fergus beeley

A look back at the filming of White Falcon, White Wolf 2008

White Falcon, White Wolf was released in 2008 as part of the BBC Natural World Series and produced by Fergus Beeley. On a remote island in the Canadian Arctic, a pair of white gyrfalcons and a pack of Arctic wolves are both struggling to raise families during the short summer. As the falcons’ eggs hatch, the race is on to catch enough young Arctic hares to feed them. The wolf pack are raising their cubs in a hillside den. The film recorded behaviour that has never been seen by scientists, let alone filmed! 

Professional explorer Jim McNeill travelled to Ellesmere Island with the BBC Natural History Unit crew to capture the elusive Arctic wolf on camera and his record can be found here.

Interview with PBS and Fergus Beeley:

Can you tell me about development and pre-production on White Falcon, White Wolf?

The greatest difficulty with regard to the development of the film was being certain about any facts. Yes, people had studied the wolves on Ellesmere — in previous years. Yes, people had seen gyrfalcons on Ellesmere — in previous visits. But NOTHING in the Arctic remains certain, and for that reason, whatever anyone ever said, my stomach would always turn with the fear that we would neither find a nest nor a den.

Pre-production difficulties were confirming the logistic needs. The teams were going to require training in safety aspects, as well as huge consideration being given to tents, camping food, and keeping both the latter free from the curiosities of wolves or even polar bears. Safety expert Jim McNeil was an expert in the area, and knowing the particular area well, he was able to give us specific training in the issues that might ensue.

 How long did each crew film on Ellesmere Island?

The two crews were on location for eight weeks, one team on the gyrfalcons, and the other team at the wolves. Knowing when the best time would be to go was a concern, as each year is different in the Arctic. Some years the sea ice melts early; other years it melts late. To get up there and find that the sea ice had melted would mean that we would not be able to land the aircraft at the desired spot. That, of course, would be a disaster.

How large was the crew?

The wolf crew comprised Jim McNeil, safety and logistic expert, Jonny Keeling, Director (who replaced me, but did much better than I ever would have done), Harry Hoskyns-Abrahall, a really good field naturalist and an Assistant Producer, and the cameraman, Mark Smith. There were three people at Alexandra Fiord with the gyrs; Mike Dilger, a director, cameraman Ian McCarthy, and a field expert and safety advisor.

Read more from this interview here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/filmmaker-interviews-fergus-beeley-producer/3462/