SYDNEY — North Korea may have reopened its border with the South only last week, but for the past few months, a documentary crew has been in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone — filming a wildlife doc.
New Zealand-based production company NHNZ teamed with Korean broadcaster MBC on the project — NHNZ’s first in Korea — which the company says was “simply too fascinating to pass up.”
The DMZ was created in 1953 and is one of the world’s most heavily guarded borders; as a result, the area, which was once farmland, has largely reverted back to nature.
“It is a bleak place with two huge fences and a constant military presence — you can feel the human tension,” says NHNZ’s Neil Harraway. “And yet nature just gets in there and makes use of what it can.”
The one-hour doc, yet to be named but likely to be titled “World’s Weirdest Wildlife Sanctuary,” looks at this 150-mile strip of land, 2.5 miles wide, that is home to unusual animals including the long-fanged water deer and a type of goat, as well as unconfirmed sightings of tigers and bears.
The crew also filmed the annual migration of the red-crowned crane and fish in the Han River, which begin a journey in South Korea, pass through the DMZ and spawn in North Korea “because they know no borders.”
Harraway says that NHNZ needed special permission to film the doc, but that the political hoops they jumped through were worth it.
“You get surreal images of little birds sitting on mine-warning signs, butterflies perched on soldiers’ guns and wild boar that are missing legs due to the area’s land mines,” he says.
The DMZ doc is expected to be ready early next year.
NHNZ has outposts in Washington D.C. and Beijing. It touts itself as the largest Western-based doc producer in China. The group also has a number of co-productions with Japanese broadcaster NHK.
NHNZ’s docs typically head to National Geographic Channels, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, A&E Television Networks and Travel Channel, as well its partner broadcasters in Asia.