Bear 71 awarded a Lion
When she first began working on the National Film Board interactive film project Bear 71, Canmore filmmaker Leanne Allison wondered how high-tech webcams and modern surveillance technology could help tell the story of a grizzly bear making her living in the Canadian Rockies wilderness.
Created by Allison and Vancouver artist Jeremy Mendes, Bear 71 incorporates footage from remote-sensor trail webcams mounted in locations throughout the bear’s natural habitat in Banff National Park.
As the project progressed, however, Allison said she began to realize the effectiveness of an integrated filmmaking process.
She’s not the only one, as the film recently won a Cyber Lion Gold award at last month’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which honours people working in advertising and related fields.
Allison said she was thrilled to learn that Toronto-based digital design firm Jam 3 and its creative director Pablo Vio, who built the on-line documentary, had received the award.
“This project was more collaborative than anything I’ve ever worked on and there was quite a bit of creative tension all along,” Allison said. “It’s a new medium for me and I had a hard time imagining how it was all going to look and feel in the end.
“I wasn’t convinced that you could have webcams and surveillance walls as part of this story about a grizzly bear. But what those elements of the project have done is brilliant because as you watch and interact with the story, you realize you’re no different than this bear that’s wearing a radio collar around her neck because you are being watched and photographed and tagged all the time too. We all are.”
The way the interactive film creates a personal connection between the viewer and the bear is exactly what creates the real power of the story, she explained.
“The stakes are a hell of a lot higher for bear 71, of course, given all she has to contend with to survive, but I think even that message comes through in a very different way in this story,” Allison said. “You’re not being told that development is bad and roads and railways kill animals. You’re just being led to the unstoppable, terrifying, ending as the story counts down from 20 minutes to zero.”
Allison has won multiple awards for her previous films. Finding Farley documents the 2007 cross-country journey by canoe, train and sailboat undertaken by her, husband Karsten Heuer and then two-year-old son, Zev, en route to visiting iconic Canadian author Farley Mowat in Cape Breton. Being Caribou captures hers’ and Heuer’s astounding 1,500-kilometre, five-month foot journey following the migrating Porcupine caribou herd from the Yukon to the northern Alaska Coast and back.
With this most recent award, Allison said she’s especially happy it will likely entice even more people to see the film.
“The thing I’m happiest about with this project is so many people who wouldn’t normally be interested in a wildlife story will know about bear 71,” Allison said. “They will have lived, even if it’s just briefly, in the world of a grizzly bear trying to eke out a living in a very busy place.”
While she’s pleased Bear 71 earned such a prestigious award, Allison said she’s content to work on another traditional film.
“I enjoy the hands-on nature of making a documentary film,” she said. “But the photographs from the trail cameras continue to inspire people, especially ones taken at the wildlife crossing structures on the highway. I think they make it real for people in that a) they work, and b) animals really need them.
“I’m working on a film that will hopefully spread that story more widely. And what’s nice is that this one has the potential for a happy ending.”
To view any of Allison’s films, visit www.beingcaribou.com
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