For the 21st century, The Explorers Network team decided to take the planet’s pulse through film. First stop: the islands of French Polynesia, exposing land and sea like never seen before thanks to extraordinary footage from the latest technology and due to enriching encounters with Polynesians from our five archipelagoes.
Our islands as the first stop
This adventure will last at least five years and span over five continents. The first stop was French Polynesia, a destination that struck Olivier Chiabodo after he visited Tahiti. “French Polynesia is a marine sanctuary, a unique preservation space due to its remote location. You can feel the strong connection here between the inhabitants and nature, so it was obvious that this place had to be part of this project. We are also fortunate to have the support of Air Tahiti Nui airlines.” Between preparations for reporting and shooting, two and a half years passed. This 21st century expedition is distinctive due to the latest technology and equipment at its disposition: 1.2 tons of gear transported on a true “maritime studio;” a helicopter equipped to take the most stunning aerial images; submergible chambers to capture underwater film and still footage; drones; plus 4K ultra high definition cameras that take cinema-quality full-length films. The result is 400 hours of material, the largest catalogue of 4K UHD footage over French Polynesia ever created.
The first reports were broadcast in April on the French channel TF1 as well as on the French Polynesian station, Tahiti Nui Television (TNTV). The presence of The Explorers Network in French Polynesia entails 14 documentaries in a traditional 52 minute format broadcast throughout the world. A full-length feature is in the works in which the images will be presented in the USA, in web formats and photo reports, and eventually, in book form. All of these formats offer so many different ways to explore or rediscover French Polynesia.
It has always been a deep aspect of human nature to continually explore the surrounding world. Like great expeditions from the beginning of the 20th century, The Explorers Network project intends to journey the planet and establish a photographic archive of the world using 4K Ultra High Definition equipment. This will provide a unique image database over the themes of biodiversity, ethnology, archeology and all that comprises the tangible and intangible heritage of the earth. Olivier Chibodo, former host on the French TV channel TF1, is at the root of this somewhat crazy dream. Trained as a doctor, he has always been sensitive to the preservation of the planet, issues concerning the environment and man’s role on earth. However, this isn’t his first attempt to do something like this. Toward the end of the 1990s, he was already producing Les Carnets de Noé. This documentary series showed the influence of humankind on the environment, the development or disappearance of certain ethnicities, fauna, flora and cultural heritages from different countries around the world. Chiabodo explains, “I always wanted to do a checkup of the planet without the pretense of saving it. The idea is rather to raise awareness about its beauty. My concept has changed since Les Carnets de Noé thanks to technology.” He had actually shelved the idea for The Explorers Network for several years before finding a producer who was ready to follow him on this adventure.
A human experience
This project reveals an unknown Polynesia, such as flying over the island of Rapa, the southernmost of the French Polynesian islands. It is the most isolated because it can only be accessed by sea. The footage also exposes a magical Polynesia through diving close to humpback whales who have come to rest in the benevolent waters. It is also a wild Polynesia that takes us from one valley to another on the trail of Marquesan horses and a Polynesia strong in traditions and history through the testimonies of the men and women who inhabit this unique place. With The Explorers Network, humans are at the center of it all. The adventure is above all a human experience; as much through the eyes of the inhabitants encountered throughout the five archipelagoes as through the crew of fifty people without whom none of this would have been possible. Audiovisual specialists from France strengthened their resources with local professionals, whose networking and knowledge about French Polynesia opened up other perspectives and allowed unexpected encounters. There is also the crew aboard Tahiti Nui 1, a ship in the country’s administrative fleet transformed into a maritime studio for this occasion. “We all experienced a sense of community and forged true bonds, somewhat in the vein of Yves Cousteau on the Calypso, although we didn’t seek to thrust a leader to the forefront,” says Olivier Chiabodo.
Thus, through the footage, we see members of the expedition just as much on deck, as in the water or in the air as shown in the nine-minute video available on the website www.theexplorersnetwork.com. Through Jacques, one of the sailors onboard Tahiti Nui 1, we learn of the extraordinary adventure of this first opus. Another difference from the famous commander Cousteau is that local scientists and local people are given a voice. “We came here to listen to them, not to teach them something. It is their perspective of this land that interests us. This is what we aim to preserve,” states Chiabodo. Shooting took place over several weeks in cadence to the slow rhythm of the ship. This allowed the entire crew to appreciate the richness of French Polynesia, to get a sense of its exceptional character and to live in the present moment. “This rhythm strongly influenced the footage. It helped us be extremely aware of what we were shooting. When flying into a location, there isn’t enough time to grasp the images we truly need. We tend to just land, take a few shots, then leave. On sea, we had the time to observe the islands as they unfolded before us,” Chiabodo adds.
For The Explorers Network, the adventure has just begun. After the hues of light and color of French Polynesian landscapes, there is a whole other world that awaits the film crew, such as the Arctic in all of its stark whiteness, its aurora borealis, its endangered wildlife and of course, its people and ways of life. Then it will be onto a tour of Africa and its wild animals and the wide open spaces of Namibia, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana. The Indian Ocean will not be forgotten since The Explorers Network will show us the Andaman Archipelago. To conclude, Australia may be the last stop on this project; however, The Explorers Network crew is not opposed to the possibility of additional locations. As we have told you, the adventure has just begun.