April 18, 2012

To the Arctic is the first 3D IMAX documentary ever produced about the Arctic and is coming to theaters April 20.  The MacGillivray Freeman Films crew spent a total of 8 months in the field over 4 years, shooting in remote locations in Canada, Norway and Alaska.  The film was produced particularly to build awareness and inspire greater protection for the Arctic Wilderness, which is changing faster than any place on Earth and is in danger of vanishing completely.

The film features the plight of a mother polar bear and her two cubs, and is the first time a polar bear family has been tracked—and filmed—for 5 consecutive days, 24 hours a day. To avoid losing track of the family in the ice floe, the filmmakers, who were stationed on an icebreaker, had someone on 24-hour watch, day and night.  Polar bears are normally skittish around humans, but this mother was comfortable with the MacGillivray Freeman film crew, and even seemed to purposely stay close to the crew. The filmmakers thought maybe their presence made her feel safe from the hungry male bears. The result is unprecedented footage of the daily life of a polar bear, including nursing her cubs and hunting seals to feed her family. 

During one dramatic moment, a male bear started sneaking up on the mother and cubs, using the icebreaker to hide behind as he approached. The filmmakers watched helplessly, conflicted between wanting to alert the mother bear to the approaching male, but realizing there wasn’t anything they could do.  Fortunately, the mom saw the male in time and got her cubs to safety.

To get unprecedented shots of polar bears swimming underwater, cinematographer Bob Cranston would get in the water near the polar bears, then wait for the bears to approach out of curiosity. Once he started rolling camera, if the bear dove down towards him, Bob would “sink” down while still filming to a depth the bear wasn’t comfortable diving to.  Bob had to make sure to pick locations where the water wasn’t too shallow so he had enough room to descend should the bear come too close. 

The film makers also had to contend with aggressive walruses, elusive caribou and hoards of bloodthirsty mosquitoes during their time in the field. To describe the fruits of their efforts, the expression “seeing is believing” couldn’t be more true than in the case of climate change and how it is affecting the Arctic.

The average temperatures in the Arctic are rising 3 times faster than anywhere else on Earth, causing once-permanent sea ice that is critical to controlling  the planet’s temperature balance to shrink at an alarming rate. Where polar bears once roamed the sea ice of the Arctic–their feeding ground and home–in abundance, only 20,000 now remain and their numbers are in decline due to mounting challenges caused by climate change. To The Arctic is a real-life snapshot of what’s happening to our planet, brought to life for audiences through the eyes of one polar bear family in an unparalleled IMAX viewing experience.

The idea of inspiring people to protect the planet via compelling storytelling is at the core of One World One Ocean, a new, for-purpose media campaign established by Greg and Barbara MacGillivray to raise awareness of the critical importance of the ocean to humanity. One World One Ocean is positioned to be the most far-reaching media effort of its kind, harnessing the power of film, television and new media to catalyze a movement to ensure a healthy ocean for future generations.  To The Arctic is the first film presentation of the campaign.

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is chief advisor to One World One Ocean. Hear what she has to say about the campaign: 

Top Photo Credit: Florian Schulz, Visions of the Wild 

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