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ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR

About The Production
On a remote island in the Indian Ocean special animals exist that may best be known as cartoon characters; however, these very real and spectacular creatures have an amazing story that started over 60 million years ago with a journey across the sea from Africa. It is widely held that a small group of proto-lemurs, one of the earliest primates, were washed out to sea in a storm and drifted to Madagascar on a floating raft of vegetation. At the time there were no predators in Madagascar-or even other mammals and birds-so lemurs took over and evolved into hundreds of different species, some as large as a gorilla. That was before humans, traveling from Borneo, first arrived in the lemurs' gentle paradise 2,000 years ago.

Now, over 90% of the forests have been destroyed and all the giant lemurs, along with many other taxa, are extinct. More than three quarters of the lemurs that remain are at risk of disappearing from our planet forever-and taking with them important details of primate evolution.

Filmmakers David Douglas and Drew Fellman, previous collaborators on the critically acclaimed documentary "Born To Be Wild," share a long-held fascination with Madagascar and, after spending three months exploring the wilds of the exotic island, developed an equally strong admiration for the unique lemur population that exists naturally nowhere else in the world.

Douglas, who is both director and cinematographer on the film, offers, "Lemurs are amazing creatures that were left behind by history, protected by Madagascar's isolation from the competition that shapes evolution. We found an extraordinary come-from-behind survival story and we wanted to tell it."

Writer/producer Fellman agrees. "The lemurs' story is one of the great adventures of epic proportions. A twist of fate brought them to this strange island where they forged a new life and a whole parallel reality that was uniquely theirs. That really inspired us to make this movie."

Morgan Freeman, who narrated the filmmakers' "Born To Be Wild" documentary, had never been to Madagascar, but was concerned with the lemurs' plight and eager to be involved. "Lemurs are incredibly diverse and that is a reflection of the diversity on this planet. But we're jeopardizing that, pushing them out of the way so we can grow food or erect buildings. Our responsibility is to recognize that we're not here to have dominion; we are here to share this planet, and to protect it. Film has the power to spread that message."

It is a message one woman has worked diligently to convey for decades. Madagascar's and its lemurs' fiercest advocate is American primatologist Dr. Patricia C. Wright. One of the leading authorities on lemurs, she holds a BA in Biology and a PhD in Anthropology and is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University. Her lifelong interest in primates began by chance when she ducked into a pet store on her way to a Jimi Hendrix concert in New York City. She emerged with an owl monkey, a rare nocturnal primate from South America. She made a trip to Peru to study them in the wild and discovered she had a rare talent for tracking elusive primates. After getting her PhD, Dr. Wright was sent to Madagascar to determine whether or not the Greater Bamboo lemur, which hadn't been seen in 50 years, was extinct. She found a small population near the town of Ranomafana and also discovered the Golden Bamboo lemur, which was previously unknown to science.

Dr. Wright spent several years fundraising and advocating for the forest to become a national park. Today Ranomafana National Park is one of the jewels of Madagascar and home to over 15 species of lemurs. And Dr. Wright has dedicated her career to helping the charismatic lemurs fend off extinction.

Douglas says, "If we lose these animals, we lose individuals who have real lives that are worth living. And the more we can help our audience make that connection, the more we enable people like Pat who are physically trying to keep them on this Earth."

Fellman affirms, "Pat is one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met. When Dave and I were travelling around Madagascar with her, we'd be wiped out, but Pat would be on the phone raising a million dollars for a conservation effort or arranging delivery of emergency food or medical supplies in villages. She's a non-stop problem solver. It's been a humbling experience to be around her. She is making Madagascar a better place every moment of every day."

After attending a screening of "Born To Be Wild," Dr. Wright enthusiastically came on board for this new film, recalling, "David and Drew's great love for animals and understanding of them was very clear and I'm impressed with the way they translate science into something very exciting for the audience." She adds, "It is truly thrilling that IMAX is bringing Madagascar and these unique creatures to the outside world."

But it was much harder for the outside world to get to Madagascar.

Douglas and Fellman spent a year working with scientists in various areas of Madagascar to prepare for the film. Madagascar is enormous, about the size of Texas, and is known as the "Eighth Continent" because it has such varied topography and environments. Before they even started production, filmmakers personally experienced its inaccessible and unpredictable nature.

Dr. Wright knew exactly what was in store for them. "When they first told me they wanted to shoot an IMAX film in Madagascar, I warned them about the terrain and the weather. But they had no fear. We ended up going to places filmmakers have never been before, the most dramatic places in Madagascar. It was quite an adventure."

Douglas shares, "What makes Madagascar a great adventure isn't what is there but what isn't there. There is no road system, which means you won't know if you're going to get there until you do. There are few hotels, no government infrastructure. If it rained it didn't mean we couldn't shoot there that day, it meant we couldn't get anywhere for a week. I had never shot under such conditions and couldn't have without my terrific crew and the Malagasy people, who not only assisted us but were our guides."

Fellman recalls, "Everything in Madagascar changes so quickly that it was impossible to plan more than a few days in advance. That's a terrible way to have to make a movie, but the animals were so charismatic and so appealing that it was worth all the craziness to get it right."

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