Tasmanian-produced documentary Sixteen Legs showcases survivors

They are the size of a dinner plate and they’ve survived at least two mass extinctions, including outliving the dinosaurs.

While their story can be traced back 250 million years, the story of Sixteen Legs began about 25 years ago with Bookend Trust director Dr Niall Doran.

Dr Doran decided he wanted to study spiders as a biologist.

He spoke with a leading spider researcher in Sydney who suggested he should study the Tasmanian Cave Spider because “it appears to be a fascinating animal, but we know next to nothing about it”.

“He wasn’t wrong.”

The spider survived the break up of the continents – their nearest relative can be found in South America.

“It’s been here for the entirety of human civilisation,” Dr Doran said.

“It’s a fascinating story of survival, at a time when we’re hearing a lot about species going extinct. It’s a nice time to tell people about a species that has survived at least two mass extinctions.”

The idea to create the documentary Sixteen Legs emerged as a bid to bring the extraordinary Tasmanian creature into the spotlight, Dr Doran said.

It was not an easy task and took about four years of filming, mainly in Northern Tasmania.

Crawling through their dark, and often damp, world of Tasmanian caves, they had a mighty task to lug through the camera gear and protect it from the inhospitable cave environment.

The spiders could be found on the surface, but caves were where they have been able to survive and thrive, Dr Doran said.

Don’t expect dry monologues, English author and Bookend Trust patron Neil Gaiman provides story-telling for the documentary, which also features Stephen Fry, Adam Hills, Mark Gatiss and Kate Miller-Heidke.

The sexual woes of the spider provided a humorous light to the story, although the encounter was quite perilous for the males who risked becoming dinner, he said.

“People might say ‘I’m not fond of spiders’, think about the spider’s lot. The spider’s lot is not very good.”

For those who aren’t a fan of spiders, Dr Doran said the documentary showcased the “jaw-dropping environment”, slowly building up to the spiders.

Tasmanian screenings are a special tour being run by the Tasmanian Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival to bring the film to audiences around the state, after the behind-the-scenes film was previously screened in Launceston.

  • The Launceston screening of Sixteen Legs will premier on Wednesday, October 25 at 6.30pm until 9.30pm at The Tramshed Function Centre Auditorium. General admission cost $20 while tickets for concession and under 16s cost $15. They can be purchased from eventbrite.com.au