When it comes to rocks, there’s much more than meets the eye. Top of the Rocks, a Journey Made of Stone, ARTE’s latest documentary series produced in association with Haut et court Doc, reveals the secrets stories of five of our planet’s most common and relatable, minerals, exploring how they have shaped our planer and our civilizations for millennia. Emma Lepers, Producer, Christophe Cousin Author and Co-director and Isabelle Graziadey Terranoa, Distributor

The Interview

TV France: A documentary series about the mineral world that surrounds us. That’s a bold choice!

Emma Lepers

Emma Lepers: Yes! The director, Christophe Cousin, had wanted to do this for some time along with Gautier Dubois The co-author of the series. Christophe has been passionate about rocks and minerals from a very young age. He wanted to show just how alive the mineral word is and how it conceals so many stories. He chose five rocks that are very identifiable, that can be found everywhere in the world, and that have distinctive properties. Each rock gets its own episode.

ARTE was quickly convinced by the originality the scale of the subject and by this universal approach. It is an ambitious project that required over a year of development and scriptwriting work. It allows the viewer to travel and discover how minerals are omnipresent in our world and how they connect us with the origins of the planet, as the bedrock of our Planet. The series adopts an inspiring tone. It feeds both our curiosity and a need for escapism, at a time where the ban on travel still affects us largely.

Suggestions: a specific yet vast theme, the selling points of this documentary, its strengths…

Isabelle Graziadey

Isabelle Graziadey: When Emma Lepers, the producer at Haut et court Doc, presented me with the project, I immediately fell for the visual production value and fresh take offered by this travel and discovery series. When I read the already very developed treatment, I realized how the multidisciplinary angle chosen led to so many fascinating human stories related to rocks. This makes for entertaining and accessible TV. It is a universal and timeless subject at the crossroads of geology, the natural sciences, and the history of civilizations, and one which takes the viewer to the four corners of the world.  

This is not a purely geological series – quite the opposite it offers a new take on the mineral world and revisits the many ways we can connect to it.

TV France: 5 rocks, 5 episodes, lots of color and an approach that connects rocks and different people.

Christophe Cousin

Christophe Cousin: Each episode is dedicated to a specific rock, and takes us in search of the most remarkable natural landscapes in India, Namibia, the USA, France, Germany and the UK. In each episode we meet with people passionate about stones and rocks who share their captivating stories and knowledge about these iconic source rocks,  be it limestone, clay, granite, basalt or sandstone.

This creates a very rich and dynamic narration that will appeal to  a large audience and change the way we look at the Mineral world .

TV France: The documentary discusses history and civilization, science and discovery. The viewer embarks upon a fascinating voyage across the world and through the ages.

Christophe Cousin: I chose to play with timescales. For limestone, for example, we move from the geological process of sedimentation of plankton that takes place over millions of years (in the cliffs of Etretat) in Normandy)  to the use of limestone in the construction of the pyramids in Egypt and the creation of some of Paris’ greatest monuments, like Notre Dame Cathedral.  

Granite has also been instrumental in the development of our civilizations: it was used for standing stones in the Bronze Age in Europe, and is found in the granite-rich soils of the Alsace which – to this day – are home to some exceptional wine-makers.

Visually, we also play on scale  traveling from the tiniest particules, exploring the properties of various minerals, to the most imposing landscapes and human constructions.  

This  is reflected in the mix between wide-angle shots and large shots taken by drones and Steadycams with close-up shoulder-mounted camera shots used to film our protagonists in action. The original soundtrack also reflects the grandiose nature of the landscapes depicted and the sounds both of nature and of humans in contact with rock.

TV France: The documentary looks at the links between rocks and people and our civilizations, agriculture and animals. What future can you see for this virtuous circle?

Isabelle Graziadey: The series seeks to help people discover or re-discover the extent to which our mineral world is a living organism – and an inspiring one for those who know how to speak its language. I believe this series reflects on our era’s awareness and appeal for the natural world and its hidden beauties.

More generally, the series enables us to identify these rocks as well as their properties and uses. In doing so the audience can relate with them an understand how they still impact our lives and environment today.

TV France: During the Super Highlight at Le Rendez-Vous Docs, you shared a few fun facts. Each rock has its own little anecdote…

Isabelle Graziadey: Did you know that people have made bricks from clay for thousands of years and till do so near the Ganges Delta today ? and you’ll be surprised to know that the same organic mineral offers incredible nutritional and therapeutic properties used by animals and man?

Who can recognize the pink sandstone of Petra? And did you know that certain bees in the west of the USA have used the rock as a refuge for generations?  

Did you know that on Mars and the moon, the ground is mainly made up of basalt, a magmatic rock that is currently being studied by NASA for its fertilizing and thermic properties? Or that granite can be used as an alternative to ice cubes, without the risk of melting in your glass or tainting your drink? These are just a few example and anecdotes that show that within the heart of every rock lies a secret story.