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Arabia’s Cycle of Life launches on Showtime

Jonathan Ali Khan's 12-episode documentary series called Arabia’s Cycle of Life has been launched on Showtime.

Director of photography (DoP), Jonathan Ali Khan, has seen Arabia. As the driving force behind a stunning television series called Arabia’s Cycle of Life, he has dived off the coast of Oman, explored the Empty Quarter and followed African birds on their migration over the Gulf. The 12-episode series, shot on Sony DVCAM camcorders and edited on the vendor’s non-linear editing systems, is being aired on Showtime.

“We’ve travelled 38,000 kilometres around the region to make this project,” says Ali Khan with a proud smile. “That’s once around the world with a bit of change,” he adds.

Over two years in the making, the documentary series — the first wildlife TV programme to be produced in the UAE — is a staggeringly beautiful piece of work that draws attention to the region’s natural beauty and some of the issues that are threatening it. “I’ve been following the conservation issues of this region for over a decade now and it has become clear to me that this subject needs to be taken to a wider audience,” says Ali Khan. “Television is the way to do that. Hopefully, we can help position conservation and wildlife into people’s consciousness here.”

Over the last two years, the DoP has worked on different cameras including the DSR570, the DSR500, the DSR-PDX10 and the DSR-PD150, and produced over 400 hours of footage. “Among the cameras I used, I found the PD 150 and 170 to be the best for underwater filming. I was also very happy with the quality of the images produced by the DSR 570. The digital clarity, automatic aperture and white balance features in these cameras especially helped make shooting difficult scenes so much easier,” he adds. Al Khan also lauds the range of Fujinon lenses he used including the 8.5X, the 18 X and the 36 zooms. He also used an image stabiliser for large lenses and to extend the range of close-ups.

The DoP, however, is not a man to rest on his laurels. With the first batch of shows barely in the can, Ali Khan and his team will be embarking on a second series in March 2005 and aim to produce another 12 episodes. This time, however, Ali Khan will be using Sony’s new HDV format for all under water filming. “We’re just brushing the surface of the things that we can cover,” he enthuses. “The subjects are so interesting and so complex that they deserve far deeper exploration. For this series, we’ll be going to Soqotra, Oman and Yemen as well as back to Saudi Arabia where we want to look for a wetland that is supposedly in the middle of the Empty Quarter. It’s only been documented once or twice but we’ve got hold of some rough coordinates and we’re going to go looking for it with satellite imagery. It’s all very exciting,” he says.

Al Khan, however, is quick to add that the biggest challenge in producing the documentary has been budget and urges more TV stations to sponsor such efforts.”We have managed to produce the whole of the first series on a budget that would have been used to produce a single 60-second TV commercial on film. What we have done shows that it is possible to produce local content to a high standard and we hope that this will pave the way for more TV stations to support independent film producers in the future,” he adds.

Ali Khan also has plans to produce a third series, which is scheduled to be filmed in 2006, and will primarily be shot in Egypt and North Africa.

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