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ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR

Dancing Sifakas
In addition to the practical science and survival issues, Douglas was determined to find humor and joy in the images of the animals. He explains, "Connecting to everything that is positive about lemurs, and there's a lot, lets people take on the larger threatening and potentially tragic picture far more readily."

One particularly joyous sequence was filmed on the Berenty Reserve in the southern part of Madagascar, in an extreme habitat known as the spiny forest. Nothing quite captures the fun of lemurdom than the sight of dancing Sifakas.

Sifakas are large, slender lemurs that are mostly arboreal. They can leap great distances between the trees covered in needle-sharp spines. They're built for jumping, not walking, and when they travel on the ground; they skip and dance from side to side in what Douglas describes as "a charming lateral ballet."

Fellman agrees. "It's hilarious, it's acrobatic, just an extraordinary sight to see."

"Drew and I wanted to build on the experience of 'Born to Be Wild,' and show that animals are individuals and have lives worth saving," Douglas shares. "And the Sifakas 'dancing' is a statement of how beautiful and individual these creatures are."

In Berenty, the filmmakers enlisted the help of Malagasy scientist Dr. Hantanirina Rasamimanana, who has a PhD from the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and has been studying lemurs in Madagascar for 20 years.

Dr. Rasamimanana is also an author and professor at the ecole Normale Superieure, the teachers' training arm of the University of Antananarivo, where she has supervised over 20 students through field research for their Masters degrees.

Fellman says, "She is, more than anybody else, dedicated to education in Madagascar, because she knows that if anyone can save the lemurs, it must be the Malagasy people themselves."

The filmmakers developed a special relationship with her graduate students, and those of other top scientists, who were working toward their PhDs. The production hired several young Malagasy graduate students to spend months studying the daily habits of specific lemur groups that Fellman and Douglas intended to film.

Fellman notes, "It was rewarding to hire these students and send them off a month or two in advance to follow the animals we wanted to work with, and keep diaries of their activities so we'd have the most current information when it came time to shoot. It's nearly impossible for students to raise funds for field work in Madagascar, so we helped by funding their research. They became key members of our team, and kept us connected to real life in Madagascar."

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