September 30, 2022 | CULTURE | By Frances Thyer | Illustration by Rowan Kempen

Among a myriad of popular environmental documentaries, from “Chasing Coral”to “My Octopus Teacher”, few are as full of silver linings as “The Year Earth Changed”. Guided by the familiar voice of David Attenborough through five continents and the span of the pandemic, the film represents feats of nature while simultaneously presenting a feat of documentary filmmaking during a global pandemic.

An Apple original film with a run time of only 48 minutes, the audience sees birds adapting their songs in response to lockdown induced lack of road noise, singing in notes unfamiliar to researchers. No longer a constant tourist spectacle, cheetahs can call out to their cubs without fearing for their safety. “The Year Earth Changed”depicts a variety of ecosystem changes, from Assam, India to Southeast Alaska. In the wake of an accidental global experiment, this film is a testament to the speed and beauty of nature’s response.

Director Tom Beard and his crew began research in April 2020, as lockdowns grew popular and social media began revealing the unique ways in which nature was responding to lack of human interference. Filming various destinations across the world, Beard did not take a single international flight during this process, relying on local crews. According to Beard, the film demanded him to be on calls with crews and scientists around the clock given the variety in time zones.

“The Year Earth Changed” aims to think about the natural world in the broadest sense, with the filmmaking crew even initially looking into changes in seismic activity underneath the Earth’s crust.

David Attenborough, the famed and passionate naturalist, recorded the film’s narration while in lockdown in the United Kingdom. “He was recorded in his home, surrounded by duvets as the sound engineers poked cables through the window from a shed out in his garden, to keep everything safe,” said Beard. With a repertoire of film narration experience, it is no surprise that Attenborough’s storytelling in “The Year Earth Changed”is soothing, as usual.

Utilizing extremely long shots and drone footage typical to popular environmental documentaries, the film maintains a particularly hopeful tone in considering the future of human cohabitation with nature. The film ends with realistic ideals, such as changes in shipping patterns to allow whales the freedom to roam or making beaches inaccessible for a few hours of the day for the safety of turtles.

“[The pandemic] has shown us that there are ways in which we can coexist,” said Beard. “Actually, some of those ways involve quite simple and relatively easy changes in our behavior.

“The Year Earth Changed”is available to watch on Apple TV+.

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