Frederic Fougea’s docu-series First Man reveals the startling origins of the human species
Ever thought of taking a journey back 30 million years? If you did, wouldn’t you be surprised to find out that man’s primal ancestors walked on two legs, laughed, loved and lived in families sooner than we thought? Directed by French author-director Frédéric Fougea and director Jérôme Guiot (with scientific direction from Pascal Picq, paleoanthropologist at France’s elite Collége de France), First Man tells the story of the origin of our species and evolution that lead to what we are today.
“It is important to know where we come from, especially at a time where we don’t know where we are headed. Who are we? What makes us humans? Why do we have politics? Why do we have morals? Why do we make war? To understand all these fundamental questions, one should understand evolution,” says Frédéric, who previously created the series Hanuman (1998) and Wild France (2015), among others.
The 90-minute docu-drama tells the story of a family of great apes that lived 30 million years ago. The series follows the story of one primate tribe with exceptional skills, highlighting the social, cultural and biological constructs that shaped their evolution into modern man. “It all started from my fascination for the story of origin and the evolution of mankind,” says Frederic, elaborating the inspiration behind the series. “It is a very concerning subject as everybody has their own take on evolution. We also try to change the mind of people as a lot of recent discoveries are really questioning ancient theories and beliefs. We have drawn inspiration from some of them. For example, the great apes began walking on two legs in the trees, much earlier than previous theories indicated. They also laughed, loved and valued relationships way before we thought they did.”
Starring over 40 actors, the series features strikingly realistic characters brought to life through prosthetics and makeup based on authentic fossilised skulls and teeth. It was done by the Academy Award-winning makeup team who worked on The Revenant (2015).
“What we have done is travel down in time. We had to take a realistic approach on who our ancestors are, what they looked like, how they moved, walked and ate. It took us two years to research all of this, to design, to prepare and even teach the actors how to walk,” says the 57-year-old director. The production took over four years, and was shot across various places within South Africa. “The main challenge was to make the knowledge acceptable, to make the story entertaining, so that it can be conveyed to a wider audience. You have to tell a good story while making sure you are not making a movie. It is important to convey emotions and for that, you need characters and stories. When the viewers are moved by the story, they will be open to the complex information we share,” shares Fredric.
Airs Friday at 10 pm on Discovery Channel.