Oscar Winner Guillermo Navarro Goes For Emmy Gold With National Geographic Docuseries ‘Hostile Planet’

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Matthew Carey
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To Guillermo Navarro, executive producer of the National Geographic documentary series Hostile Planet, there’s no doubt global warming is dangerously real.

“We’ve made sure to turn the oven a little hotter and things are cooking quicker,” Navarro comments ruefully. “In these last 50 years the planet has evolved more rapidly than the last six million years.”

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The impact of climate change on species across the globe forms the crux of Hostile Planet, a contender for three Emmy Awards including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series. It’s never been easy for animals of any kind to endure and pass on their genes in the great Darwinian contest that is life on Earth. But rising temperatures have made it even tougher, the series maintains.

“The fact is that [animals] have a very difficult time surviving now. So the story of a polar bear 50 years ago when these natural history movies started being done has nothing to do with what a polar bear is today,” he observes. “There’s no time [for animals] to change, to adapt. In my lifetime this has happened.”

Each of the show’s six episodes focuses on a different habitat: mountains, oceans, grasslands, jungles, deserts and polar regions.

“We decided to tell the story with the different environments and see what it’s like to be [in] them now,” Navarro explains. “[It’s] the frontline of the fight over these things [climate change] that people still question. But as filmmakers, we try to pursue the truth. That is our commitment.”

The commitment involved filming around the world, from Norway to Malaysia, the polar icecaps, Florida and California, among many other locations.

“It was a very big project and it was over a thousand days of shooting. If you add all the numbers of the different teams, it was a huge effort,” Navarro affirms. “It was the dimension of the planet in approaching it.”

Off the coast of South Africa, Hostile Planet crews filmed in a place where “Rising sea temperatures are pushing fish eastward to cooler waters,” as the show’s host and narrator, Bear Grylls, notes in voiceover. Fur seals have followed the food supply, but they’ve ventured into great white shark territory, igniting “new conflicts between old foes.”

In the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) camera teams photographed rockhopper penguins taking a ferocious beating in waters roiled by a hurricane. Storms like those are an increasing threat as ocean surface temperatures rise, according to the series.

Other scenes in Hostile Planet are not specifically linked to climate change. On the shores of Costa Rica, for instance, an age-old spectacle unfolded—olive ridley turtle hatchlings scraping their flippers across the sand, in a desperate attempt to make it into the ocean before predators pounced. In that sequence Navarro and his team focused on a particular female hatchling’s journey through the minefield, shooting from multiple angles including the hatchling’s POV.

“This is a little bit like a Dunkirk sequence, right, where we have to overcome the incredible adversity of just going a few feet from where they come out of the sand to the ocean,” Navarro points out. “Part of my role was to bring film language into the equation of the narrative, and tell complete stories…It becomes more of an immersive experience of what it’s like to be them.”

Navarro has been steeped in film language for decades. The native of Mexico City has served as director of photography on a variety of major Hollywood films including Pacific Rim (2013), Hellboy (2004), Spy Kids (2001) and Jackie Brown (1997). He won the Oscar for cinematography for Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), directed by his friend and frequent collaborator Guillermo del Toro.

“I come from mainly doing drama in feature films and I had a past of doing documentaries growing up in Mexico,” he tells Deadline. “My attention has really been on the human condition, what it’s like to be the full drama of us. And then the opportunity to shed light on the world of the animals came and for me it was very important to bring the elements of drama, of storytelling, that I had with me, incorporate it into that.”

Building the drama may be important, but Navarro emphasizes there is a line he doesn’t cross filming the natural world.

“When you’re doing documentary it’s so important that you don’t affect the behavior,” he notes. “You have to allow the animal behavior to take place. Because that is part of the tremendous rule of the pursuit of the truth, that what you’re doing is really what happens and not that you’re going to start manipulating [outcomes].”

Navarro, 64, tells Deadline he’s up for producing more episodes of Hostile Planet.

“I would love to do a second season. There’s so much more to say and tell and explore,” he insists. “It’s not up to me, but I would absolutely be part of it and would love to continue doing this.”

In the meantime, there is much for him to savor about the show’s first season.

“It’s my first executive producing series in documentary so it’s all new for me,” he comments. “My first Emmy nomination, so it’s a lot of new things that I’m [experiencing] here at my age, which is wonderful.”

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