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Report from Sundance 2012
"BEAR 71", Canada's Wildlife Under An Artistic Lens

Festival’s most groundbreaking world premieres with an interactive, documentary/installation showcasing the life of a Grizzly Bear in Alberta’s Banff National Park.
By Xaque Gruber

Though Sundance is known for its movie events, this year one of the Festival’s most groundbreaking world premieres took place in the annual New Frontiers Art Center, with Bear 71, an interactive, documentary/installation showcasing the life of a Grizzly Bear in Alberta’s Banff National Park. 
Produced by The National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Bear 71 was the brainchild of artist Jeremy Mendes and filmmaker Leanna Allison.

Co-creator, Mendes comments, “I saw Leanne’s beautiful photographs, close to a million of them taken by trail cameras over a ten to fifteen year period.  And the way we were looking at these animals was like surveillance to me – like footage at a security office, which brought a new kind of immediacy to the experience.  We kept pushing that angle and we saw the piece evolve to be about us (humans).  How animals communicate and how we communicate. Through the development process, there was a true story of a very specific bear, who was tagged and studied for eight of its 11 year life.  From there it started evolving into a narrative story of this bear, and in the video it is all told through the bear’s point of view (voiced by actress, Mia Kirshner).  This piece is a celebration of us trying to get closer to animals because we care.”

Through an interactive screen that marries technology with the vast northern wilderness, viewers can follow the elusive paths of many native Canadian species including lynx, pine martens, cougars, moose, a dragon-like Golden Eagle, and many others.  Humans can even journey through the landscape as one of the animals. 

 Bear 71

In the center of the installation stood a northern pine known as a “rub tree” with worn out, missing sections of bark.  Grizzly bears rub against these trees as a method of communicating with each other – almost like their version of Facebook.   A memorable layer in Bear 71’s multi-sensory ride, the rub tree illustrates the parallels of the wild world with the wired world. 
In the documentary, we witness the tagging of Bear 71 by park rangers.  When asked about tagging, Lance Weiler, Story Architect/Designer, says, “It’s just the reality of the world that we live in.  Being able to tag them and monitor them teaches us about things we don’t know.  And then we can really know the impact of what’s happening.  Usually there’s a human footprint, but with these trail cams there isn’t one.  Through this footage, we learned that the elk use the trails the humans use because the scent keeps the wolves away.  There’s so much we can learn from the animal world.”
The producers behind Bear 71 would like to use this trans-media art piece as both a classroom, and multi-generational, teaching tool.  Weiler adds “This time is like the silent film era for new media.  We’ve been doing a play on a stage and now we realize we can take the camera off the tripod and move it outside.  You can see the next evolution of storytelling in action.”
Check out the link to the Bear 71 interactive web site
Watch a trailer for Bear 71 here -  

Xaque Gruber
Xaque Gruber is a writer for film, television, magazines and online sites including the Huffington Post.  An avid animal lover, he's had many pets: 13 cats, 3 dogs, 2 ferrets, 1 lizard, and, currently, two mice: Tigerlily and Boo.

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