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Terra, An Ode to Humanity

TERRA tells the story of life. Yann Arthus Bertrand and Michael Pitiot reveal the incredible saga of our living planet. From the first lichen to the gigantic forests, monkeys of the jungle to the mythic animals of the savannah. Over barely 10,000 years, life on Earth has been profoundly affected by the incredible development of humanity. But mankind is now increasingly isolated. How have our relations with other living beings changed so much? What do we still see, or notice, of the living world around us? TERRA is a journey through the history of life forms, a quest for the animal within us. For true humanity.

TERRA is not a wildlife documentary. Nor is it a militant investigative documentary. TERRA is an essay, in the literary sense, on the human species and its relationship with other living beings.

By proposing that we once again treat wildlife with the respect it deserves, TERRA shows its credentials as an ode to the human species, a humanist and deliberately positive film, openly advocating that humanity is still capable of “getting back to basics”.


We no longer see the wild, we dream of it. It’s an age-old fascination, visible in the paintings of the Chauvet Cave. But this dream is today disappearing, vanishing in factory smoke and industrial smog.

The Jungle Book

Life first appeared on Earth 4 billion years ago. Traces of this primitive life are now few and far between. But some can still be found in the heart of the Amazon jungle, starting with the lichens which helped form the Earth’s soil. Or with the role of astonishing fungi, a tangle of spreading roots, the birth of plants and, later, the rise of trees and forests. Life on Earth came about through these plants, and these mushrooms. Subsequently, came the pioneers of animal life: reptiles, birds and mammals. A time of insects, a time of monkeys, of tools and culture. The Amazonian Jungle Book contains every chapter of life on Earth. Every species lives alongside all the others.


When man appeared, nothing would be the same again. A being with insatiable curiosity, capable of representing the world, of painting its image on cave walls. Above all, man proved to be mystical. His awareness of life and death was a heavy burden. And this mysticism would lead him to sacrifice life itself.

And yet human civilisation owed its unstoppable rise to every other living being: domesticated plants and animals propelled mankind ever upwards and onwards... to the extent of changing the face of planet Earth.

From the end of the wild...

7 billion men, and their domesticated animals, have pushed back the frontiers of the wild world. Only isolated pockets still subsist, nature “reserves”, where the last of the big wild animals are safeguarded. This nature exerts an odd fascination over mankind, capable, as it is, of both protecting and massacring it. But caught between the loss of natural habitats and poaching, wildlife is on the brink of extinction. Its very rarity has almost become the object of speculation.

...to the end of Man

Carried away by incredible technological progress, boosted by finance, Man has turned his back on nature almost to breaking-point: pesticides, GMOs, climate change... we are now facing the possibility of a Sixth Extinction on a planetary scale.

A plea for respect

The next revolution will be neither technological nor political. Perhaps it will quite simply involve respect, a sense of ethics, and love for other life-forms. We may come to remember that wild-life is not opposed to our civilisation. “Wild” merely designates the inhabitants of the forest.

What if a renewed respect for wild-life could ultimately make us more human?


Terra calls upon a range of wildlife filmmakers from around the world, all recognised for their particular talent, each one specialising in a specific field or region, a behaviour or a living group. And yet TERRA is not a wildlife documentary. Nor is it a militant investigative documentary. TERRA is an essay, in the literary sense, on the human species and its relationship with other living beings.

Its main thrust concerns a naturalist history of mankind on our living planet, Earth. It looks back on the unique destiny of a species which, among millions of others, has evolved and emerged from the many phases of Life’s development on Earth, highlighting, as it progresses, a number of remarkable talents indigenous to certain life-forms… But in reality, the narrator – subjectively embodying humanity itself – will gradually divert this natural history to reflect on how the species regards and represents the world. How Man first discovered nature, how he became aware of the world around him, and how this vision has evolved over thousands of years. And, in return, how it has influenced the course of history itself.

At the dawn of human existence, nature and the living world were a dangerous mystery, a vast and hostile world where only survival was a priority. As the species evolved, and consciousness and more sophisticated tools emerged, man’s true characteristics appeared: arts, mythology and the creation of divinities, the discovery of agriculture and animal husbandry, the birth of civilisation and of beliefs with a human face. Soon, the industrial age would make man the planet’s absolute master, investing him with the power of life and death over everything that existed.

The story itself is not that original: it’s the story of man’s life on Earth. So why tell it again? Because it is vital today that we wake up to what is happening: climate change, over-fishing, excessive animal production, intensive agriculture, the abuse and pollution of resources… such refrains have become clichés, but are nonetheless appallingly true, and involve the same almost inevitable consequences: humanity is heading for disaster, at full speed. But the public doesn’t want to accept this simple observation. It’s too much to take. And it’s not easy to understand the initial signs of a major change on Earth when those signals are mixed. How can we believe in global warming when New York City is buried under unprecedented snowstorms? If animals are suffering, why don’t they express this? How can maritime resources be running low when the oceans are so vast? In the disastrous climate of humanity’s failings concerning so many obligations and deadlines (climatic, social, war, resources), an umpteenth ‘the end is nigh’ announcement gets very short shrift from the man in the street.

And so… we close our eyes. That power comes from how we choose to represent things.

A film to believe in humanity

How do we now wish to regard what lives around us ? The force of TERRA resides in this very question. The film will show how our own image and representation of nature has always been decisive in human history on planet Earth, and how it can still change the course of events to come.

What if, within each human being, within each human heart, there was a way of changing things? And what if, by clearly understanding the importance of representation in human society and by grasping what effect a change in that representation could have on the living world, we could once again believe in our own future? The key is to draw on the extraordinary human ability to anticipate, and to revive an innate empathy, respect and emotional attachment to the very simplest aspects of life on Earth. In a word, very much of our age, TERRA’s ambition is to be ‘an ode to the human species’; a film openly advocating that humanity is still capable of ‘getting back to basics’. A humanist message, that is very deliberately positive.

Opening and closing our eyes

The relationship between man and animals nowadays is one of curious paradoxes. On one hand, man breeds billions of creatures in abominable conditions, and then slaughters them en masse to provide food, or merely to get rid of them. On the other hand, never in history have people been so fond of domesticated animals. Dogs and cats, as well as horses, pigs, rabbits, frogs, rats, ferrets, snakes, hens, tigers, panthers… millions of animals, mostly (gold)fish, have become toys and playthings, four-legged friends or true household companions. They are often as equally numerous as their masters (63 million pets in France, for 65 million human inhabitants).

The coming of the industrial age in breeding and slaughtering changed the situation profoundly. To raise, kill and butcher 45 billion animals to feed 7 billion people requires an approach akin to a ‘final solution’: with genetic manipulation, killing machines and huge economic stakes, we have to close our eyes, inspired by a form of moral schizophrenia. Closing our eyes… helps us not to see, or not to perceive nature as it really is. Over time, man has applied this same ability to blinker his vision of so many other life-forms : mass hunting, driving certain species to extinction, selection for productivity purposes, elimination of bothersome bio-diversity, laboratory massacres, genetic tweaking, mutant species… At the rate science is ‘advancing’, we’re not far now from seeing scientists produce modified humans. And should we also close our eyes to that ?

Seeing things differently

Changing the way we see things means recalling that religions and myths were born out of man’s sense of fragility with regard to nature. The passing of time has affected that sentiment, but not the requirements of nature, which are still ever-present. It is likely that humanity will have to embrace a more organic form of spirituality in the future, closer to the living world, to guarantee its own survival.

Changing the way we see things also means reconsidering what we regard as model ways of life. Predation or perpetual growth are not the only models on Earth. Life benefits from symbiosis, the intricate cooperation among species. (100,000 billion bacteria live within a human body, and are vital for it to function. They even outnumber human cells ten to one). This organic cooperation, opposed to the predation model, enables us to consider the question of degrowth in a new light. ‘Homo homini lupus est’…. Man is a wolf to his fellow man. How were wolves regarded when this was first written?

Let us take a fresh look at the biodiversity that lies beneath our feet. Certain biologists think that the « Third Landscape » represents our biological future: this comprises roadsides, wastelands, urban embankments, neglected fields, forgotten forests, military zones, deserts, open seas, inaccessible peaks, frozen expanses… This Third Landscape also entails « Third Species»: all the marginal beings, out of sight and out of mind for humans, of no immediate interest, today form a resource that could yet ensure our future. Whatever man has not touched is now the ultimate genetic reservoir. So let us regard the wilderness that is still around us with respect. This will be TERRA’s final message, perhaps the greatest promise we can make.

Genesis of the film

Production of TERRA was spread out over 18 months, involving over 60 days of aerial shooting and 60 days of shooting on the ground. As well as the work of the French teams who produced the lion’s share of the aerial and ground images, the film also relied on the contribution of film-makers from all over the world, capitalising on their expertise, talent, particular speciality and the region of the world in which they work, who each inspired and helped create the images shown in the film.

Here is a short presentation of these filmmakers.

Li Gang, China. Animal photographer and specialist in horses, who filmed the herds of wild horses in the interior of Mongolia.

Matthew Aeberhard, UK. Animal film-maker and a specialist on Africa, director of the film Les Ailes Pourpres (Disney Nature).

Louie Schwartzberg, USA. Producer and director of Pollen (Disney Nature), who with his studio filmed the bees and the iguanas of the Galapagos.

Paul Wildman, South Africa. Diver-photographer and film-maker, who filmed the translocation of the rhinoceros and the underwater world of the iguana.

Denis Lagrange, France.
Diver-photographer and animal film-maker, who filmed the submerged forest.

Wolfgang Bayer, USA. Animal film-maker and director of the film Earthling, to which he devoted his entire life.

Brian McClatchy, UK. Animal film-maker and bird specialist, who filmed the mass movements (murmuration) of starlings.

Dieter Szoke, Germany. A specialist in time lapse photographer, who created the images of plants, flowers and insects.

Wim Van Egmond, Holland. Artist-photographer, specialist in microbiology images and creator of the images showing the explosion of life (fungi).

Scientific and specialist consultants

Scientific supervision Gilles Boeuf

Editorial advisor Karine-Lou Matignon

Jacques-Marie Bardintzeff, vulcanologist Gilles Tosello, cave-painter, Chauvet Colomban de Vargas, CNRS Erik Karsenti, CNRS Christelle Jozet, Université de Caen William Kriegel Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, photographers Charles Brewer-Carias Phillipe Gaucher, CNRS Guyane Gaëlle Fornet, CNRS Annaïg Le Guen, CNRS Jacques-Olivier Barthes, WWF Jill Robinson Animal Asia Foundation Catherine Vincent, Le monde Olivier Tostain, consultant Marion Lacaze, Université de Bordeaux Stéphane Thévenin, broker Hélène Thiollet, CERI Georges Chapouthier, CNRS Will Potter, author Jean-Pierre Boris, journalist Jade Lindgaard, journalist Anne de Loisy, journalist Michel Kreutzer, ethologist Dalila Bovet, Université Paris X Alexandra Liarsou, archaeologist Christophe Féron, Université Paris XIII Jocelyne Porcher, INRA Bernard Vaissière, INRA Gérard Arnold, CNRS Anne-Caroline Prevot Juliard, MNHN Agathe Colleony, MNHN Alan Vergnes, MNHN Nathalie Siefert, Parc du Mercantour Trevor Sandwith, IUCN Andrew Blum, author Vinciane Despret, philosopher Mark Post, Maastricht University Elisabeth Plas, ENS Jean-Pierre Digard, CNRS Assaf Schwarz, MNHM Eddy Fougier, IRIS Rob Bailey, Chatham House Bernard Denis, Académie d’Agriculture de France Fabienne Duteil-Ogata, EHESS Susan Clayton, Collège of Wooster Véronique Servais, Université de Liège Catherine Bastide, LOOF François Gemenne, CERI Carine Celibert, journalist Franck Courchamp, CNRS Arnold Van Huis, Université Wageningen Bas Verschuuren, chercheur Philippe Chalmin, Cyclope report Sébastien Abis, IRIS Jean-Luc Jany, LUBEM Gerlinde de Deyn, Wageningen University Vincent Goossaert, EPHE Arezo Malakooti, Altai Consulting Anne-Marie Brisebarre, anthropologist

Film crew

Directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand Michael Pitiot

Narrated by Vanessa Paradis

Original Music by Armand Amar

Produced by HOPE Production
CALT Production

In partnership with OMEGA SA.

With the participation of France TELEVISIONS Centre National du Cinéma et de l'image animée

Chief editor Laurence Buchmann

Executive producer Marc Stanimirovic

Production manager Pierre Lallement

Assistant director Lolita Chamaillard

Editorial Assistant Marine Casalis

Editing assistants Leonardo Silva Bucar and Philippine Merolle Manon Augier Elena Raguenes

Graphics, effects and titles Ronan Jupin

Aerial photography Bruno Cusa Peter Thompson

Vision engineers Stéphane Azouze Léonard Rollin

Camera Michael Raimondo Wayne de Lange Zheng Yi Michael Zhao Han Clement Voyer Daniel Meyer Baptiste Rouget–Luchaire David Perrier Fitzerald Jego

Assistant to Yann Arthus-Bertrand Roxanne Crossley

Documentalists Laure Regnier Céline Leroux

Production assistant Valentin Wattelet

Deputy production assistant Marc Carvalho

Production administration Christophe Baillot Sterenn Hall

Press contacts

Hope Production - Calt Production DS Communication

Delphine Schroeder delphine@dscommunication.fr 06 82 51 65 29

Alizah Salmona
alizah@dscommunication.fr 09 51 64 62 29