martes, 17 de julio de 2012


Text and Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
In 1972, two years before the shooting of the first chapters of the mythical series Man & The Earth devoted to the Fauna of Venezuela (The Yanomamos: A Jungle Country, Searching for the Orinoco Indians, My Friend the Otter, The Lost Eden, The Sacred Mountain, The Jaguar World, Anaconda Operation and others), Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente travelled to Eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), filming one of the most touching, charming and symbolic documentary films in his lifetime: SAFARI.

Forty years have elapsed since Dr Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente (top qualitative benchmark in the world along with the British Sir David Attenborough regarding the documentary movies on Fauna) made this wonderful production shot with cinematographic 35 mm Kodak Eastmancolor Type 5247 film and Arriflex IIC camera with Angenieux zoom 25-250 f/2.3 zoom lens.

Safari, filmed in Kenya (Reserve of Amboseli, Reserve of Mara Masai in Serengueti area and Region of Tsavo), Tanzania (Conservation Zone of Ngorongoro and its crater, National Park of Kilimanjaro, Lake Manyara in the east of Rift) and Uganda (Murchison Park by the banks of Nilo Victoria river, Great Valley of Rift, Lake Victoria, Lake Albert - in the frontier with the old Belgian Congo or Zaire) in 1972, is full of wondrous images in which appear a wide range of highly representative species of the African Fauna, it all commented with the unutterable voice, passion, knowledge and conviction in everything he said of the legendary and yearned Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente.

But because in mid seventies there weren´t Beta or VHS domestic video players, Safari was launched into market through copies made on Super 8 mm Kodak Ektachrome 160 Type A film reels (manufactured from the original 35 mm Kodak Eastmancolor Type 5247 cinematographic film exposed in Eastern Africa at ASA 64 with daylight filters Kodak Wratten Gelatine 85, 85N3 and 85N6 put on the Angenieux 25-250 f/3.2 lens, depending on the f-stops used),

which were the ones on sale for the public four decades ago, for their home watching, and have the drawback that unlike the unbeatable Super 8 mm format Kodachrome 40, the passing of years degrades it to a great extent in various sides, which hasn´t been an exception in the very few still extant reels of Safari Super 8 mm movie, most of them are currently in a fairly poor condition and suffering from the following defects:

- Reddish shade on a high percentage of the frames.

- Abundant presence of scratches.

- Dented areas.

- Decoloration.

- Massive quantities of dust adhered on many of the frames.

- Contrast loss.

- Sharpness decrease.

- Constant difficulty to handle the footage of the reel (most times brittle, with the steady risk of breakage of stretches of film, due to vinegar effect with subsequent decomposition of the cellulose triacetate of which the emulsion is made).

- Loss of chromatic accuracy.

- Bleaching and fading of the film because of the emulsion overheating on being repeatedly projected throughout years with Super 8 mm projectors featuring halogen lamps with powers between 50 and 250 W.

- Warping in a number of film stretches, which hampers the frames scanning.

- Holes on different frames, brought about by very high temperatures reached in specific areas of the emulsion when it sometimes gets stuck in the projector film transport door.

- Lack of luminic evenness in a high percentage of frames, with highly visible fall-off.

- Adhered segments of film because of elapse of time, with risk of breakage on trying to detach them.

After some years of search, was able to find a total of three Super 8 mm movie reels of Safari Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda 1972, two of them in a very bad condition and massive presence of reddish shade, and a third one in acceptable state of conservation (even its box is almost brand new), with a certain chromatic dwindling stemming from the elapse of time, but still keeping - though with its contrast rather reduced and the inevitable presence of reddish hue- the array of colours of the original Kodak Eastmancolor 35 mm master film of Safari, exposed at ASA 64 with the aforementioned 35 mm movie camera and daylight filters by Arturo Olmo, camera operator and photography director of Safari.

Needless to say that this copy of Safari that we chose to try to digitize, restore and eventually save, also lacked to greater or lesser degree all the defects inherent to this type of Super 8 mm emulsion which unfurl within time after their exposure and development, and which has brought about till now that the very short and scarce surviving footage excerpts of this top-notch color documentary film have been mostly in black and white, since the original colour gamut had been almost utterly lost.

Projecting the movie with a sound Super 8 mm projector (Safari boasts very high quality magnetic sound with both Félix´s voice and the different ambient noises along with the ones generated by different animals of Eastern Africa) so as to try to more deeply evaluate the condition of preservation of the Super 8 mm movie and the chances of digital salvation of it, seemed us very risky (there were some crisp stretches of film about to break), so we took the copy to a highly experienced firm in the digitization of small film formats, which confirmed us that albeit by a hairbreadth, the movie could be saved through top quality HD scanning, frame by frame, striving after restauring the original colours and contrast as much as possible, as well as getting a 100% elimination of the flicker (typical in the low quality digitizations made by means of recording with digital videocameras of Super 8 mm movies projected on a screen).

Therefore, the integral HD digitization of Safari, made in a handcrafted way, frame by frame, and with maximum film flatness, was accomplished based on a full restoration (after cleaning and eliminating the dust affecting most of the footage) at 24 fps, with a remarkable recovery of the original colours, a great improvement in sharpness and contrast, optimization of colour saturation, greater RGB chromatic precision in high key and low key areas, etc, it all through the use of a very professional HD scanning equipment working at a very slow speed and getting all feasible information from the film, by means of a three CCD sensor featuring a resolution of almost 900 lines of TV, and boasting an excellent focusing accuracy and evenness of image lighting both on the center, borders and corners of all the frames, greatly thanks to the high end lenses delivering exceedingly high definition and to the direct digitization on the very emulsion.

This way, the digitization was accomplished, after a lot of hours of strenuous effort by a highly experienced professional, transferring the whole Safari movie restored and digitized in HD format from a very powerful computer to a high quality DVD disc, whose visualization for the first time in a 32" Sony Bravia HD television, with an attendance of some enthusiasts of Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente with many decades of loyalty, was a real relish, with highly emotive moments being lived, together with the remembrance towards the great Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, whose work, 32 years after his death, goes on being very alive.

Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente advances on a Toyota Land Cruiser FJ55 across the savannah of Ngorongoro Reserve (Tanzania) with his guide and friend Wacamba Kaloloy, surrounded by thousands of animals of the most different species.

This excellent off-road vehicle featuring a then unmatched reliability and durability, was with difference in 1972 the most versatile in the market, and among its specs highlighted: 125 H.P at 3600 rpm, 3-speed transmission, four-wheel drive, a very reliable front inline 6 cylinder 3.9 litre engine, highly sturdy semi-elliptical leaf springs, hydraulic 4 wheel drum brakes, and a virtually indestructible drive train. 

Close-up of Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and the guide Wacamba Kaloloy watching the huge African fauna of Ngorongoro Reserve (Tanzania) from the Toyota Land Cruiser FJ55.

Two zebras drinking water in a pool of Ngorongoro Crater area (Tanzania).

A herd of gnus in the savannah of the Natural Reserve of Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania).

Eland, the largest of African antelopes, advancing with a stately air through the savannah of Ngorongoro Crater.

A female rhinoceros and its calf in Ngorongoro Crater area, with some gnus in the background.

Arturo Olmo films the female rhinoceros and its calf from a very short distance. The pachyderm takes up a defensive position previous to attack, indicating the camera operator, Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and Wacamba Kaloloy that they mustn´t approach closer, though the presence of Félix inhibits any possible onslaught.

Flamingos in Lake Nakuru (Kenya), located in the Great Valley of Rift, and where sometimes up to 2 millions of these birds gather. Of the total figure of existing flamingos on earth, around 50% are in Rift areas belonging either to Kenya or Tanzania.

Giraffes stepping forth through the savannah of Serengueti Reserve (Tanzania).

Beginning of the African lion nuptial parade in Serengueti Reserve (Tanzania).

Final stage of the nuptial parade of African lion in Serengueti Reserve (Tanzania).

During the shooting of Safari documentary film, Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente´s perseverance and unbounded doggedness enabled him to get into the family life of lions and lionesses throughout the first weeks after the cubs birth, which was a further world first-time event featured in this wonderful movie on African fauna made in early seventies of XX Century. 

A lioness resting on a tree of the forest by Lake Manyara (Kenya). Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente managed to shoot for the first time the remarkable fact carried out by the lions and lionesses placed by this big lake, which are the only ones in their species usually climbing to trees, spending the daylight on them, both to protect tjemselves from mosquitos and to avoid the attacks of the exceedingly powerful African buffalos weighing up to one ton, whom they hunt in the night but are the dominant forces of their habitat during the daylight hours.

Close-up of the lioness sleeping on a tree of the forest by Lake Manyara (Kenya). Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, camera operator and photography director Arturo Olmo and the guide Wacamba Kaloloy approached very much, on foot, up to a distance of three meters, to shoot these images which were hitherto unknown.

The lioness on the tree has just heard the three men approaching and becomes somewhat alert, staring at them and showing its teeth, but once more, the presence of Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, perfectly aware that the feline has already eaten and is in a semilethargy state, inhibits any attack.

After detecting the presence of Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and realize that none of the three men has the aim of harming it, the lioness on the tree of the forest by Lake Manyara resumes its rest.

Maybe the most dangerous moment throughout the whole shooting of Safari movie in Eastern Africa in 1972. The Toyota Land Cruiser FJ55 in which Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, Arturo Olmo and Wacamba Kaloloy are marching on, approaches to a pack of African buffalos (some of them weighing up to 1,000 kg). The distance from the car to the huge bovids - very wild and bad tempered - is very short. While Arturo Olmo films the scene, a colossal dominant male gazes at the three men and emits an alert sound. 

The members of the group of African buffalos (Syncerus caffer) hear the sound and the whole herd puts on watch, with two bulky dominant males standing in a middle defensive position previous to preventive attack. The context is risky to the utmost, since in spite of their massive size and weight, these animals are able to run at 60 km/h, so they could easily overturn the Toyota Land Cruiser FJ 55 and kill its occupants.

The strongest dominant male glares the three men, specially to Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, identified by the huge African buffalo as the boss of the human group. The cold blood and very deep knowledge of fauna behaviour of the great naturalist, who shows himself quiet at every moment, proves once more to be decisive, and when the herd of buffalos notice that none of the three men are a menace to them, calm returns.

Simba, a huge and very famous African lion, deeply admired by Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. The appearance of this giant feline on screen is one of the most spectacular and unforgettable instants of Safari.

A cheetah of the Masai Reserve of Amboseli (Kenya), near Kilimanjaro, has just spotted a Thomson gazelle (which can run at 80 km/h) in the distance, and it will strive after hunting it.

The cheetah, able to reach a speed of 114 km/h, is the fastest animal on Earth, and after an exceedingly swift chase, it has managed to hunt the Thomson gazelle.

Murchison Falls, through which Nile Victoria river pours its waters into Lake Albert, it all happening in Uganda territory.

Another image of Murchison Falls (Uganda), one of the most beautiful places in Africa.

Image showing a detail of the massive volume and strength of Murchison Falls water (Uganda), whose thundering sound reverberates all over its adjacent area.

A panoramic view of Murchison Falls (Uganda) in the background, shot from Nile Victoria river by camera operator and photography director Arturo Olmo, who is travelling with Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente on board of a fluvial boat.

A 4,000 kg giant hippopotamus going out of the waters of Nile Victoria river (Uganda), which has one of the biggest colonies of these pachyderms existing in the world.

Beautiful orange beaked wading birds by Nile Victoria river (Uganda), a true paradise for any enthusiast of ornithology.

Goliath heron (Ardea goliath), the largest of ciconiformae ardeidae and one of the most representative and exotic birds of Nile Victoria river area.

Nile Victoria river, in its stretch between Murchison Falls and Lake Albert, is the last intact colony of African giant crocodiles, which often reach four meters long and four thousand kilos weight. Here we see a huge one filmed from the fluvial boat on which Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and Arturo Olmo undertook a dangerous trip (above all due to the constant presence of hippopotami) whose result was the shooting in 35 mm cinematographic format of images including a great percentage of the fauna of this span of Nile river near its sources, which was mostly unfilmed until the arrival of Félix in 1972.

Two huge African giant crocodiles resting and thermoregulating themselves beside the waters of Nile Victoria river (Uganda). The vivid description, as always without any script, improvising at every moment, with a very deep knowledge on each species, unrestrainable passion and an exceptional mastery of Spanish language, made by Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente as to the whole range of animals appearing in Safari, is one of the most prominent highlights of his professional career and were the prelude to the extraordinary series El Hombre y La Tierra (The Man & The Earth), with which he amazed audiences all over the world from 1974 on, becaming the maximum international quality benchmark in the production of Fauna documentary films along with the British David Attenborough, as well as being a great friend of Jacques Cousteau and Conrad Lorenz.

A group of papions walking beside the waters of Nile Victoria river, filmed by the cameraman and photography director Arturo Olmo from a fluvial boat on board of which also goes Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, making their way to Lake Albert, after having left Murchison Falls behind.

The tremendous collective defense of papions allow them to successfully face the attacks of leopards and even lions.

A very beautiful jaribu (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis), one of the most exotic African birds, and whose bill polychromy is a first-rate visual treat, by the waters of Nile Victoria river (Uganda).

African elephants in an area with trees near Lake Albert (Uganda), filmed from a very short distance by Arturo Olmo. Dr. Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente is by him, and his presence inhibits the attack of the huge pachyderm visible on the left of the image, which is staring at both men, trying to perceive any possible danger for the herd.

African elephants advancing across territory close to Lake Albert. They can reach a weight of 6,000 kg, eating daily around 300 kg of food.

Close-up of an African elephant feeding himself on grass in an adjacent area to Lake Albert.

Copyright Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza