Reincarnating the Neanderthal

Filming Recreations of Early Human Life in the Canadian Rockies

A member of the film crew offers her candid observations of the documentary filmmaking process. On location in Grande Cache, Alberta, the sole Canadian location in The Great Human Odyssey.

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How did our ancestors look?

The rules for shooting dramatic reenactments, in our humble opinion.

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Making of a Film Score

Behind the scenes with Composer Darren Fung

In the world of film and television, live-recorded musical scores are an extinct species. But the filmmakers suspected the impossible just might be possible … and it was.

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Five feet from an M16

Filming free-diving nomads in a war zone

Until now, no film crew has ever captured the fascinating free-diving culture of the Badjao in their Philippine homeland. The reason: they live in a war zone, where kidnapping is big business.

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Shooting underwater sequences with the Badjao

Filming free-diving nomads in a war zone.

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To Shoot a Reindeer

Filming Chukchi nomads in Russia’s Arctic

For anthropologist Niobe Thompson, filming Chukchi reindeer herders during a mid-winter migration was one of the most incredible experiences of his career. This shoot epitomized the nature filmmaker’s motto: "no pain, no gain!"

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Things Fall Apart

Finding reindeer nomads in Russia’s most remote region.

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Evolution of the Mind

Recreating the first coastal cultures, with filmmaker Craig Foster

Director Niobe Thompson collaborated with South African filmmaker Craig Foster to bring the world of our earliest coastal ancestors to life. They worked over six months to build scientifically accurate costumes, choose locations along the Cape Coast, and cast a group of actors from local townships.

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The Case of the Shkul Tooth

The perils of "science in progress" filmmaking

Filming scientific discoveries as they actually happen is the Holy Grail of the science documentary. But it’s a risky play. See why.

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The tooth from Shkul Cave

In a film like The Great Human Odyssey, we strive not only to tell the story of our human origins, but also to take the audience into the process of scientific discovery. The birth, life and death of a scientific theory is a fascinating process, in which the actors are real people...

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Our Eye in the Sky

Aerial drone filming around the planet

Charles Taylor and Gabrielle Nadeau are the pioneering cinematographers behind one of the world’s leading aerials drone systems: Skymotion. They travelled and worked with the film crew over 18 months and 5 continents. The results speak for themselves.

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Bonding with Bushmen

In search of the poison beetle

Sometimes a filming day goes sideways. Like when Niobe Thompson went into the Kalahari to dig for poison beetle grubs with his Bushmen friends.

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Down the Hole and Back in Time

Our cameramen become archeologists for a day

South Africa’s Blombos Cave is one of the most exciting archeological sites in the world, because it was here our species began to think like we do today: in symbols, artistically, and with tremendous powers of invention. See how we used our miniaturized cameras to help our hosts explore a hidden extension to the cave.

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Down the Hole and Back in Time

The film crew explores a South African cave for signs of ancient life, becoming archeologists for a day.

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Getting to bird island

A shot two years in the making
Busted on the Bering Straight

When our film crew travels to the Russia Arctic for the spring melt, Russian bureaucracy, filthy weather and hungry dogs undo the best-laid plans.

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The climax sequence of the THE GREAT HUMAN ODYSSEY takes place on the cliffs of a citadel of rock in the Bering Strait. We knew it would be spectacular. We knew the journey would be tough. But we didn't know getting the shot would take two years. Watch this minidoc and see what happened.

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Back to the Bering Straight

One year after a failed shoot on the Bering Strait, the crew returns to try again.

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The Sacrifice

Making peace with the Crocodile People
Getting half cut on the Sepik

Our crew travels to a remote village on New Guinea’s Sepik River and learns how the Crocodile People make men of their boys.

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The skin-cutting initiation rite of Papua New Guinea’s Crocodile People happens only once in many years, and the event is virtually impossible to film. Especially when the crew is co-ed.

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The Curse of Palau

When a film shoot fails

Until Niobe Thompson travelled with his film crew to the South Pacific paradise of Palau, he had never experienced a complete “failure to film”. Palau was a complete defeat.

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That Sinking Feeling

Looking for a lost tradition in Palau (and never finding it)

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Furs and filthy weather

Recreating an Ice Age culture on Russia’s Bering Strait

See how our crew filmed a shaman dancing on an Arctic mountaintop, surrounded by a melting sea. Or an Inuit hunter hopping between ice floes… and falling through the ice!

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Bedouin Journey

Filming in the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence
Desert Coffee

In the long list of amazing experiences I’ve had making The Great Human Odyssey, the memory of filming in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia has a special place.

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For Director Niobe Thompson, visiting the desert homeland of the Bedouin Howeitat was a dream fulfilled. Sir David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia was the first film he ever saw, and it was filmed with the previous generation of Wadi Rum locals as our film crew worked with in 2014.

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Director's Statement. Meet the host and Director Niobe Thompson Test Yourself: Take the Quiz