Show & Tell: The Serengeti Rules


Tuesday night, we’re going to be discussing a nature documentary called The Serengeti Rules. Now, if you get most of your nature documentaries via the small screen, you’ve probably figured out the structure of a typical 55-minute episode:

  • Introductory beauty shots of the area of jungle/forest/desert/mountains/ocean,
  • Stunning shots of the animals (usually) being studied,
  • Scenes of intrepid explorers setting out to explore,
  • More detailed footage of the animal in question makes a living, has sex, raises its young and stays alive,
  • …and…
  • Why this fascinating creature’s existence is now in danger from pollution, habitat loss, etc.

I’ve gotten to the point of wanting to turn a show off once the narrator says something like: “But not all is well in the world of the pygmy rattler.”

It’s like watching a TV bio of a rock star. You just know that at some point there’s going to be a painful patch.

But I’d like to invite you to The Music Hall on Tuesday for what will, I think, be a very different kind of nature documentary. It’s a history of the early pioneers in studying nature who figured out the fundamental rules of ecological systems.

These five scientists, each concentrating on a different ecosystem—Pacific tide pools, Amazon rainforests, Aleutian Islands, Oklahoma streams and the Serengeti plains of Tanzania—discovered important major truths about how the health of those systems was maintained.

As much as astronauts or Arctic explorers, these early ecologists deserve to be heroes of science, and director Nicolas Brown uses interviews and inspired footage of the systems in question to tell their stories. The movie is a fascinating combination of history, science and the story of ecology in its founding moments.

I know that the pace of environmental change is distressing to anyone (me certainly included) who’s paying attention. But The Serengeti Rules is ultimately a hopeful movie. I think you’ll enjoy it and will walk out with a lighter heart.

And who among us doesn’t need a lighter heart these days?

I hope to see you there, which will be in The Historic Theater at 7:00. And don’t forget the ecological importance of free coffee and popcorn!

Paul Goodwin