Eagles of Mull
Interview: Filmmaker Gordon Buchanan

NATURE caught up with filmmaker Gordon Buchanan in April 2009 to discuss Eagles of Mull.

Q: When NATURE last spoke with you, we learned how your time working in a restaurant on Mull led to your first opportunity in wildlife filmmaking. Did your experience growing up on Mull shape your career in other ways?

A: I had the freedom to explore the wild parts of the island and surrounding water all through my childhood, so that definitely gave me a thirst for adventure, exploration and wildlife. There wasn’t much for kids to do back then so you had to make the most of your surroundings, and I think I did that. So no surprise that I ended up doing what I do. My career really just an extension of my childhood.

How did you make the decision to return to your childhood home for this project? How did the idea for this project originate?

I always knew I’d return to Mull to make a film. We had been living in London for six years and were looking for a good excuse to leave, so when our daughter Lola was born that was it. It was such a natural story, so we didn’t have much trouble getting it commissioned.

How was Mull different from your memories of it? Were there any surprises?

In many ways Mull hadn’t changed at all. I suppose the sense of community has lessened over the years as more people come and go from the island. As a boy, the main street of Tobermory was full of characters. They’ve all gone now and no one seems to have filled their shoes. The biggest surprise was that having traveled over the world filming wild animals and places, Mull is right at the top of the list. It has magic to it, simple as that.

You had previously filmed big cats for NATURE’s Leopards of Yala. What new challenges were presented by the wildlife on Mull?

The weather was the biggest challenge on Mull that year. We got fairly lucky with what we saw but there were days and weeks spent sheltering from rain. The big difficulty was trying to divide time between family and filming — both need 100 percent attention.

You had a “low-tech” technique for filming the seals and basking sharks. Is there anything you can tell us about that?

We had a limited budget so we had to just make do with what we could afford for underwater images. Basically it was a glorified plastic bag with a handycam inside. If I were to do it again, I think I’d try to find the money to shoot the underwater properly!

Did you encounter any problems securing a license to film near the eagle nests?

It took a while for my license to come through — I’d already moved back to the island, and the film relied on being able to film at the nest. It had been over ten years since a license to film had been issued so I was very nervous for a while. I think being ‘a local’ helped.

Could you tell us more about those “dreaded Scottish midges”?

Only that they are the most infuriating, persistent, maddeningly ferocious insect I have ever encountered on the face of this planet.

Any interesting or unexpected moments that didn’t get caught on film?

I was desperate to film sea eagles predating on entire families of geese and ducks. I kept getting reports from people who had seen it — I just didn’t get lucky.

Where are you off to next?

I’ve had a really busy few years and have just got back from a six-week expedition in Papua New Guinea so going to spend a good amount of time at home with my wife, Wendy, and my two kids, Lola and Harris. Hope to head to the Himalayas at the end of the year and row to the North Pole next summer!

Photo © Iain Erskine c/o Carolyn Naylor

  • JANIE POECH

    nice film when the filmmaker was not filming himself!!!

  • Jean

    What a wonderful re-visit to a beautiful and special island. The bird and animal life was wonderful…what we didn’t see was how special the people are. It’s a special place.

  • patrick

    Awesome view of a special place I never heard of but woudl love to visit someday. Seeing it thru Mr Buchanan’s eyes, lens and POV was wonderful.

  • Norma Lane

    A wonderful film, especially with the personal touch of Gordon Buchanan, a local. He is an interesting character and an essential part of the film. I’d gladly watch it again.

  • Sandy

    Is Gordon related to Calum Buchanan from the Alf White books?

  • Teri

    It was a beautifully photographed film, extremely entertaining. Mr. Gordon Buchanan made it especially interesting, you could feel his special love and attachment to the place. It’ll be one of my favorites.

  • Chris in Virginia

    One of the best hours watching TV I’ve ever spent. Brilliant, beautiful, warm. I was totally swept away to Mull. And I enjoyed Mr. Buchanan’s personal story and POV tremendously. Thanks for sharing a glimpse of your home with us Gordon! Come to Virginia someday! I’d love to see your view of it on Nature.

  • Neil A.MacLeod

    It was really a beautiful job he did filming and it was a treat to see a part of Scotland that I have not seen. I wonder if Gordon would find filming around Sky of interest one day.

  • Malcolm Usrey

    Thoroughly enjoyed the film and the pictures of the photographer himself. The enthusiasm he projected was a great addition.

  • John Casper

    I’ve just finished watching, “Eagles of Mull” and found it an amazing and interesting film. I’ve visited Scotland twice and found it a hauntinly beautiful place. I experienced that same sense of awe watching this film. It has made me want to go back! Of course the purpose of the film, to document the wild life on Mull, their plight, the struggle to survive and the efforts of those who are trying to preserve them, is admirable. In my opinion, the Eagles of Mull is a beautiful ode to a very special place, indeed.

  • Renee Allan Badertscher

    Being a nature photographer AND having Scottish heritage made this a double treat for me. The personal narration was a plus, and I found his excitement at what he was filming mirrored mine in watching. Thank you! Mull is on my “go visit” list.

  • Wendy Johnson

    Very interesting program. We visited Mull many years ago and loved it. Thanks for the beautiful photography.

  • kathleen mcinnes

    i was truly taken by the film. what an enchanting part of the world.
    gordons film really puts the viewer right there. i feel as if i have just returned from a journey to mull. thank you.

  • Heidi Petty

    THIS WAS TRUTH.

  • terry kuhar

    The program was so visually beautiful that I want to by a dvd of it. I’ve loved authentic celtic music for years and the combination of music with the visual was wonderful. Thank you again for superior TV shows.

  • Jo Werner

    I was part of an Earthwatch team studying the eagles of Mull. What a wonderful treat to see Mull again, the eagles, the basking sharks, and the magnificent rugged landscape of Mull. My heart is still there, and I hope to go back. Thank you for a beautiful film!

  • Ann Gardner

    Magical, wonderful, captivating film of a place with the same qualities! Mull has drawn me for decades — I’ll get there someday — and now the pull is even stronger. I’m mostly Scottish and that contributes. Thank you so much for this heartfelt, beautiful film!

  • michael bird

    Thank you for a fantastic film Gordon. It was a treat to see Mull and the wildlife through the eyes of one of her children still exploring it’s unending beauty.

  • Sue Michaels

    I was on Mull in 2008 and definitely experienced the midges! But it was worth it. A huge thank you to Gordon for allowing me an exceptional and spectacular ‘re-visit’ to those wild and rugged hills. Gordon’s filming and his unique personalized approach is so very much the Scotland experience…real close-up, personal and down to earth. No glitz. Thank so much. Powerful! Learning about the wildlife on Mull made my memories of that truly magical isle, including Tobermory, all the more meaningful. If YOU haven’t been to Mull…make it a priority!

  • John Hill

    I am a native of Patagonia, and Mull could have been filmed there. You have to go there, Gordon, and meet all the equivalent and very similar fauna and the almost identical views in Argentine and southern Chilean Patagonia. In the 40s latitudes of Chilean Patagonia you’ll find a temperate rain forest to knock your socks off. You have to go! AND, no midges or mosquitos!
    Best,
    John Hill

  • Gary

    What a ruggedly beautiful part of the world to see. What would it be like to live year round on this island with the long winter nights and harsh weather conditions? People who are born in places like this usually want to escape the isolation and lack of modern facilities and mininmal job opportunities. If anyone needs to ” get away from it all” this may be a spledid alternative choice for a few weeks or a month. Enjoy the scenery and wildlife and revel in the quiet and solitude.

  • Nancy

    I was transfixed. Having visited Mull, I was transported back, and now long to go again. Beautiful film, and Mr. Buchanan made it very special by his personal comments, having grown up there. I think this is a film I’d definitely like to own. I was sorry to see it end!

  • briantravelman

    Oh man! It was pretty good actualy! I usually don’t like the episodes with people, but this was one of the better ones! I like Scotland, and I liked the wildlife and habitat, especially all the sea creatures! I gave it a 4 out of 5! I have a question about the Basking Sharks! Are their mouths like stuck open or something?

  • Douglas MacMillan

    Thank you Gordon for sharing your home with us. Best wishes to you and your family. Was the opening filmed in a tavern in Tobermory? I think I recognize the hearth.

    Thanks to Nature for presenting this great show. It was spectacular in HD!

  • Elizabeth Adams Moreskine

    I have to “ditto” all the good comments by others. What more can one say for such an outstanding glimpse into the Eagle’s nest, all the water animals, all the land creatures along the way. A veritable feast. It was great fun watching Mr. Buchanan’s facial features which seemed to me to be spontaneous and natural. Without his presence it is less of a documentary. I probably have to wait for my next
    life to visit Scotland but knowing I have Scottish blood is a consolation.

  • briantravelman

    Dude! What do you mean next life? Just go man!

  • andrea rutherford

    So beautiful, so loved this, it was for me, a gorgeous insight & I dream to go to Mull someday. Scottish heart… Thank you, Gordon.

  • Lisa Boyd

    Your film was not only beautiful, artistically speaking, it was breathtakingly informative. Not only your photography which was prompted by your love of country and nature, but whoever did the music, enconium to them.
    Thank you.
    God’s creation, captured in a superb, artistic way.
    Keep your family safe and consider it a treasure.
    Lisa Boyd.

  • Sharon West, VA USA

    My sister and I were wondering where to go in Scotland on our next visit, and after seeing this film on PBS’ Nature program recently, we are are now planning to visit Mull next summer! We love Scotland and this looks like it will be one of our best visits ever. Gordon Buchanan did a wonderful job on the film. His joy and enthusiasm made the experience all the more enjoyable. Cracker!

  • Mary Millikin

    One of the best nature films I’ve ever seen.

  • Irene Wright

    Thank you for the wonderful program Eagles of Mull.It was captivating.I am a Glaswegian born and raised there.I related to everthing you felt and narrated.My Mother’s family lived in Millport (Isle Of Cumbrae) I’m sure you know where that is? My husband and I were glued to your every word and the scenery and animals brilliant as you say.
    When we visited Millport ,first thing every morning the seals came close to the shore bobbing up and down and I was speechless. How brave to be so close to the sharks in such a small watercraft.I held my breath.All in all it was a program I would like to purchase for future viewing. “Aye”

    Is Tobermorey where Toblerlone chocolate bars are made?

  • Patty Arella

    What a beautiful show. Thank you for a most entertaining 50 minutes. I think Mr. Buchanan would have loved being with us as otters pranced in the stream along the road as we followed them at Houghton Lake, MI. They knew we were following them so they showed off for us, actually following the car as they swam and watched us as we watched them. Several minutes my husband and I often talk about…

  • Pat MacFadyen

    Thank you, a wonderful film. I was fortunate to visit Mull last October, what a beautiful island! I hope to visit again soon.

  • Susan

    I visited Oban and the island of Mull twenty-one years ago and your wonderful film took me right back there again. It is still as beautiful as I remember and I would love to go back to visit it again to experience some of the wildlife shown in your film. I always enjoy watching wildlife and this year I was fortunate enough to have an otter in my farm pond for a short time. They are making a comeback here in Virginia after years of excessive trapping. I would love to see more programs on Scotland and it’s wildlife.

  • Mary Molenaar

    I just had the opportunity to watch this marvelous nature film. Thank you for taking time from your life to dedicate it to the wildlife of the world, which seems to be disappearing before our eyes. I was in awe and wanted to be by your side with my little camera which certainly could not capture what you did. But you inspired me to put it on my map of places to visit, in this lifetime or another! Thanks for sharing so generously. I shall hold it in my mind always, as a nature lover, observer, and conservationist.. Please continue with your wonderful work.

  • Scott Taylor

    As an American living in Scotland in the 80’s I was more interested in the pub scene than the wildlife (sadly for me). Mr. Buchanan’s enthusiasm and subtle wit are infectious, and his love of wildlife is inspiring. Every time I see something like this on PBS I am filled with hope for the future. Thank you Mr. Buchanan! Thank you PBS!

  • John Reeves

    My wife & I loved our 3 weeks in Scotland this May, with 4 days on Isle of Mull and 3 on Barra. This video and narration re-kindled our hope to return soon! Good work!

  • Tina Rile

    With out a doubt one of the most exceptional Nature episodes I have ever seen. It was very special that Gordon had grown up there. I was transfixed and so grateful to have stumbled upon it on TV. it made my day!

  • Mario Tenorio

    I love Buchanan’s work in this piece The images are just beyond belief I think he’s using the Arriflex if I’m not mistaken. But if there’s any information to the technical aspects of the equipment such as lenses and film used as well as the editing choices made I’d appreciate it. I praise the great effort even with low budget improvisation I think this is a masterpiece. Sincerely Mario Tenorio Jr. Starlite Entertainment.

  • Tricia Waellner

    I feel I must comment about the “isolation and lack of modern facilities” that was mentioned by a viewer-I have visited Mull and I have relatives that live there and I did not find either isolation or a lack of modern facilities. In fact I would say that some of the things my relatives have are more advanced then I have in St. Louis, Missouri. The film did show the beauty of Mull.

  • Marsha Butler

    I thought it was a beautiful film. Some outstanding footage. Would love to see the underwater shots done with adequate equipment. I enjoyed him filming himself! Thought he was an engaging personality and his input, both physically and auditorially, enriched the experience.

    Good work!

  • Linda Pettersen

    I just saw this magnificent Nature program tonight on PBS and gather from all the comments that it first ran in early May, which I missed. I am so happy to have been home tonight to enjoy a re-visit to Mull. My husband and I lived in Milngavie outside Glasgow for the academic year 1966-67 and loved all of Scotland but especially the West Coast and Isles. The photography was stunning but I agree it would be nice to have had proper equipment for the underwater shots. Mr. Buchanan was a delight and his local status and wonderful mission to preserve the wildlife is hearfelt by many of us. Thankyou to all who were intrumental in producing such a wonderful Nature program. One of the best, for sure. PBS is a national treasure!

  • Cris

    Você já esteve na Amazonia? E em Manaus?

  • Suzi Muston

    Hi Gordon, the bear programme was absolutely wonderful. Watching you go into the forest with a bullet proof vest bought a tear to my eye. Can you let me have your email address please, thanks

  • Anisah Ab Ghapar

    Hi Mr Buchanan ,I have seen your work and i was really amazed. I would very much like to conduct an interview with you. Can I have your email address please? Thank You

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