Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Bushcraft on TV

Bushcraft on Television.
By Paul O’Connor

While Bear Grylls eats a spider, maggot or snake on Channel 4, eight obese Brits are shown on BBC trying to lose weight by adopting a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the Kalahari Desert.
Bushcraft and survival skills are fast entering the mainstream consciousness through the airwaves.

Bushcraft pops up everywhere now and in many guises. The Discovery Channel has Les Stroud (Survivor Man) trying to survive for seven days in various remote locations with little or no food, water, or equipment. Similar to Survivor Man, the explorer Benedict Allen uses the same technique of a video diary to chronicle his solo journeys into the Brazilian Amazon or East Africa for his BBC documentaries.

Over the last few months we have grabbed the remote control as TV ‘stars’ struggle to digest a kangaroos penis during ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’(ITV). We have tutted as Channel 4 rode out the storm of faked situations in Bear Grylls ‘Born Survivor’ and we have cringed at overweight people throwing tantrums ‘Fat Men Can't Hunt’ (BBC).

There is no sign yet of TV editors tiring of the natural landscape either with ‘The Wild Gourmets’ (C4) following the sucess of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage’(C4)-roving for Britain's best wild food, and producing culinary delights from nature's larder.

The popular appeal of Ray Mears may be partly responsible for this explosion of Bushcraft ‘reality’ programmes on Television today. However it took a decade before even Ray’s skills were granted the media spotlight. While he founded Woodlore-School of Wilderness Bushcraft way back in 1983, it took Ten years before his teachings were taken seriously enough to put them on the small screen.

Today however, the people who practise Bushcraft tend to be of the DIY persuasion, so it should come as no surprise that many are now producing their own videos. While once a handful of DVDs were passed amongst friends, a much wider distribution is now possible. Broadband has finally matured to allow videos to be watched online.
However having a distribution is one thing, producing viewable content is another. For three months I watched videos covering Bushcraft and survival skills online. While a few were excellent, many others were either badly filmed or edited. Suffering from strained hearing due to the poor audio quality, I decided I would be better off making my own.

Judging from the YouTube ratings of videos relating to Bushcraft, I surmised that people enjoyed seeing skills explained clearly and in short episodes. At 5600 viewings, Jack Mountains Bushcraft Journal about ice fishing in Canada is one of the more popular. Nearly 10,000 people have watched an instructor from Bushcraft Northwest (USA) put up his tarp. Back in the UK, Nomad Bushcrafts videos share some useful insights during their trip to Finland.

I have only discovered Bushcraft quiet recently but since 1993 I have produced hundreds of environmental documentaries for Undercurrents, an award winning media charity. Now I just had to find someone who knew what they were doing in front of the camera.

Six months later and we have produced 16 video episodes for an ‘A-Z of Bushcraft’. Our presenter is the charismatic Andrew Price, founder of Dryad Bushcraft (and a writer for this magazine). Andrew has travelled extensively studying the traditional skills of indigenous peoples of Malaysia, Australia and Canada. Add his love for kayaking, cycling, rock climbing, and mountaineering and we couldn’t have found a better host.

Since we haven’t yet secured funding for the series we rely upon snatched hours here and there when both Andrew and myself were available to film an episode. Having the Gower peninsular in Wales on our doorstep means we do not have to travel far for ideal locations. Its complex geological formation has created a diverse range of terrain, condensed into a relatively small area.

Skills we have covered include filtering water, handling an axe, finding coastal food, tying knots and starting fire. We have put some of the episodes online at YouTube.com (and on this magazines own website) and have already received more than 120,000 viewings, which is very inspiring. To promote what we believe as invaluable skills, we have decided to release the series under a ‘creative commons’ licence which allows anyone to use the videos for non-commercial purposes. To highlight the possibilities of this, Andrew recently received an email from a backpacker who watched them during a long bus trip in Kuala Lumpur!

Meanwhile we are still busy filming and editing (still without funding) and aim to release the entire A-Z of Bushcraft series when we launch our own internet TV channel, VisionONTV. Learning from the experience of producing this series, we have developed a video player for your computer which will allow you to search for and view high quality videos covering just about every topic. Bushcraft is too important to leave to the whim of TV editors so help create an alternative. Download our new VisionONTV video player for free and please give us some honest feedback.

We aim to launch in Spring 2008 but you can beat the rush at www.visionontv.net
Watch an A-Z of Bushcraft at www.azbushcraft.com

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