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(Credit: Mike Dixson)

Film

David Attenborough picks his own four favourite documentaries of all time

@Russellisation

It’s hard to even imagine the landscape of nature documentary filmmaking without the influence of the British presenter David Attenborough, an icon of factual entertainment who has helped inspire a generation of young people to embrace the beauty of the natural world. 

Celebrating his 96th birthday in 2022, Attenborough remarkably remains a bastion of environmental protection and climate change action, still making documentaries to this very day, with Prehistoric Planet due to hit Apple TV+ later this year.

Speaking to the Radio Times about his life and legacy on his birthday, he comments, “I don’t believe it, actually, and all I can say is I’m aware that I’ve been fantastically lucky. I have relatives and friends who are my age who can’t remember anything, who can’t move, and the fact that I can do both of those to some degree is just unbelievably fortunate”.

In the very same interview, Attenborough chose his four favourite documentaries of all time from his own catalogue, with his first pick going to the 2000 project, The Lost Gods of Easter Island. Looking into the unusual stones that occupy Easter Island, Attenborough’s journey starts when he purchases a wooden figurine at a New York auction, only for the item to take him on a wild journey. 

Remarkably, the broadcaster comes to believe that the item was handled by Captain Cook in 1771, with the documentary asking, “How could you possibly prove that? Well, this programme is how we try. And along the way it took us to one of the most remote civilisations on Earth”. 

His second choice of favourite documentaries goes to the 1971 project, A Blank on the Map, a fascinating exploration of the tribes of Papua, New Guinea in the 1970s, one of the least explored regions of the planet. Describing his epic walks for “eight hours a day for three weeks,” his efforts finally paid off once he discovered the tribe, describing “the moment of meeting a man who hadn’t seen a European face before” as “unforgettable”. 

Third on his list is the 2009 documentary Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, a film made to mark the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth. “What Darwin thought makes the world comprehensible and logical. Nature isn’t just an accumulation of oddball freaks. There’s a reason why there’s a duck-billed platypus, why hummingbirds are where they are. If you under- stand that, then the enchantment of the natural world becomes more thrilling,” Attenborough fascinatingly states, with his film exploring this very fact.

Take a look at the full list of David Attenborough’s own favourite documentaries, below.

David Attenborough’s favourite documentaries:

  •  The Lost Gods of Easter (Kate Broome, 2000)
  • A Blank on the Map (David Attenborough, 1971)
  • Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life (David Attenborough, 2009)
  • Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives (David Attenborough, 1989)

The final documentary selected is the 1989 film Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives, a study into fossils and the clues they give us to how life existed on pre-historic earth. “The notion that you can hit a rock and it falls open and you see something that hasn’t seen the light of day for 350 million years yet it’s all there… well, it’s magical,” the iconic presenter states, further adding, “I still think that fossils are some of the most romantic objects you can think of. I love them”. 

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