Destination Colombia

Colombia Seduces with Its Wild Magic

In addition to its entertainment value, Colombia: Wild Magic, directed by Englishman Mike Slee, can be seen as a scientific and natural history documentary, a plea for an urgent crusade to protect the planet’s natural habitats, or a campaign to promote ecotourism in Colombia.

By: Vicky Santana Cortés
Photos: Courtesy of Colombia Wild Magic

They are no stars here, much less celebrities. They may be nothing special to their peers, just another of their species, but they now live in the hearts of the more than two million Colombians who have seen them and marveled at their stories. Jaguars, condors, sloths, cotton-top tamarins, anacondas, hummingbirds, golden frogs, arawana fish, and morpho butterflies are some of the stars of Colombia: Wild Magic, a film that, aside from its entertainment value, can be seen as scientific and natural history documentary, a plea for an urgent crusade to protect natural habitats, or a campaign promoting eco-tourism in Colombia.

Only ninety minutes long, the film travels by land, sea, and air to twenty of the country’s ecosystems —snowy peaks, moors, foothills, savannas, forests, jungles, deserts, coastlines, oceans, rivers, and wetlands, among others— to show the wildlife living within.

Colombia is said to be the second-most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil. And after watching this documentary that covers 78,829 miles, eighty-five locations, and thirty-eight species, no viewer remains unconvinced of the exuberance, natural richness, and beauty of this South American country.

This wildlife story contains scenes of great power and drama: the silent dance of a jaguar in search of prey; a fight to the death between two hummingbirds defending their territory —a field of flowers; and a crocodile chasing its prey. There are also amazing slow motion shots, such as the arawana fish jumping out of rushing waters to seemingly fly and catch its helpless victim; the lizard lunging across the surface of the water to escape predators; or the lethal tongue of the yellow frog —among the world’s most deadly— as it catches an insect that defends itself by stunning the amphibian with a severe sting.

These are just some of the scenes that unfold in the film, like the imperious flight of the Andean condor; the stunning silence of the snowy peaks stretched out in the deep blue sky; or the moors with their frailejon plants, the watery cushions upon which the moors and its animal species —as well as humans— depend for survival.

But beyond the beauty of the Colombian landscape and the country’s natural resources, the film also includes dramatic scenes of destruction and pollution, indiscriminate hunting, scorched land, and drought that rise up like an anguished cry for the salvation of this corner of the world.

The Production

The crew filmed over 150 hours of footage while enduring long and difficult journeys and carrying heavy equipment on planes, boats, horseback, or their shoulders. Finally, English director and producer Mike Slee, known for his work on films like Bugs and Flight of the Butterflies, and a crew of eighty-seven people finished the film, achieving the technical quality and scientific rigor they sought from the beginning.

Although filming started in 2014, Colombian Francisco Forero, co-founder of Ecoplanet and an explorer in every sense of the word, began work on the project in 2010. After watching impeccable documentaries such as Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Home and the BBC series Planet Earth, Forero noted that these monumental productions had ignored the incredible biodiversity of Colombia. He thought that the country had the potential to star in a film of its own. And so, with help from friends who shared his opinion, among them Martín Nova, Vice President of Marketing for Grupo Éxito, he set off on the adventure of producing a film that would showcase, from the highest peaks to the deepest seas, the country’s many ecosystems and their inhabitants, using the best professionals in the world and state-of-the-art technology.

Nova convinced the directors of Grupo Éxito to fund the entire production, which cost three million dollars. With the necessary resources guaranteed, the adventurous group began putting together a creative and technical crew with the knowledge and skills to ensure the success of a project of this importance.

Richard Kirby, who has over thirty years of experience in nature documentaries (Deep Blue, The Nile, Ganges), was the film’s cinematographer, and composer and arranger David Campbell, responsible for the soundtracks of films like Spiderman and Annie, was the musical director. And he did a great job: the music is certainly one of the best things about Colombia: Wild Magic.

Each story enjoys its own rhythm and accurately identifies the region where it takes place: the plains, coasts, moors, forests… The Symphony Orchestra of Colombia brought to life compositions by some of Colombia’s most famous artists (Juanes, Carlos Vives, Fonseca, Aterciopelados, ChocQuibTown, Walter Silva, Andrés Castro), who provided original tracks for the film.

Like any movie, it has received a certain amount of criticism from people who claim that the script doesn’t move beyond generalities and praise when it could have provided viewers with more rigorous information; that certain places deserving to be shown were ignored; that the narration by journalist Julio Sánchez Cristo is monotonous; that it shows a country without people, giving the feeling of some a forgotten land; or that it’s too much like government propaganda.

This, however, doesn’t diminish the important work accomplished by the film in letting the world know about places and species that even Colombians didn’t know existed, and it does not alter the undeniable technical and aesthetic quality of the film. Producer Francisco Forero assures us there is still much to be filmed in Colombia, and it surely will be filmed; Forero has announced that other projects of this magnitude are forthcoming. Meanwhile, the producers are already working on the film’s international release, so that Colombia can surprise the world with its wild magic.

Green Thinking Pays

“Nature brings people together because we are an extension of it.” This statement by Ellen Windemuth —founder of the British production company Off the Fence, which lent scientific and technical support to the film— makes sense when you observe the documentary’s success in theaters around Colombia. More than 1.5 million spectators saw the film during the first four weeks of its release and its name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, arousing a mixture of national pride —given the magnitude and beauty of Colombia’s natural resources— and concern for the vulnerability of the country’s ecosystems.

The Sets 

Parque Nacional Natural de Chiribiquete (Chiribiquete National Park): part of the Amazon region containing archaeological relics, watersheds, and an incredible array of practically unknown flora and fauna.

Páramo de Chingaza (Chingaza Moor): the country’s second-largest highland moor, just forty-three miles from Bogotá.

Ensenada de Utría (Utría Cove): framed by a lush rainforest, the inlet’s warm, peaceful waters welcome humpback whales, turtles, and birds.

Parque Nacional Natural de El Cocuy (Cocuy National Park): more than twenty-five perpetually snow-capped peaks located in the department of Boyacá.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta: sacred to four different indigenous communities, these mountains possess some of the world’s most beautiful scenery, including snow-capped peaks, the power of the jungle and the diversity of its ecosystems.

Orinoquía: this region, rich in plains, savannas, and foothills, is famous for its beautiful sunsets and the rushing Orinoco River, the habitat of a fearsome crocodile.

Amazonia: this region occupies 41% of the Colombian territory. Its low population density contrasts with the high concentration of species of plants and animals.

Islands of Providencia, Malpelo, and Gorgona: Providence, in the Colombian Caribbean, boasts mangrove forests and beautiful coral formations, and Malpelo, in the Pacific, has a surprising abundance of species. Gorgona, also in the Pacific, is an important research center.

Chocó: one of the country’s most important jungle regions, and one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

Caño Cristales: the red, blue, green, yellow, and black aquatic plants have become a standard image used to promote ecotourism in Colombia.


The Stars 

Condor:  with a 10-foot wingspan, one of the most elusive creatures in the film; the production crew was forced to follow this condor for over a year.

Hummingbird:  star of one of the film’s most epic moments. Hummingbirds are known to visit an estimated 2,000-5,000 flowers every day. There are 179 species of hummingbirds in Colombia.

Spectacled Bear:  found in high-altitude rainforests, the only surviving species of its genus in South America.

Golden Frog: (Phyllobates terribilis) hides its deadly attributes. It is the most poisonous vertebrate in the world.

Jaguar:  endangered, it is one of South America’s most emblematic felines.

Cotton-top tamarin:  one of the world’s twenty-five most endangered primates.

Humpback whale:  these cetaceans visit the Colombian Pacific every year, taking advantage of the natural shelter found in Nuquí, Bahía Solano, and Ensenada de Utría.

Arawana Fish:  this inhabitant of the Orinoco River and its tributaries has silvery scales and a special ability to jump out of the water to catch its prey.

Sloth: animal known for its slow movements and feeding on leaves and flowers, as well as its sweet expression and the grayish or greenish color of its coat.