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Tree-cutter in South Africa
3.08.02
Science and Health:
Making Earth on Edge
More on This Story:
Q & A and Photo Essay

Water problems range worldwide. In 1999, filmmakers joined with an international group of more than 70 scientists to analyze the condition of the five ecosystems on which all life most heavily depends — freshwater, agriculture, forests, grasslands, and coastal ecosystems. To study freshwater, a crew including Leslie Clark and Candace White, traveled to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. There they documented the efforts of the Working for Water project to restore a native ecosystem's water supply by taking on, and taking down, non-native trees and vegetation.

We talked with filmmaker Leslie Clark about making EARTH ON EDGE and the challenges of documenting the changing environment. Field Producer Candace White narrates our Photo Essay about the South Africa project documented on EARTH ON EDGE.

Leslie Clark
Leslie Clark

Photo Essay

How did you get involved with the EARTH ON EDGE project?

They were looking for someone who had international experience and I got hired. Coming from a politics, public policy and history background — it's great to have something to go out and actually film. Working on the EARTH ON EDGE project got me interested in water issues and I then began to investigate the Ogallala Aquifer and change of prairielands to agricultural lands in the American Midwest.

What were the special challenges you faced in South Africa?

The biggest challenge was language. There are 22 languages spoken in South Africa. We did have an interpreter who spoke 18, but our biggest asset was our driver. He had never worked with a film crew but he was very garrulous and gave us a lot of information that you can't get with outside research.

Filming the aerial scenes and the men cutting trees on the mountainside was like choreographing a dance and it took a whole day. We had to film the workers getting on the helicopter — then unload them and fly the crew to the mountain so they could then film the workers flying in and getting off the helicopter. At the end of the day we filmed the workers loading back into the copter and flying back down to the valley and then they had to head back up and get the crew. Most of us were watching from the valley floor. We could barely see them.

What are the hazards of filming in the wild?

Candace White scouted and arranged the aerial footage — I'm not sure that she'll ever get in a helicopter again, even though it looks like fun from the viewer's perspective. Up on the mountain, the Working for Water tree cutters had to carry the camera for Mark, our cameraman. There was no way he could make it down the hill with the equipment. It was only after he got down that he realized the workers had all been rigged up with ropes — and he hadn't.

Transcript Find out more about The Working for Water Project.
Read the Earth on Edge transcript.

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