British film crew visiting Kodiak

KODIAK (AP) — For years, British television presenter Johnny Kingdom has had an image in his mind: A bear, scooping down in an Alaska river to catch a salmon in its paws.

In the past week, Kingdom and a film crew have been capturing that sight and others like it across the Kodiak archipelago and Katmai National Park. It is part of a BBC4 TV special scheduled to air across Britain around Christmas, according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

"I wanted for years to come here and see the bears catch the salmon with their hands like I used to," Kingdom said during a break in filming on Tuesday night.

Kingdom, a self-described "poacher turned gamekeeper," said when he was growing up, he would wade into British rivers and grab an Atlantic salmon with his bare hands.

Kingdom is a well-known TV presenter in Britain, where he is known for nature programs, but his dream of coming to Alaska almost didn't happen, said director David Parker of Available Light Productions, which is producing Kingdom's one-hour program.

"(Johnny) said, 'David, I'm desperate to do this; I'll pay for this,'" Parker recalled.

Parker said he knew the cost of sending a film crew to Alaska would be too much, so he approached the BBC, which was initially reluctant to provide funding. By promising to film quickly, and with a small staff, he was able to convince the BBC to film the trip.

For 10 days, Kingdom, his wife, a researcher turned sound man, cameraman and director Parker have been turning Kingdom's dream into a reality.

"The bears really aren't the main story," Parker explained. "The salmon are."

In heavily cultivated England, salmon runs are declining rapidly, but while Alaska might have occasional problems, its runs are relatively health, Parker said. "In the rivers that Johnny used to fish in, the salmon have all but disappeared," he said. "Here, they're prolific. Why?"

That question probably can't be answered in an hour on TV, but the crew is doing its best anyway, traveling from Katmai National Park to Pasagshak and Frazer Fish Pass, gathering footage.

Guides Jo Murphy and Lee Robbins provided local support to the crew, while Robin Haight of Eider House Bed and Breakfast kept everyone fed, Kingdom said.

Robbins has worked with National Geographic on a similar TV special, but said he was impressed with the perspective of the BBC crew. "I thought their perspective was really good, because Johnny is a cinematographer," he said.

To show the impact salmon have on Kodiak, he helped the crew gather footage of birds and otters, whales and eagles.

While that footage may reveal Kodiak to millions on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Robbins said he still prefers to have people come out and see things for themselves. "I think the greatest pleasure for me is to get people dirty, let people taste it and smell it and feel it," he said.

That's a sentiment Kingdom seems to agree with. "I'll be honest with you. I think this is one of the best places I've been," he said. "It's just been everything we could hope for."

07/26/2012 - 6:03am