Great Bear Rainforest

Great Bear Rainforest IMAX celebrates local First Nations

An elder female spirit bear eating a salmon near a waterfall in the Great Bear Rainforest

Three years is a long time to wait for anything. But finally (finally!) I was able to see the Great Bear Rainforest IMAX film.  

As I sat in the giant theatre the rest of the world slipped away while the cameras took me soaring over mountains, through the tangled beauty of the rainforest and into the sea with sea lions, shimmering schools of herring and so very much more. It was wonderous. I could almost feel the sway of the ocean waves and the misty breath of the rainforest. Familiar faces of local First Nations people shared the screen, showcasing their work as the Guardians of this region. And, then, of course, there were the bears. In particular, the footage of the individual spirit bears that I have known over the years was so intimate and personal, it really was the next best thing to being there.

Rewinding three years to the fall of 2016, I was walking down a rainforest trail with a group of eager photographers when we bumped into Jeff Turner carrying a very large backpack. The most important thing about Jeff is that he is an awfully nice guy. The next thing is that Jeff is Canada’s premier wildlife filmmaker who has had an extraordinary career spanning decades. And, in that big backpack was a $500,000 IMAX camera. 

Of course, Jeff had a whole crew of folks with him, including Ian McAllister of Pacific Wild, who was tasked with Directing this monumental film project. Over the next couple of guiding seasons, we were lucky enough to watch the crew at work with all their fancy gadgets and all the patience required of their trade. In other words, we mostly watched them doing nothing, but when a bear showed up to chase a salmon, they never missed the shot.

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the GBR IMAX

The filmmakers did a great job, but the intimate footage of the bears also shows the remarkable capacity of the bears to accept or tolerate their respectful presence. This is particularly true of the Ma’ah – the beloved elder female spirit bear that lives in Gitga’at territory. 

I have written about Ma’ah before. She is aging, and at the end of this tour season, we said goodbye not knowing if we will see her again next year. In the meantime, while she is tucked away in the rainforest hibernating for the winter, audiences around the world are watching her on the big screen. One hopes her story inspires people to become advocates for the region in whatever way they are able, helping ensure Ma’ah’s rainforest will always be protected for her kin and all the other wildlife, people and ecosystems who call the Great Bear Rainforest home.  

Spirit bears fishing for salmon

Importantly, the film also puts an emphasis on the local First Nations who are the original stewards of the Great Bear Rainforest. The film highlights the Heiltsuk’s traditional herring harvest, cutting-edge bear research by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and sustainable tourism in Gitga’at territory. In particular, it was wonderful to see Marven Robinson and his son, Nelson, highlighted for their work with spirit bears.
 
There is also a heavy focus on the next generation of First Nations youth who are being taught to apply traditional knowledge and science as caretakers of their territories. The emphasis on First Nations people is one thing that sets this documentary apart from other films that only focus on wildlife.

The emphasis on First Nations people is one thing that sets this documentary apart from other films that only focus on wildlife…the First Nations of the Great Bear Rainforest are just as much a part of the ecosystems here as the wolves, bears, whales and ancient trees.

The First Nations of the Great Bear Rainforest are just as much a part of the ecosystems here as the wolves, bears, whales and ancient trees – they also have just as much to lose if the ecosystems of this region unravel from climate change and industrial development. The continued presence of First Nations Guardians in this region is one of the greatest hopes that the rainforest will endure.

A new generation of scientists

Thanks to Jeff, Ian and the rest of the crew to sharing this magnificent place with the world. The long wait was worth it. To learn more about the film and to enter a contest to win one of two trips to the Great Bear Rainforest, visit the film’s website

If you know somebody who would enjoy this, please share it to help spread the word about the IMAX and the Great Bear Rainforest. Maybe they’ll win a trip and take you with them! 

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