DAILY NEWS Feb 5, 2015 7:07 AM - 1 comment

World Broadcast Premiere on CBC-TV's The Nature of Things

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Edmonton, AB-based Clearwater Documentary is pleased to announce the world broadcast premiere of their new documentary series, The Great Human Odyssey, hosted and directed by multiple Gemini-winning anthropologist Niobe Thompson (The Perfect Runner; Code Breakers; Tipping Point: Age of the Oil Sands)) and produced in association with CBC’s The Nature of Things.   

At a time when science and nature documentary is disappearing from our screens, this spectacular three-part series and interactive web documentary in the blue-chip tradition of Wild Canada and Human Planet premieres in Canada this winter.

·         Episode 1 of THE GREAT HUMAN ODYSSEY, Rise of a Species, premieres Thursday, February 12 on THE NATURE OF THINGS, at 8 p.m. (8:30pm NT) on CBC-TV.

·         Episode 2, The Adaptable Ape, airs Thursday, February 19 at 8 p.m. (8:30pm NT) on CBC-TV

·         Episode 3, Journey’s End, airs Thursday, February 26 at 8 p.m. (8:30pm NT) on CBC-TV

Did you know that planet Earth was once a lot like Middle Earth?  Our ancestors lived in a world full of different kinds of humans, each one a kind of walking, thinking ape: Hobbits, Neanderthals, Denisovans and many others of which we know very little.  Where are they now?  Why are we now alone, the last ape standing?  How did we succeed among all the others, to become the planet’s only global species, at home on all continents, in every climate, on land and at sea?

In The Great Human Odyssey anthropologist turned award-winning filmmaker Dr. Niobe Thompson brings science to life through the art of storytelling,  taking audiences on an epic adventure of discovery, seeking to answer these seminal questions by following our mysterious journey out of Africa, across one of the world’s great deserts, confronting the miracle of human migration, survival, and adaptation around the world.

Over 18 months of filming, Thompson travelled the globe, following in the footsteps of our ancestors across five continents, working with a team of 22 cinematographers, including aerials, extreme slow-motion and underwater specialists.  Equipped with the next generation of ultra HD 4K cameras, crews worked in some of the most hostile environments on Earth, including mid-winter Arctic Siberia, the ice of the Bering Strait, remote south Pacific islands, tropical rainforests and African deserts.

On Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River, Thompson witnessed the extremely rare skin-cutting initiation of the Crocodile People.  His crew was the first in history to film the Badjao – the world’s last breath-hold diving nomads – in their war-torn Philippine homeland.  In Russia, Thompson and crew filmed over a full year, repeatedly returning to a closed border zone on the Bering Strait and eventually succeeding in their goal of capturing a traditional Inuit nest raid on 200-meter high sea cliffs.

At the same time Thompson’s cameras had privileged access to one of the world’s leading laboratories in the study of ancient DNA, where research on early human remains is explaining the mysteries of our survival, including the enigma of our ancestral interbreeding with Neanderthals.

This series is a rare example of true “science-in-progress” filmmaking, bringing audiences inside actual research in the field and laboratory, and showing them how new discoveries are redrawing our knowledge of human origins.   Thompson met 31 world-renowned scientists, often with exclusive access to their excavations, their genetics experiments, or their collections.  Highlights include:

·         Excavations on South Africa’s Cape Coast now producing evidence of the earliest use of language, the earliest projectile weapons, and the first art and jewelry making.

·         Excavations in southern Arabia, where the discovery of stone tools made by humans is doubling our estimate of how early our ancestors made their journey out of Africa.

·         Sampling previously unknown collections of human remains from the Russian Arctic dating back to before the Ice Age.  These collections lie in the vaults of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and they are now proving humans settled the Arctic far earlier than we thought.

·         Research on Easter Island leading to the discovery of South American DNA.  This discovery proves that Polynesians sailed all the way to the Americas before the era of European colonization.


At a time of anxiety for our species’ future, The Great Human Odyssey offers a vision of hope based on a new knowledge of our past.

“Humans were forged by calamity,” says Dr Niobe Thompson.  “Through the experience of near-extinction, we became tenacious, virtually impossible to wipe out, incredibly good at dealing with change.  We became fast-breeding settlers, a relentless colonizer.  With the evolution of the modern brain, our species became incredibly adaptable.  That… may be our salvation.”

The Great Human Odyssey is a Clearwater Documentary production produced, written, and directed by Niobe Thompson.  For CBC’s The Nature of Things: Executive Producer Susan Dando and Series Producer Caroline Underwood.  Daron Donahue, Aron Munson are Directors of Cinematograhy, and Editor is Brenda Terning.  The Great Human Odyssey is produced in association with CBC-TV’s The Nature of Things and with the participation of PBS Nova (USA) and Taglicht Media (Germany), the Canada Media Fund, the Alberta Multimedia Development Fund, the University of Alberta, Rogers Documentary Fund, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, and Rogers Telefund. 

Featuring a live orchestral score by composer Darren Fung, recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and ProCoro Canada at Edmonton’s Winspear Centre.


Dr Niobe Thompson – Director and Host

Double-Gemini winning Host and Director Niobe Thompson earned his PhD from the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, before founding Clearwater Documentary in 2008.  Niobe quickly established a reputation for taking his audiences on wild adventures to remote locations, while making a laboratory of his body and mind.  For his last documentary, The Perfect Runner, he ran Canada’s 125-km Death Race as an experiment in human endurance.  For The Great Human Odyssey, he learned to breath-hold dive in order to hunt with Badjao free-diving nomads.


His films have won major awards at Jackson Hole, Banff, Yorkton, and the Canadian Screen Awards.  Under Niobe’s direction, Clearwater Documentary emerged in 2012 as a Global 100 production company, recognized by Realscreen as one of the world’s 100 most influential production companies.



Clearwater Documentary is an Edmonton-based production company focused on long-form and feature documentaries. With four Gemini Award nominations and two Gemini Awards in 2011, its founders Niobe Thompson and Tom Radford continue a four-decade long tradition of uncompromising storytelling with visual flair.

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