Surviving Paradise: A Family Tale

Surviving Paradise Okavango Delta PIC. NETFLIX
Surviving Paradise Okavango Delta PIC. NETFLIX

Last week, Netflix Originals premiered a new film entirely shot in Botswana titled, Surviving Paradise: A Family Tale. The film, narrated by English actor Regé Jean Page from Bridgerton period drama, is a wildlife drama that explores life in the Okavango Delta between its ever-changing seasons of flood and drought.

According to the producers, the material for the film was captured between June 2019 and July 2021 in the Okavango Delta. This was the period when the Okavango experienced some of its extreme drought, in 2019 when the annual flood did not reach Maun and later returned with a major flood in 2020. It was also the period when the Okavango Delta, had the less human presence due to the COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions.

Executive producer, James Honeyborne said: “We made the whole project without one single international flight.

All filming was done by our Botswana team. Remote editing was done in Bristol, UK.” Honeyborne also explained why the film is identified as 'wildlife drama' but not a documentary. “It's a feature film and it's narrated by a great actor, not a naturalist, so it's different from some of our nature documentaries. It's scientifically accurate of course, but we filmed over a two-year time frame and compressed the events into one year.

Also the elephant calf is a composite character, as we filmed several individuals. So for these reasons we just wanted to be clear to the audience that there is an element of dramatic license in our film-making - that's why we call it a wildlife drama,” said Honeyborne.

The filming was done by Natural History Film Unit (NHFU), led by the legendary local filmmaker Brad Bestelink of Savage Kingdom series. Bestelink is credited as director of photography, and he revealed that most of the images were filmed using RED cameras with a variety of long lenses. “The several Canon 50-1000mm lenses really allowed us to capture those powerful close-ups of our characters without invading their privacy or altering their natural behaviour,” said Bestelink.

The film features amazing and heart-warming images that are synonymous to Bestelink’s work. Like a heroic scene of a valiant young lioness defending its cubs from the wrath of two males known as Rogue Boys. “It was heart-breaking to watch her give everything to fight for the life of her cub, but it’s been heart-warming to see her develop into a fantastic mother and raise three-offspring to adulthood since,” said Bestelink recalling the pivotal scene that explains the name of the film.

Surviving-Paradise. Lions
Surviving-Paradise. Lions

From David Fowler’s script, there are four main themes that the film is based on. The preciousness of fresh Okavango Delta water as “a vast oasis, isolated from the rest of the world by unforgiving desert”. The strength of mothers, using characters of a lioness, wild dog, an elephant, and birds is another central theme.

Others cover the importance of biodiversity and the roles of wildlife in maintaining wilderness health. But Fowler did not really push the envelope with his writing especially given the impressive images of the film. Overall, it is a great presentation that must be watched but it will not be remembered for long time like some of the classics of the Okavango. For local viewers, some of the writing could be confusing. For example, referring to wild dogs as ‘painted wolves’. Ever since BBC’s Dynasties, most conservationists are leaning towards the name ‘Painted Wolf’ instead of the African wild dog.

It has been explained that this is due to their scientific name Lycaon pictus - which translates directly as painted wolf and that they are more closely related to wolves than domestic dogs. So, Surviving Paradise is also joining the movement that is rebranding the wild dogs after many years of bad press. This is because there is a misconception that they are ‘feral dogs’ and have since suffered persecution that endangered their existence. Some local viewers might also find the film’s location reference of saying ‘Okavango Delta is an oasis in the heart of the Kgalagadi Desert’ little bewildering. Even though this is the same narrative as the ‘Jewel of the Kahalari’ expression, some people still think Kalahari is only in the Kgalagadi District.

The Netflix film offers a great opportunity for Batswana to finally watch, on demand, some inspiring nature content made from their backyard. For years, natural history films have been made in Botswana, mostly by foreigners and enjoyed by western countries in their own language far away and inaccessible from the people of Okavango. Surviving Paradise: A Family Tale comes at a time when more young black storytellers are venturing into the industry like Gaokgonwe Seetsele Nthomiwa who is credited, amongst others, for Additional Photography.

Surviving Paradise. A Family Tale
Surviving Paradise. A Family Tale

Netflix Original:
Surviving Paradise: A Family Tale

Narrator: Regé-Jean Page

Director of Photography: Brad Bestelink

Director & producer: Renee Godfrey

Editor & co-director: Matt Meech

Executive producer: James Honeyborne

Run time: 78 minutes

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

Have a Story? Send Us a tip
arrow up