The Ambiguous Boundary between Life and Death on an Ancient Landscape

Lava flows from island peaks like giant rivers, huge billowing clouds fog the coastline and boil wildlife alive, and female iguanas rumble against one another for prime pockets of 130-degree volcanic ash to incubate their eggs. To live on the archipelago of the untamable Galapagos Islands is to travel through the mists of time back to an ancient landscape.
Following the migration patterns of Galapagos’ land iguanas, National Geographic filmmakers David Parer and Elizabeth Parer-Cook described these prehistoric creatures as “cat-sized monsters… like refugees of a lost world.”
081126133413[1]Very little is documented on this species that wanders a “hazardous moonscape of lava as brittle as glass.” The land iguana’s home, Fernandina Volcano, sticks out of the sea like a belly button. Because it is one of the most active volcanoes on present-day earth, the pristine island remains among the world’s most untouched lands. For a land iguana, life is a carefully balanced mix of good planning, flexibility and the ability to respond instantaneously to the unpredictable.
As for the intrepid female iguanas, the jaws of this sleeping, but stirring giant are the ideal nursery for hatching their young. Nesting in volcanic fumaroles comparable to powder kegs presents the iguanas with a tightrope walk between budding life and all-consuming death.
To film this migratory life-cycle process is just as hazardous for the human documentarian. Merely scaling the seven blistering hours of lava rock to the volcano’s rim is taxing enough. The three-hour descent into an eruptible hot bed of magma, however, is work of the truly intrepid. Scrambling down the loose rock landscape could trigger avalanches of rocks. But as Parer weighed the possibilities of the perilous adventure, he decided that if Fernandina were to blow up in his face, he would enjoy the extraordinary spectacle while he could…


Crushing and Shredding for a New Life

cars-metal-rust-438371-l-1Get a wee taste of automobile recycling at Iowa City’s Ace Auto Recyclers, Inc...

Passion and Perseverance: Superstardom’s Love Match


The adolescent outcast is always the one who eventually surpasses the bullies. Although Steven Spielberg grew up feeling alienated from his peers, he found solace in his boundless creativity that ultimately found him favor in Hollywood.

“Steven’s a guy who rewrites the book of cinema every so often,” said actor Tom Hanks in a Biography channel special chronicling Spielberg’s gradual ascendance to fame.

Spielberg built his entire cinematic career out of his own innovation. The director never quite fit into school academically or socially. Instead, his education came from home and his extra-curricular activities.

In his youth, Spielberg spent playtime telling his sisters elaborate science fiction tales. At family gatherings, the boy of Jewish heritage would listen to his relatives recount stories of the Holocaust, which would prove as useful knowledge later in Spielberg’s filmmaking career. In his teen years, Spielberg acquired a video camera, which he initially used to document camping trips with his father. Shortly thereafter Spielberg was creating all sorts of mini, low-budget features. His “Escape to Nowhere” won Spielberg a statewide competition and “Firelight” was his first draft for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Eventually, Spielberg made it to Universal Studios as an unpaid clerical assistant. While helping out at the studios, he created a 25-minute feature “Amblin’” that became Spielberg’s ticket to Hollywood.

Although Spielberg was described as a Jekyll and Hyde character in his youth, he proved to be a sweet kid in the director’s chair that won the affections of actors. His professionalism and ability to stay cool under excruciating stress earned him the highest grossing film of the time, Jaws, at the ripe age of 28 and merely two major feature films tucked under his belt.

Nevertheless, regardless of his phenomenal success as a film director, it has remained Spielberg’s artistic passion, not fame, that drives his work.


University Surplus takes one for the green team

Let’s take a moment for e-waste recycling

Seriously.  Recycle.

Seriously. Recycle.

Gary Anderson, Associate Director of Business Services at the University of Iowa, talks about his knowledge of University Surplus in Iowa City as a result of his collaboration with the recycling company.

Earth’s Ominous Dungeons

BBC Cave Image 2

~Life inside a black hole~

Strands of slimy glowworms dangle from the ceiling, cockroaches blanket 100-meter mounds of bat droppings, and translucent crabs creep through an all-consuming night expanse… There is a good reason why caves remain among the least explored landscapes of the world.

Once again, the BBC’s Planet Earth triumphs in patience and intrepidity to illuminate an otherwise perpetually nocturnal environment. In “Caves,” viewers learn to appreciate the intricacies of surviving in this bleak habitat.

Within the ominous depths of cave shafts that could swallow the Empire State building whole and miles of caverns that could exhaust the most athletic marathon runner, a host of eccentric creatures carry out peculiar livelihoods. Flocks of sparrow-like cave swifts, for instance, rely on emitting loud clicks to navigate through the blind corridors of caves. Echolocation, a skill cave swifts share with bats, is a phenomenon that humans are still researching to better understand. Cave swifts may be just like any other bird with their aptitude for building nests; however, instead of knitting twigs, they spend upwards of 30 days sewing their saliva into cup-shaped receptacles. For 500 years humans have harvested these nests as an integral component of bird nest soup, valued gram for gram in equivalence to silver.

BBC Cave Image 1

~Planet Earth’s production diary: “Into the Abyss”~

Living down in the cavernous depths of earth for one complete month was the ultimate culture shock for the Planet Earth film crew. Described as the most unpleasant of work environments, crewmembers adapted to life with fellow dwellers by taping their paper suit crotches to keep out cockroaches while waist deep in bat guano.

Not only was living amidst death and decay a multi-faceted challenge, but also descending into Lechuguilla Cave’s Chandelier Ballroom in New Mexico was a potentially fatal endeavor. The last broken ankle suffered while maneuvering this claustrophobic tunnel network required a rescue effort of over 100 expert cavers. The BBC crew spent 10 days living in and navigating the cave’s enduring pall of nighttime with 500 kilos of film equipment to keep in account. Although the crew eventually succeeded in its documentary undertaking, the caves prove to be a habitat only for the truly adaptable and adventuresome.

Butterflies in the Park or Fear Factor?

“I’m standing in a stream; the elephant’s running straight towards me…  Really what I’m thinking about is when to run.”  Michael “Nick” Nichols is not just playing for thrills, but on a quest to capture a signature moment in time. 

In the television special National Geographic: Cameramen, Nichols and his fellow National Geographic professional photographers dispel the romanticism of their jobs.  Working as a photojournalist for the century-old publication is not merely the ability to aim a lens at a docile subject and click a button.    The entire purpose of National Geographic is to expose its readers to the exotic places and people that only otherwise exist in the imaginations of the readers. 

Photographers for National Geographic sometimes risk their lives to document the cultures and customs of faraway lands.  One photojournalist’s plane crashed into a lake, another contracted malaria on 12 occasions, and yet another was held at gunpoint while his hotel room was robbed at two in the morning. 

“Maybe even the troubles are more glamorous,” said Jodi Cobb, a National Geographic photographer. 

Travelling for National Geographic is wearisome.  The crew must consider expenses, weather and spend the majority of its time arranging logistics.  Photojournalists must gain access into these uncharted areas with bureaucratic permissions and authorizations.  Minimal time is spent actually pointing and shooting a camera.  Even photo shoots can be a chore or a life threat.

A vibrant picture of a frog mid-flight through a lush rainforest does not depict the 7-month labor the photographer spent just for this serendipitous split-second moment.  The picture is a frame.  It does not include the red abrasions on the photographer’s buttocks made by the 100 or more worms feeding on him while he toiled to encapsulate the striking nature of this foreign landscape.  Gazing beyond the framework, a photojournalist’s job appears more suitable for a stint on Fear Factor.