died.

Current production

In recent years most traditional style 'blue chip' programming has become prohibitively expensive and are funded by a set of co-producers, usually a broadcaster (such as Animal Planet, National Geographic or NHK, Japan) from one or several countries, a production company and sometimes a distributor which then has the rights to sell the show into more territories than the original broadcaster.

Two recent examples of co-productions that were filmed by the BBC are The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, the latter being the first series of its kind to be made entirely in high-definition format.

Production companies are increasingly exploiting the filmed material, by making DVDs for home viewing or educational purposes, or selling library footage to advertisers, museum exhibitors and other documentary producers.


  1. ^ Derek Bousé, Wildlife Films, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2000
  2. ^ BBC Press Office: Planet Earth set for movie release
  3. ^ CBC News: Fakery in Wildlife Documentaries

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