Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 30th, 2006
In November 2006, National Geographic Channel began screening one of their hour-long documentaries in the “Is It Real?” Series. It was on the Almas of Mongolia and the Almasty allegedly populating the Caucasus. They called their program, “Russian Bigfoot.” Craig Woolheater’s post here stimulated some intriguing comments, on both sides of the fence.
There was, of course, much to condemn in the program, from the mixing of two different stories – one on DNA sampling of the western variety of unknown hominids based on second generation finds to the fact that the film crew used a one-day investigation in the field as their major basis of the eastern story.
I had known this expedition was in the works and had hints of what was going to be staged, such as the capture of the Almas (see pre-production photo above). What none of us knew, needless to say, was how it would come out.
Learning the backstory from Adam Davies (above), the UK man who trekked to Mongolia to investigate the Almas, is very revealing. The documentary film company did not support his travel or fiscal expenses for the trek, and it was because he was financially limited that he could only afford one night in the field searching.
Interestingly, what one found from the point of view of those that wanted to criticize Davies was some nit-picking on his field wisdom. One critic at Cryptomundo commented:
I thought it was so unprofessional and almost a rude gesture that the cryptozoologist on the stakeout decided to get intoxicated on dutie [sic]. Its [sic] almost as if he wasn’t serious.
I openly discussed this with Adam Davies, and his good-humored field insights are worthy of sharing:
I took some flak on Cryptomundo for drinking during the “stakeout scene,” and I understand it. (If there was product placement then I wasn’t paid for it!) I think though people are applying western values to a Mongolian situation. In other words, if you’re inviting a Mongolian to stay up all night then its simply rude not to offer him a drink.
Other than that, its my time and my money, and my vacation. I’ve spent thousands of pounds on it, looking for cryptids all over the world. Nobody pays me. If people want to do it a different way then they can go do it themselves.
In general, when in Rome, while in the mud, muck, or cold of another culture, searching for cryptids, the cryptozoologists’ rule of thumb should be to do as the Romans do, if it is within your own moral and ethical standards.
Obviously, some of us who do not drink (personally, for example, I don’t drink) might wish to avoid sampling the whiskey under the crystal clear freezing night in Mongolia. But we probably should have available for our colleagues the beverage.
The fault here may be more with how “Is It Real?” framed the scene. As a filmmaker/executive producer myself, I found questions about this whole scene arose for me, like simply, for what reason was this sequence placed in this documentary? Why didn’t this drinking segment end up on the cutting room floor? What was the motivation of the editor/director for keeping this in the documentary?
The possible answers I could imagine were not satisfactory: The producers may have wanted to show Davies and his Mongolian guide drinking overnight to add texture to a rather boring night. Perhaps it was to set up a possible ridicule factor explanation if the seekers saw anything. Maybe they just wanted to fill in the documentary hour. That the drinking was, within context, culturally appropriate was not explained and this gap must be laid to the National Geographic production company’s way of constructing and editing this program.
“The Cryptozoologists’ Guidelines for Field Behavior” perhaps is something we should revisit here in the future. One thing is for certain, we can’t really use reality programs to show us the way, except often by looking behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, as you go into this New Year’s weekend, everyone enjoy yourself, in whatever you do so, but, please, no drinking and driving – no matter what culture you are in. We need every one of you back next week, ready to challenge 2007 and continue the search for cryptids into the new year.