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Urban Savannah, The — Matthew Cooke | Vincent Lund, 2004

The film follows two “packs” of teenagers, as if they are different species/family groups of animals being observed by a film crew. We follow “Skaters” and “Townies” as they go about their natural “pack” behaviour. Experts comment on what they have learned about these different groups, just as they would be interviewed in a typical documentary.

The film is in the style of a David Attenborough-type nature documentary, though it is a parody of this form and is what you call a ‘mockumentary’.

Classroom Activities

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Critical

  • Sound On/Vision Off. Listen to the first 49 seconds of the film. Does it sound familiar? What do you think is happening?
  • Carry on listening. When the music kicks in, there are also sound effects. What are you hearing? What effect does the combination of this music and the sound effects have?
  • Watch now with the picture on – can you explain the humour of this opening?
  • Listen to the voiceover up to 01:51 minutes. Can you hear words/phrases which you would normally associate with a nature documentary? What is the effect of this on the audience when combined with what is being shown on screen?
  • Watch up to 02:40. What do we learn about “Skaters” as a species? What techniques are being used to mimic the nature documentary style?
  • Watch up to 03:08. What do we learn about “Townies”? How do they compare with what we know about “Skaters”?
  • Do you think one of the groups is presented more favourably? What is your evidence for this?
  • Watch up to 05:20. What techniques familiar from nature documentaries are used to show there is trouble in the “Townie” pack?
  • How do the filmmakers convey the idea that “Skaters” are more “docile” than “Townies”?
  • What is the main difference between the two groups’ attempts to “attract a mate”?
  • What is the conflict that is introduced? Explain what this is based on from an animal documentary, and why this is humorous in this context.
  • How is the ending appropriate?
  • What techniques are used to make this film seem a) authentic b) humorous?

Cultural

  • Watch this video clip of Chris Packham’s Springwatch and this from David Attenborough. Which features of these do you recognise from 'The Urban Savannah'? Do you think 'The Urban Savannah' is making fun of nature documentaries? Or do you think it is a loving homage using humour?
  • Read about the history of nature documentaries (both in the United States and here in the UK) here. Can you explain why this type of programming is so important? Why do you think that these documentary programmes have been shown on public service broadcast media and not on a subscription service that requires payment to view (i.e. the BBC)?
  • Mockumentary is a very popular style, most often used in tv or in shorts like this, but also seen in feature films. Watch this video to help you understand the format. What do you think is so appealing about this genre?
  • Another style of mockumentary is ‘found footage’ style narratives. The first of these was 'The Blair Witch Project'. Read this article which also includes the film’s original trailer. Discuss how you think audiences must have felt watching this in the cinema at the time. Why do you think this film generated so much of a reaction?
  • Documentary filmmaking is a rapidly expanding genre, finding even greater popularity thanks to streaming platforms such as Netflix. Look for an example of each of the following types of documentary available on Netflix/Disney+/Amazon Prime etc.: True crime, Nature, Exposing scandals, Sporting stories, Biography)

Creative

WRITE

  • Write the voiceover for a short documentary film following the life of your pet. Think about their behaviour around eating, sleeping, relationships with humans, how they feel about other animals etc.
  • Write a letter to Matthew Cooke and Vincent Lund who make this film pitching an idea for another short film in the same style.
  • Using the two groups featured in the film, write a short story entitled “Skaters” vs “Townies”.

FILMMAKING

  • Make a short film with voiceover narration about either a pet or a wild animal you can film in your garden/the park (birds, squirrels, ducks, swans etc.). Try to use the same style you have seen in this film.

DRAW

  • Design a crest to represent both the “Skaters” and the “Townies”, as if it was a badge for their two different school uniforms.

STEM

  • Research your favourite animal and an animal which is either its prey or predator. Design a leaflet displaying key facts you have learned about both species.
  • Watch this video montage from David Attenborough programmes about the most unusual mating rituals in the animal kingdom. Make a poster about the one you find most interesting.

DRAMA

  • Write a monologue from the point of view of the “matriarch” of the “Skaters” and perform it.
  • Work in groups to do some improvisation of a conflict between the “Skaters” and the “Townies” in the local park.

SOCIAL SUBJECTS

  • Belonging to a social group is a very important part of life. Read this article about the importance of this for young people. Write the voiceover or design a poster for a public service advert telling people about the importance of social connections for teenagers. Focus on mental health and healthy relationships.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-002-000-093-C
Resource Rights Holder Matthew Cooke & Vincent Lund
Project Ref RLS-13
Year of Production 2004
Genre Comedy
Curriculum Areas Expressive Arts, Health and Wellbeing, Literacy and English, Social Studies
Director Matthew Cooke | Vincent Lund
Country of Origin UK
Medium / Content Live Action, Non-Fiction, Colour, Sound
Themes Relationships, Culture / Society, Identity / Self, Intolerance / Misconceptions
Clip Length 10:00
Clip Length 10:00
Age Group P5-P7, S1-S3, S4-S6