Conversations with Dereck Joubert: Chasing pumas in the Patagonia mountains.

PBS’s long running series, Nature, returns tonight with a look at an apex predator from the Patagonia mountain range in Chile. Pumas: Legends of the Ice Mountains takes a intimate look at the life of a mother puma, Solitaria, as she teaches her three cubs how to survive. The filmmakers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, follow the family as they hunt, play, and grow stronger in the ice mountains of Torres del Paine National Park. With Uma Thurman providing the voiceover, Pumas: Legends of the Ice Mountains marks what promises to be another compelling season from Nature.

Dereck Joubert set aside some time to discuss the documentary.

Pumas: Legends of the Ice Mountains is a really compelling and gorgeous film. What attracted you to the project?

Big cats in the snow? What is not to totally fall in love with? When I saw early recce footage it was unbelievably beautiful.

Something I’ve always wondered about narrative-driven nature documentaries is how a subject is chosen to follow throughout the film. In this case, it’s a mountain lion named Solitaria. Can you discuss the process?

We always look for individuals and characters, to personalise those characters, but this is not unreasonable given that they are personalities! All we do is focus on one them and have that cat tell you her story, (via us.)

A puma mother and her three cubs resting together. Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. Credit: Nicolas Lagos, © Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH & Wildlife Films

While the project was in its planning phase, what was the most important aspect of pumas that you felt needed to be conveyed?

Pumas are quite hard to read and don’t have those distinguishing markings that, say a leopard has. So we needed to look for that personality again, but then when half way through, there was a disaster, the drama itself took over and led us down a story path.

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What was it like filming in the Patagonian mountains and following Solitaria around? It can be challenging terrain to say the least. Did you run into any problems?

This is the most challenging landscape in the WORLD. It’s miserable with icy winds and bad weather, but the crews we sent in time and again, all fell in love with the cats and the hardship!

Was Solitaria aware she was being watched? If so, how did she react to being followed?

She was aware of people but she and her cubs accepted the teams and everyone was able to move around them, on foot, unheard of in an African scenario so they all accepted humans quite easily.

A female puma sits in the frost-covered shrubs, looking out over the horizon. Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. Credit: Nicolas Lagos, © Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH & Wildlife Films

Can you discuss something that you learned about pumas during the process of putting the documentary together?

That many of these animals we see on the screen are unbelievably resilient. Pumas live in sub-zero conditions and we struggle in these conditions and yet they have adapted and thrive. Amazing.

Finally, what would you like viewers to take away from the film?

In our rough cut I used some music from “Metallica, Nothing Else Matters”, and this is the essence of all these films really, in that to pumas nothing else matters but their survival, their future. And we interrupt that with our own complexities and without respecting their needs.

COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Nicolas Lagos, © Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH & Wildlife Films

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