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To the Arctic Interview: Director Greg MacGillivray


Photo Credit: Copyright Florian Schulz

Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: May 10, 2012

Renowned Giant Screen filmmaker, Greg MacGillivray, speaks with Big Movie Zone on his latest film, TO THE ARCTIC.


Category: Interviews

Renowned Giant Screen filmmaker, Greg MacGillivray, speaks with Big Movie Zone on his latest film, To The Arctic. The film takes audiences on a never-before-experienced journey into the lives of a mother polar bear and her twin seven-month-old cubs as they navigate the changing Arctic wilderness they call home.

Hi Greg.  Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.  It looks to be a busy time for MacGillivray Freeman Films with new partnerships and your One World One Ocean campaign. I was able to catch a fine cut of To The Arctic at last year's GSCA conference.  How did the idea for the film come about?  Was a focus on the polar bear always a priority in your story?
I've been interested in creating a film about the Arctic for more than twenty years. The wildness and grandness of the place makes it the perfect subject matter for the giant IMAX theatre screens. The topic also tested extremely well with IMAX Theatre audiences. In fact, out of 20 different topics I've tested over a 15-year period, the Arctic tested the highest. So I knew we would have interested fans. I also knew that polar bears were going to be a big focus in the film, given that they are the iconic Arctic animal, but I didn't know how much of a focus until we got lucky on our last shoot and found the stars of our film—a mother bear and her two cubs who let us follow them and film them at close range for 5 days straight. This is the first time any filmmaker has had this kind of access to a polar bear family in the wild, and we were able to get rare, close-up footage of different polar bear behaviors, which show just how hard it is to be a polar bear these days.

The plight of the polar bear seems at a desperate tipping point now.  Do you think there's a chance for their survival and the Arctic environment in general?
The Arctic is changing twice as fast as anywhere else because of warming temperatures, and in that regard, it's like the canary in the coal mine, warning us of more changes to come. I hope the Arctic will be able to survive these changes, but it means we'll have to act fast to reverse the warming trends caused by climate change, which won't be easy. Fortunately, there are groups like our partners at World Wildlife Fund, Oceana, Alaska Wilderness League and Polar Bears International that are working to make sure that what is left of the Arctic is protected so that polar bears will continue to have a home. One reason we made the film was to help audiences fall in love with the Arctic so they would be inspired to support conservation measures. We want to empower people to take small, easy actions that will help protect the Arctic.

Can you tell us a bit about your recent partnership with Coca-Cola and World Wildlife Fund, and how that relates to To The Arctic?

We had a wonderful experience partnering with Coca-Cola and WWF for the launch of their "Arctic Home" holiday campaign last year, which was the first time in Coke's 125-year history that they've asked their fans to donate to a cause, in this case to WWF's Arctic conservation efforts. We had contacted Coca-Cola about becoming a sponsor, and when they saw our iMAX footage of polar bears, they knew it was the special something that would help them bring their campaign alive for consumers. We agreed to let them use our IMAX footage in their TV advertising and on their website because we knew it would be terrific early promotion for the film and get everyone talking about polar bears. Coke generated more than one billion media impressions with their campaign, and raised nearly $2 million dollars for WWF. So it was a big success for all involved.

For those who want to see To The Arctic, how many theaters have launched the film?
Warner Bros. and IMAX Corporation opened the film on April 20 in 50 IMAX theatres in the U.S. and Canada, primarily in institutional venues. They are planning a second release to commercial IMAX theatres later this fall.

What keeps your interest in the IMAX format and in documentary filmmaking?
Making IMAX films allows me to keep exploring the far corners of our beautiful planet and to meet people who share my love of the natural world, especially the ocean. The IMAX format is still the most superior entertainment medium available, and there is nothing more gratifying than making films that transport people to these faraway places that allow them to rediscover the unique specialness of their world. I can't imagine doing anything else.

One World One Ocean is MFF's big upcoming project.  I understand it encompasses several of your films.  Can you elaborate on the films and the project's outreach in other formats?

Over the next 10 years, we'll be making at least eight to ten more IMAX films about the ocean, as well as an 8-part television series that should be ready next year, a 3D theatrical documentary, and thousands of digital videos as part of our original online programming series. Our mission is to use compelling storytelling and entertainment to change how people see and value the ocean, and galvanize a new movement to better protect and restore our oceans. Already we are the largest ocean media campaign out there, and with the release of To The Arctic, we are just getting started.

Many LF producers have been using digital cameras to capture some, or all of their films over the past few years.  MFF has been one of the few companies who has up to this point stuck with 15/70 film.  What is MFF's position on digital capture, moving forward?

Like many of my filmmaking friends who know why people have attended IMAX theatres for 40 years believe, you need a sense of reality which is currently only possible with 1570 film capture and projection. Digital is getting better, but it still isn't there at the 1570 quality level yet. Many of the most successful theatres have IMAX Dome screens, and Dome screens account for about 40% of our educational film market (audience size and film income). The digitally captured images look very poor on the Dome screens.

Other than To The Arctic and One World One Ocean, are there other projects you can tell us about, Giant Screen or otherwise?

We're still in production on Everest: Conquering Thin Air, the sequel to our 1998 hit film Everest. We're also looking to start a new media agency within our company that would serve as a communications platform for major brands and NGOs looking to communicate their message to consumers. We'll have a more formal announcement about that new company very soon.

Many thanks for speaking with us and best of luck with your upcoming films!

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