Namibia: Hollywood filmmakers enrage environmentalists

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Shooting of new ‘Mad Max’ film  alleged to have damaged the world’s oldest desert

Dead acacia trees in the Namib Desert (Picture: Desertman)

Production of the long-awaited latest installment of post-apocaylptic sci-fi franchise Mad Max is alleged to have caused irrepairable damage to the Namib Desert, where it is currently being shot.

The producers of Mad Max: Fury Road, have been accused of spoiling the untouched landscape, and of then causing further damage while attempting to restore the ancient desert.

Speaking to Associated Foreign Press, tour operator Tommy Collard said: “They added tracks in untouched areas. What is worse is the film crew tried to remove the marks they left themselves by dragging nets over them, ripping plants out.”

The allegations were reiterated in a leaked environmental report which claims the film crew have damaged the fragile ecosystem, endangering local wildlife and flora. The report’s author, ecological scientist Jon Henschel says that there was insufficient public consultation before production of the multi-million dollar movie commenced.

“It all happened without an environmental impact assessment, so it’s difficult to assess the extent of the impact without a baseline,” he said, adding that had the filmmakers approached Namibia with a production request after recent environmental legislation was passed, filming in the desert would probably not have been authorised.

Henscel says that the crew have tried to repair the damage caused: “They are doing the best of what they can do under the circumstances, but they can’t undo the damage done, to the environment and their reputation.”

There is concern within Namibia that bad publicity from the allegations could have a negative impact on the country’s ability to attract foreign film makers in future. Movie production is seen as a desirable source of income for Namibia, with Fury Road expected to bring up to 370m Namibian dollars (SU$27m) into the economy, as well as employing almost 1000 Namibians.

Florence Haifene, of the government-run Namibia Film Commission, which granted permission for Fury Road to shoot in the Namib, says: “We don’t want a bad image painted of our country, especially when the allegations are unverified and untrue.”

Mad Max’s producers Warner Bros. decided to move the film’s production to the desolate landscapes of the Namib after their original production location in the Australian outback became covered in flowers after intense rainfall. Given that Mad Max is set in a brutal futuristic wasteland, director George Miller was forced to choose an alternative location for the movie, which stars Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy.

At an estimated 50m years old, the Namib is the world’s oldest desert and its striking landscapes are almost completely uninhabited by humans, save for some indigenous pastoral groups.  It is thought to be to home to more endemic species than any other desert in the world.

Rob Brady, co-ordinator at the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management Project, which commissioned the leaked report, said: “[The leak] has been a bit of an embarrassment. It’s difficult and premature to make judgments. It’s still being reviewed by other scientists.”

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