BAOBABS BETWEEN LAND AND SEA
A documentary on baobabs of Madagascar (56mn)
A film by Cyrille Cornu
With the voice of Thüryn Mitchell
By their sheer size and original shapes, baobabs are among the most remarkable trees on the planet. Relatively unknown in Madagascar, these giants are currently threatened by deforestation. To study them, in the heart of their forests, Cyrille Cornu and Wilfried Ramahafaly travel by pirogue, exploring 400 km of wild and isolated coastline in the southwest of Madagascar. The film chronicles the expedition. It reveals discoveries, encounters and scientific results of the two explorers, baobabs and landscapes that had mostly never been filmed or even photographed.
A scientific adventure to encounter the baobabs of Madagascar and the Vezo, a nomadic tribe of the sea
By their sheer size and original shapes, baobabs are among the most remarkable trees on the planet. Relatively unknown in Madagascar, these giants are currently threatened by deforestation. To study them, in the heart of their forests, Cyrille Cornu and Wilfried Ramahafaly travel by pirogue, exploring 400 km of wild and isolated coastline in the southwest of Madagascar.
Madagascar | Baobabs | Adansonia | Adventure | Botany | Ecology | Research | Vezo | Expedition | Flora | Sea
55 minutes and 10 seconds
February 10, 2015
Country of Origin
Country of Filming
English, French, Malagasy
Canon EOS 5D mark III
EF 24-105 mm f/4L IS USM
EF 70-200 mm f/2,8L IS II USM
EF 16-35 mm f/2.8L II USM
Digital 1080p 25i
16 | 9
Interview of Cyrille Cornu (February 2016)
Released in February 2015, the documentary film Baobab between Land and Sea directed by Cyrille Cornu, recounts a scientific adventure, in which we meet the Baobabs of Madagascar and the Vezo, a nomadic tribe of the sea. During 56 minutes, the film unveils breath-taking landscapes and follows a unique voyage by pirogue along four hundred kilometers of wild and isolated coastline. Naturalist and bio-geographer, Cyrille Cornu has worked for ten years at the International Centre for Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD). He conducts research on ecological issues for over ten years, studying tropical dry forests and using satellite images to characterize their biodiversity, degree of deforestation and the impacts of climate change. For the last seven years he has focused on the baobabs of Madagascar and has become one of the world’s leading specialists. Every year he organizes unique expeditions mobilizing local transport to access the hearts of the forest ecosystems where giants live.
Where does your passion for the baobabs come from?
Since boyhood, nature, trees, and the forest have fascinated me. I first encountered baobabs in 1979 during a stay in Senegal with my parents. Even though I was not yet ten-years old, I fell under their spell. But it was another thirty years before I was to meet them again in Madagascar. They are powerful beings, mysterious, exciting. So exciting that six years ago I settled here on the Red Island to study them.
You are organizing regular expeditions to study the baobabs of Madagascar. What do these expeditions consist of?
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world with an area the size of France and Belgium! Of 32000 kilometers of roads, only 12000 are passable in the rainy season and only 5000 are paved. For comparison, France has more than one million kilometers of paved roads. It is understood that most of the territory is inaccessible by car. Many baobabs grow in isolated forests, difficult to access, and have never been studied. Only local transportation such as boat or zebu-cart will get you there. Sometimes you have to walk for hours. This makes Madagascar a place of adventure. First, I'm a scientist. From this perspective I organize expeditions to produce knowledge about baobabs and their ecology and biology, as well as socio-cultural knowledge on how local people perceive and use them. Our original approach combines advanced technologies related to satellite imagery to identify baobabs with investigative locally based methods during our field trips. This is probably not new, but this approach is suitable for the study of the biodiversity of the island.
You have visited places where probably few people have gone before you. Does this mean that there are still unexplored parts of the island?
There are still many places to explore in Madagascar. It's very exciting! Take the example of Tsingy. Much of the complex karst networks has never been visited. It is the same massif Makai which was recently visited by a scientific team. During our trips, we sometimes enter forests where few people have ever gone, including locals. In these places, the trees bear no traces of exploitation, wildlife is close and curious. You feel a strange sense of calm and harmony.
In Madagascar, most field researchers are adventurers at heart. Are there situations where you felt threatened or endangered? Who comes with you and how do you organize your expeditions?
My friend and field partner Wilfried Ramahafaly, accompanies me on every expedition. A forester by training, he worked for many years at the CIRAD plant nursery where he germinated and grew baobabs. Nobody knows them better than he. Every year we organize one or two expeditions. I use GPS reconnaissance technology to identify baobabs. In five years, we have already organized seven expeditions between Cap d'Ambre in the extreme north and Tulear. Each trip is unique. Indeed, you have to be adventurous and in excellent physical condition to manage the heat, spartan conditions, insects and other disturbances that await you. Bandit assaults can occur but they can be avoided by observing simple rules: do not walk at night, check with the villagers for areas to avoid and do not camp too long in one place. Information travels faster in the bush. On the island, most of the animals are not dangerous except crocodiles and mosquitoes. I tested scorpion stings and centipede bites. I do not recommend them.
Baobabs are part of Madagascar's biological heritage but they are apparently threatened as with most of the endemic biodiversity of the island. What do you propose to do to protect them?
Limit burning as a means to clear forested areas. This practice, called locally "hatsake" is to use fire to clear forest areas and develop agricultural plots. The plots are harvested for two to three years and then abandoned because they rapidly become infertile. It becomes increasingly urgent to raise awareness on the dramatic impact of this practice on forest ecosystems, biodiversity, soil and even water resources. On site, things are not simple. Families act out of urgent need. They live in extreme insecurity, daily. The development of protected areas is a good way to stop the deforestation process but all forests can be protected in this way. Another solution is to implement community rules and sustainable management of forest resources with local populations.
By their endemism, the baobabs of Madagascar offer an undeniable tourist attraction. Yet accessible websites where you can see the baobabs are few. What should be done to facilitate access to the baobabs?
Madagascar lacks road and tourism infrastructure in the western regions where baobabs grow. The development of the areas concerned is not easy and I'm not sure that's a good thing. Nevertheless several attractions exist within easy reach, such as the alley of baobabs or the National Park of Kirindy Mite. Other people visit as adventure tourists. This requires appropriate means of transport, time and the spirit of adventure. I think of the track linking Morondava to Tulear, one of the most beautiful to see the giants of the Big Island or the Mangoky River last wild river in Madagascar- a canoe descent which requires at least five days.
You recently filmed one of your expeditions along the southwest coast of Madagascar to make a documentary. What can you tell us about the film?
The island of Madagascar is a great source of inspiration for filmmakers and photographers. Nature and landscapes are exceptional. Cultural diversity is also remarkable. I have photographed the island, its people and its nature for many years. With Baobab between Earth and Sea, I drew up a new objective: to share one of our expeditions in a documentary film as my first realization. The film chronicles a trip in June 2013 between the towns of Morondava and Tulear in Madagascar's southwest. We journeyed for twenty-two days by pirogue to explore four hundred kilometers of rugged coastline. The film reveals our findings, our encounters and our scientific results. The narrative is intimately related to travel. Content and form change the rhythm of encounters and discoveries in an attempt to place the spectator at the heart of the adventure. The film is self-produced with a micro budget.
Although we know the time required to produce a film like yours, how did you do?
I worked alone for shooting, sound and editing. I had a clear idea about the movie I wanted to produce, and the best way to achieve this was to do it myself. Not easy! Especially when one is constrained by the time-consuming exigencies of a researcher. One has also to learn many techniques and assemble everything for the overall production. It’s fabulous! We spent a long time, with taking into account building such a story that gradually born through drifting experience. The most difficult was to cut the umbilical cord and let the film live. At least two hundred hours of work anyway!
How did you design the soundtrack for your movie, and with whom did you work? Who made the comments?
For music, I had the good fortune to work with an exceptional Malagasy guitarist D'Gary. Initially, D'Gary was to advise me in the selection of musical illustrations. After viewing the film, he offered to participate in the studio and record some songs. A great chance! The musician is a talented jazz pianist Thuryn Mitchell, who lends his powerful voice, adding a measured and sensitive quality to the commentary. Then a wonderful collaboration with Laurence Guennec who provided the visuals for the movie poster, and also with Jean-Michel who provided brilliantly calibrated images. For my next projects, I'd like to work further with this team.
Your film encounters success in international film festivals. Can you tell us more?
A few months after its release, the film was selected and awarded by festivals in the field of the environment but also by general festivals. It has been selected by Green Screen, Germany; the Innsbruck Nature Film Festival in Austria; CMS Vatavaran in New Delhi; Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival in Indonesia; the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York and the Wildlife Film Festival, Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The film has won thirteen awards including a special jury prize at Matsalu International Nature Film Festival in Estonia, the first prize at the Sondrio International Documentary Film Festival on Parks in Italy, two awards at the International Peace & Film Festival in Orlando and the Viva grand prize film Festival in Sarajevo. I am of course delighted and surprised by such success. I think the outstanding subject of the film has much to offer. In the coming months, the documentary is competing in twenty leading festivals including the International Green Documentary Film Festival in Russia, the Cape Town Eco Film in the South Africa Festival and the famous Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's capital in Washington which is the most important film festival on the theme of the environment in the world!
Do you have other expeditions or movies in the works?
I am currently preparing a second film on the baobab trees of the north of the island of Madagascar and in particular on the two rarest species Adansonia suarezensis and A. perrieri! The second documentary is ‘in the can’. I shot the images in November 2014 during a second expedition by canoe between the cities of Mahajanga and Diego Suarez. In the coming years, I would like to visit the last portion of west coast that we have not yet explored, between Morondava and Mahajanga. I also plan to fly a para-motor tandem and film extremely remote and inaccessible baobab forests.
One cannot invest as you have in travelling so extensively within Madagascar without a deep affection for the inhabitants of the island. What lesson did you learn from this experience? What advice would you give to a foreigner who wants to really discover Madagascar?
The Malagasy people live according to rhythm of natural elements and traditions. They nurture the sense of the sacred, of sharing, of community. Core values to me. The ideal to discover Madagascar is to speak the language, have an activity to be involved in society! Participate in a development project, teach, make music, photography ... It strengthens ties with the country and its people. The more one takes one’s time the more the island delivers. Hence the famous Malagasy word "mora mora" which can be translated as "quiet calm".