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Sacred Planet: Production Notes


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PRODUCTION INFORMATION

Sacred Planet is a 45-minute trip around the world to places most of us will never get the chance to see, special places that spark the imagination. Take an incredible vacation from the busy, modern world to some of the most fascinating, exotic and remote sites on the planet and experience natural wonders as never before in this powerful and exciting film custom-made for Large Format Theatres. Narrated by Robert Redford, this film transports moviegoers on a magical round-the-world odyssey that explores pristine places that still exist and gives new insights into the Earth's diverse landscapes, peoples and animals. Taking full advantage of the giant screen to create a unique motion picture experience, Sacred Planet presents a stunning array of larger-than-life images and reminds us of our vital connections to the natural world.

Walt Disney Pictures presents Sacred Planet, directed by Jon Long. Written and produced by Jon Long & Karen Fernandez Long, the executive producer is Jake Eberts. Buena Vista Pictures distributes.

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

"People go to the movies to get away from their busy lives for a little while. We wanted to make a movie that did just that — gave people a vacation to places they've never been," says Jon Long, director of Walt Disney Pictures' new motion picture for the Giant Screen, Sacred Planet. "This is a movie that invites you to turn off the cell phone, sit back, relax, and gaze at some of the most beautiful places on Earth."

A 45-minute journey from the last remaining old growth forests of British Columbia to the snowy peaks and glaciers of Alaska; from the red rock canyons of Utah and Arizona to the tropical jungles and underwater mysteries of Borneo; from the ancient ruins of Thailand to remote deserts of Namibia to the white sand beaches of New Zealand, Sacred Planet brings audiences inside these places like never before. "Standing in the rainforest in Borneo — some consider it to be the oldest in the world — is an amazing experience. At dusk, the insects make so much noise that it's louder than standing on a street corner in Manhattan. There's just so much life around you," says Long.

"There are very few people in the world who are still living a traditional lifestyle," says Long. "These people will probably still exist only for another generation or two — even though they and their ancestors have been living this way for thousands of years. Sacred Planet is really an opportunity to see these beautiful, pristine places around the world and to listen to what the people who live there have to say."

The words that did not come from the elders of indigenous peoples of the world come from Robert Redford, an Academy Award®- winning director, acclaimed actor, and noted environmental activist. "Robert Redford stressed to us the importance of public awareness for environmental issues," says Fernandez. "Sometimes, people have an opportunity to increase that awareness, and it's important to him to seize each of those opportunities. This is certainly what Jon and I are trying to do with this film, in an entertaining way; it was great to hear that coming from him."

"I'm a huge fan of Redford's," adds Long. "And when I think that the last words that are spoken in 'A River Runs Through It' are by the same voice that narrates our film — it's a dream come true. He's the perfect voice for this film." "On one hand, 'Sacred Planet' is an entertaining trip around the world, a chance to see places few of us will get to visit, with some of the most powerful large screen photography I've seen. It's a wonderful film on that level alone," says Redford. "In addition, I don't think it's possible to see how these indigenous people live and then walk out into the smog and bustle and traffic of Los Angeles or Houston or New York without thinking to yourself, 'Hmm.'

Redford continues, "When I look at indigenous cultures, I don't shed a tear for an age gone by; I can see hope about the chances for our race in the future. I think Sacred Planet can give the same feeling to audiences all over the world." "There's no reason that these indigenous societies need to fade away," adds Redford. "They have existed for tens of thousands of years and have a natural sense of how to continue. If they meet an end, it will be our fault — pollution, expanding urban populations, environmental destruction. This film gives an excellent chance to see another way to live."

Long dreamt up the idea for Sacred Planet while making his last film for IMAX®, "Extreme." "I was doing a lot of reading of different environmental writers," he says, "and I was thinking about the kind of film that we could make — since nature films seem to work so well with giant screen technology. And that got us thinking about the people who still live in these places around the world. I think that, living in a modern culture, we sometimes forget some of the simple things that these people have to say. That's really what we were trying to discover."

So, Long began a 10-month odyssey with his future wife, Karen Fernandez, to discover these places and bring them to audiences around the world. "Karen and I started this film and worked side-by-side from the beginning until the end," Long notes. "She did most of the research, and we wrote the film together. She served as producer, and unit production manager, and post-production supervisor."

"Our primary goal was to make an entertaining movie. Our vision was never to have a story with a beginning, middle, and end, so much as it was to make a film that you're still thinking about after you leave the theater," says Fernandez.

"Our highest priority was the photography," says Long. "You know the old saying, 'A picture is worth a thousand words.' We thought that if we could simply provide the pictures with some narration by people who describe how they live their lives, then the audiences' imaginations would play a big part in the experience of watching this film."


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To make Sacred Planet, the filmmakers faced the extraordinary challenge of bringing the unwieldy large format cameras into the wilderness. "We went into some really remote areas — literally the end of the road. Some of these people had never been exposed to modern culture, had never seen cameras before," says Long. "But it was an eye-opening and satisfying experience — the people seemed so open and so curious. It seemed like they would do anything to help us. They really enjoyed the experience, and so did we."

"Never once did we have a feeling of hostility when we entered their space," says Fernandez. "To a certain extent, that was due to our liaison, who had found many of these villages and told the people what to expect. But, mostly, I think it's just the nature of these people to be open and warm. That was the most amazing part for me."

But it wasn't just the camera that the filmmakers brought halfway around the world. "We didn't want to go in there and put the camera on a tripod, like a traditional documentary. We wanted to move the camera, and that requires a lot of equipment — 30-foot cranes and the like. Our crew ranged from 15 people at its smallest to more than 40 at its largest. It created a lot of logistical challenges, but it gave a different vision than what people are used to seeing from this kind of movie."

Long notes that equal care was put into the music of the film. "What we wanted to do was to create a flow, in a sense, where you don't really know where one piece of music ends and another begins. It's a kind of DJ mix, in a sense, mixing together world music and acoustic music and electronic ambient music. We felt that in this way, we could create a kind of journey with the music as well as with the pictures. It really creates a dreamlike sound for the film."

Over the music come words of wisdom from around the world. "One of our goals was to have most of the words in the film spoken by elders from indigenous cultures around the world, to create most of our narrative; they would put into words their values, the messages that they are trying to pass on to the next generation. It provides a great balance with the pictures of the places where they live."

FINDING THE UNEXPECTED

"When you're making a nature documentary, you'll go into a location with a storyboard and a shot list — you'll have a very good idea of what you want to get," notes Long. "But when you get there, there's always the unexpected magic that happens. Oftentimes, that's the best stuff you could ever ask for."

"Our small camera crew traveled with us to all of our international destinations," adds Fernandez. "Because the IMAX® technology originated in Canada, this is where most of the experts reside, and so most of these folks were Canadian, with extensive experience working with the IMAX® cameras. This was key, as every single frame of this film was shot in 65mm film with IMAX® cameras. But in most cases, we hired the rest of the crew locally. It just made sense given the remoteness of these areas. These people knew the locations intimately, and had tons of enthusiasm for what we were trying to accomplish. I think that's because a lot of them were doing this for the first time. Many of them were naturalists, or working in ecotourism, and were keen to share the best that their country had to offer with us as filmmakers. They were fresh and felt good getting up in the morning. At the end of the day, we got a lot of shots that we might not have gotten with a more experienced crew."

In Borneo, those two elements came into play as the filmmakers tracked down proboscis monkeys. "I'm sure you've seen pictures — they have huge noses and potbellies," says Long. "We were going up and down these rivers, two canoes tied together with a ladder on top, with the camera up in the treetops looking for the monkeys. Then, one day, we found them, and we rolled film. All of a sudden, they started jumping out the trees — 10, 20, 40 feet or more. Our guides said they'd never seen anything like it before."


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"We pulled the canoes up to the shore, and got all of our gear onto land, and then we had to design a rope rig to get it all to the village," notes Fernandez. "They build their villages high there, to protect against floods. All the children of the village came out to greet us; that was an incredible experience.

"We visited an area in Namibia called Sossusvlei, or 'Dead Valley,'" continues Fernandez. "There are these huge saltpans and old, seemingly dead trees coming out of them, with the backdrop of giant red dunes. When the sun rises or sets, there is some pretty dramatic color and shadow with the way the light passes through the valley. We wanted that shot more than any other. Our guys worked really hard to get it. They carried the track, all of our jibs, the camera, all the paraphernalia, and the film. It was incredibly difficult work, and everybody was guzzling water the whole day, but we got the shot. It was a good day."

"We went to Thailand with the hope that we could capture something about the Buddhist philosophy of life," says Long. "We shot a lot of time-lapse photography there, and in the film, we juxtapose it with time-lapse footage we took in cities. I think it's an interesting contrast.

"These cultures still exist precisely because the people that live there have learned to interact with their surroundings; had they depleted their natural resources, they would not be around today for us to observe," Long continues. "While I'm not making value judgments, I do think that now is a good time to look at these cultures and see what lessons we can take and apply to our very modern world."

"No matter where we went, we heard common themes from the village elders," says Long. "One of those is that we have to respect the environment. As humans, we're just a part of nature, like plants and other animals — we're not in control. If we realize and respect those other parts of nature, it's easier for us all to live together.

"If this film has a message, I think that's it," Long continues. "I'd like to give people a lasting impression, and if that impression causes some folks to approach their life in a different way or change their attitude to the world around us, that would be the best thing that could happen."

ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS

JON LONG (director/writer/producer/editor) is the founder of New Street Productions Ltd., an independent television and film development and production company located in the pristine mountain town of Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. Since 1987, he has produced and directed 16 feature documentaries, over 30 television episodes and numerous commercials.

His films have played in IMAX® and other giant screen theaters world-wide and on television networks such as PBS, National Geographic International, Discovery Channel, Channel 4 UK, ESPN (USA), NBC SuperChannel (Europe) and TSN (Canada). Some of Jon's past national commercial clients and film sponsors include SAAB Cars, IBM, Molson, Coors Light, Chrysler Neon, Mazda, Club Med, Quiksilver Clothing, The North Face, Patagonia, Tyrolia Skis and Bindings, Rossignol Skis and Burton Snowboards.

Jon produced and directed the hit film "Extreme," one of the most critically acclaimed large format (IMAX®) films of all time. Jon's passion for outdoor adventure and the environment is reflected in many of his past film projects. He is an avid skier, snowboarder, mountain biker and windsurfer.

Prior to entering the entertainment industry, Jon attended the Bachelor of Commerce program at The University of Calgary.

KAREN FERNANDEZ LONG (producer/ writer) is an owner and manager of New Street Productions Ltd. Since joining New Street, she produced the one-hour television documentary entitled "Condition Black," which aired internationally on major networks including PBS, National Geographic and Channel Four (United Kingdom) in 2001.

Prior to entering the entertainment industry, Karen practiced law in the private sector for five years. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Honors Political Science from McGill University in 1991, and an LL.B. (law degree) from The University of Calgary in 1994. Karen has had extensive mooting and debating experience, and in law school received various awards in national competitions including Gold Medal for Top Oralist of all competing law students nationwide at the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in 1993.

Karen's hobbies include yoga, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and reading.

JAKE EBERTS (executive producer) is a graduate of McGill University (Bachelor of Chemical Engineering, 1962) and Harvard Business School (MBA, 1966). Eberts began his business career as an engineer for l'Air Liquide in Spain, then later migrated to Wall Street. In 1971 he moved to London, England to join Oppenheimer & Co. and, six years later, left to found Goldcrest Films in London. From 1977 through 1984, Goldcrest became one of the most successful independent producers of motion pictures, financing the development and/or production of "Watership Down," "The Howling," "Chariots of Fire," "Local Hero," "Gandhi," "The Killing Fields," and "The Dresser." Together, these films received thirty Oscar® nominations, winning fifteen, including two for Best Picture ("Chariots of Fire" and "Gandhi").

In 1985 Eberts founded Allied Filmmakers, an independent feature film development and production company based in London and Paris. Since then he has served as executive producer or producer on "The Name of the Rose," "Hope and Glory," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Dances with Wolves," "Black Robe," "A River Runs Through It," "James and the Giant Peach," "The Wind in the Willows," "The Education of Little Tree," "Grey Owl," "Chicken Run," and "The Legend of Bagger Vance." Six of these films received a combined total of 37 Oscar® nominations, winning seventeen including two for Best Picture ("Driving Miss Daisy" and "Dances with Wolves").

Eberts most recently produced "Open Range," Kevin Costner's return to the director's chair, also starring Robert Duvall and Annette Bening; executive produced "Prisoner of Paradise," a feature-length documentary which was nominated for an Academy Award® in 2003; a feature-length documentary, "America's Heart & Soul," directed by Louis Schwartzberg; and "Renaissance," an animated feature directed by Christian Volkman. In addition, he is currently producing Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Two Brothers" (which will be released by Universal in June, 2004) and Greg Hoblit's "Emperor Zehnder," starring Richard Gere.

In 1991 Eberts published My Indecision Is Final, his autobiographical study of the film industry. In 1992 he became an Officer of the Order of Canada. Eberts was awarded honorary doctorates by McGill University in 1998 and by Bishop's University in 1999. He currently serves on the Board of the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Channel. He is also Co-Founder and CEO of MPI International, which provides highspeed, two-way, real-time, video transmission capabilities to telcos, cable companies, hotels, hospitals, and schools.


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All rights reserved.

In addition to his Oscar®-winning work as an actor, director and producer, ROBERT REDFORD (Narrated by) has been a noted environmentalist and activist since the early 1970s and has served for over 25 years as a Trustee of the Board of the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the past year, he has been honored for his work with this group twice. In November, 2003, the NRDC dedicated its Southern California building to Redford; The Redford Building is described as one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the country.

In addition, in March, 2004, Redford received the Forces for Nature Award from the NRDC. Redford has been involved with many pieces of environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act (1974-75), The Energy Conservation and Production Act (1974-76) and the National Energy Policy Act (1989). In 1975, he fought against the building of a coal-fired power plant planned for an area in Southern Utah surrounded by five national parks. The plant was never built. In 1997, after a long and contentious battle, in which Redford worked with a large coalition of activists to save this very same area from commercial exploitation, President Clinton designated it the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In the early 80s, Redford founded the Institute for Resource Management (IRM), which he led throughout the decade, bringing together environmentalists and industrialists to resolve conflicts and promote sustainable development. Under Redford's tenure the IRM tackled issues ranging from the future of the electric power industry to resource development on Indian lands, off-shore oil leasing in the Bering Sea and urban air quality in Denver, Phoenix, Sacramento and New York City.

Redford has received numerous awards for his environmental work, including the 1989 Audubon Medal Award and the 1987 United Nations Global 500 Award, the 1993 Earth Day International Award and the 1994 Nature Conservancy Award. He was also the recipient of the 1997 National Medal for the Arts by President Clinton, the 2001 Freedom in Film Award presented by the First Amendment Center, and the 2002 Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts: Lifetime Achievement Award.

Of course, Redford is also a film and stage legend. After landing starring roles on the Broadway productions of "Sunday in New York," followed by "Little Moon of Alban" and Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park," Redford began a distinguished screen career. Beginning with his first role in "War Hunt," Redford went on to star in such notable feature films as "Barefoot in the Park," "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid," "The Sting," (which won seven Oscars®, including Best Picture, in addition to bringing Redford his Best Actor nomination), "All the President's Men," "Downhill Racer," "The Candidate," "The Electric Horseman," "Jeremiah Johnson," "The Way We Were," "The Great Gatsby," "Three Days of the Condor," "The Great Waldo Pepper," "Brubaker," "A Bridge Too Far," "The Natural," "Out of Africa," "Legal Eagles," "Sneakers," "Indecent Proposal," and "Up Close and Personal," among many others. In 2001, he starred in "Spy Game" and "The Last Castle," and in 2004, he stars in two films, "The Clearing" and "An Unfinished Life."

In addition to his prominence as an actor, Redford won a Directors Guild of America Award, a Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award® for Best Director for his feature film directorial debut on the emotionally shattering family drama, "Ordinary People." He went on to both direct and produce "The Milagro Beanfield War" and "A River Runs Through It," for which he received a Best Director Golden Globe nomination. He is also the director and producer of "Quiz Show" (Oscar® nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director), "The Horse Whisperer" (two Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Director) and "The Legend of Bagger Vance."

A large part of Redford's life is his Sundance Institute (named for the outlaw he played in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), which he founded in 1981. The Sundance Institute is dedicated to the support and development of emerging screenwriters and directors of vision and to the national and international exhibition of new independent cinema. Their highly acclaimed Screenwriting, Directing, Playwright, and Producing Labs take place at the Sundance Village mountain retreat in Utah, founded by Redford in 1969.

The Sundance Film Festival is a program of the Institute and is internationally recognized as the single most important showcase of independent cinema. Sundance Channel, a further extension of the Sundance Institute's mission and dedication to independent filmmakers, brings television viewers engaging feature films, shorts, documentaries, world cinema and animation, shown uncut and with no commercials.

In February 1996, Redford received the Screen Actors Guild's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring his enduring contributions to film. In March 2002, he received an Honorary Academy Award®, recognizing his achievements as "actor, director, producer, and creator of Sundance, inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere." He is a resident of Sundance, Utah.

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