Smithsonian Channel will air the documentary “Laws of the Lizard” tonight, which follows biologist/filmmakers seeking to explain more about the “backyard lizard” known as the anole. The doc is co-directed by filmmaker Nate Dappen, a Washington, D.C.-area filmmaker who grew up not far from the Smithsonian institution itself.
“As a child, I spent a lot of my free time in the woods, catching salamanders, snakes, and turtles, going fishing, and exploring the outdoors in general,” said Dappen, who has a PhD in addition to being a filmmaker. “My passion for nature and photography eventually merged while I was working on my PhD studying lizards in the Mediterranean.”
Dappen soon began making films with his creative partner and fellow biologist Neil Losin. The two scientist-directors believed that a film about the little-known anole would marry both of their passions together.
“I’ve wanted to make a documentary about anoles ever since we were graduate students in biology,” said Losin, calling this particular lizard an “underappreciated hero of biology”—and the study of which has revealed a great deal about ecology, evolution and animal behavior.
“In 2015, we got a grant from the John Templeton Foundation with the ‘godfather’ of anole research, Jonathan Losos [of Washington University], which allowed us to fund the production of ‘Laws of the Lizard,’” Losin explained.
The filmmakers hope that “Laws of the Lizard” will give audiences an appreciation for the sheer amount of science that can be gleaned just by studying “a seemingly mundane creature like the anole.”
“Filming small, fast-moving animals like anoles can be challenging. They are quick, but once you know their behavior, they can also be surprisingly predictable,” Losin, who studied at the University of Virginia, said. Still, many of our favorite sequences in the film took a lot of hours to capture.”
“For more than a year, we got to travel around the Caribbean and the New World tropics filming anoles, and the brilliant—sometime quirky—scientists who study them,” added Dappen, saying that making a documentary on this type of animal requires incredible patience. “We managed to capture never-before-filmed behavior, never-before-filmed species, and even made some new discoveries that no one had documented before.”
Technical challenges included the difficulty of properly lighting under a forest canopy due to the incredible amount of ambient moisture to contend with in such locations as the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
“I hope people enjoy what we’ve captured and walk away from the film with an appreciation for how basic research on a humble lizard has transformed our understanding of life on earth,” Dappen said. “And I hope they are entertained and inspired by the beauty and diversity of our natural world.”
“Laws of the Lizard” airs Dec. 26 at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern and Dec. 29 at 2 p.m.