Wild North is another treasure I found on Netflix. It’s a nature/wildlife series but not from the BBC or the Discovery Channel — this one’s an independent film from Norway. There are three episodes, “The Coast,” “The Forest,” and “The Mountains.” And, although the series talks about the wildlife of Scandinavia, it seems that it was filmed almost entirely in Norway.
It’s worth noting, before we begin, that Linford Brown, the narrator, stresses that, because of centuries of hunting, the wildlife of Scandinavia is very shy and hard to approach. It seems, also, that hunting is still allowed in most national parks.
“The Coast” begins at the sandy beaches of the south, where a small monster is digging traps — right where people are sitting. It’s an ant lion larva, and the traps are for ants. We get a close-up view of the action, filmed at a thousand frames per second — because otherwise, it would be too fast for us to see. Then it’s up the coast, where we view visiting wales and walruses on the way to the Svalbard archipelago, way north in the Barents Sea, with its “bird cliffs” where thousands of sea birds nest. There is also commentary on the plight of polar bears — there is less sea ice around Svalbard than there used to be, and the bears can’t hunt their staple food — seals. (There are several references during the series to the effects of climate change on the wildlife of Scandinavia. It’s not a positive effect.) On the way to Svalbard, we stop at a smaller island where eider ducks nest in the summer. There are people who come to the island in the spring to prepare the nesting sites for the ducks and otherwise stay out of the way until the ducklings are hatched and leave the nest. That’s when the caretakers harvest the eiderdown, to be used in duvets and warm coats.
The second episode, “The Forest,” takes us to the woods, where there used to be trolls and giants. There are still giants — bears and moose — and the “troll bird,” the capercaillie. We see the courtship rituals of the capercaillie cocks, along with their battles for dominance (and hens), and in one amazing sequence, filmed by an amateur photographer, we see a pair of duelling capercaillie cocks attacked by a golden eagle. The cock not in the eagle’s talons fights on, oblivious to the fact that he’s no longer fighting another capercaillie. We are also treated to a brown bear emerging from hibernation, along with her three cubs. There are segments showing the domestic lives of eagles, eagle owls, ospreys, and great gray owls.
“The Mountains” takes us up to the fels, where we see the arctic fox and a large litter of cubs — it seems that it’s a lemming year, and all those animals that prey on the lemmings are taking advantage of the bounty. We also get to see the family life of the snowy owl — a first. The mountains are also the hangout of reindeer and moose, and for the latter we get another first — the courtship of the moose, from start to finish.
This is by necessity a brief summary: there’s a lot of information in this series, not only about the wildlife that I’ve mentioned but others as well — a game of tag between a sparrowhawk and a jay, squabbles between ravens, an eagle and a fox over the carcass of a moose calf — interrupted by the arrival of the bear that killed the calf — the rutting season of red deer, wolves, and more. I should note that there’s a lot about birds, which have been, if not ignored, usually treated as an afterthought in other series I’ve seen. It may be that Scandinavia doesn’t have the variety of large mammals found in more temperate (read “tropical”) environments, but it’s interesting to see how important a part birds play in the environment.
Linford Brown, the narrator, is so close to perfect that I, for one, could see no space between. The narration is very straightforward and direct, and he delivers it just that way — no drama (he leaves that to the film itself) and a focus on the wildlife, its habits and behavior. (Although there is room for occasional wry humor.) One anomaly: in the final narration to the third episode, “The Mountains,” Brown promises a look at the seabird colonies on Svalbard in the next episode, which makes me wonder if the order wasn’t shuffled and “The Coast” was originally meant to be last rather than first, since there is no “next episode.”
And the photography, by Arne Nævra and Torgeir Beck Lande, is superb. Again, it’s straightforward, with little in the way of “artistic” effects, although there are any number of beautifully composed scenes that raise it to the level of high art.
It’s well worth watching, and currently (April, 2018) it’s available for streaming on Netflix
(Loke Films, Naturbilder, 2015)