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ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR

Incredible Indri
A fair amount of unexpected and interesting data came out of that experiment. A major highlight involved a student following a group of Indri when one Indri gave birth. Because there are not many Indri in Madagascar, she was the first scientist to document the first month of an Indri's life.

If the Sifakas are the dance troupe, the Indri, the largest of the lemurs, are the choral masters. Filmmakers shot the Indri in Mitsinjo Reserve near Andasibe National Park, and at the Palmarium Reserve.

Fellman recalls, "They have a plaintive wail that echoes through the forest and the whole group will join in and sing to each other across long distances. It's the perfect sound to wake up to, especially if you're having a strange dream."

Douglas remembers the first time he saw Indri while scouting in the eastern rain forest with Fellman and a guide. "We hiked through steep terrain and were in a deep valley with this tremendous stillness under a canopy of giant fern trees, and a couple of families of Indri had come down from the upper canopy to nap. So we slowly got close until we were within about ten or 15 feet. All of a sudden, they broke out into song in front of us. It's so loud, almost like a whale underwater. It was amazing and I wanted to share their unique voices with the audience." Music

"Island Of Lemurs: Madagascar" features four songs by Madagascar's top international recording artist, Hanitrarivo (Hanitra) Rasoanaivo, and her band Tarika. The filmmakers met Hanitra by chance during a scouting trip of Ranomafana National Park, while she was on a scouting trip of her own searching for local musicians. One night at Dr. Wright's headquarters, they showed her "Born to Be Wild" and she gave them a CD of her music. The CD had a cover of the song "Be My Baby." Months later, Fellman was listening music on shuffle and the song came up randomly. "I'd forgotten where the song came from," Fellman said. "But I knew immediately that it would be the perfect theme song for our lemur love story."

For her part, Hanitra had no idea the song was a famous American hit when she recorded it; she assumed the Malagasy version which played on the radio while she was growing up was from Madagascar.

Madagascar is so culturally set apart from the rest of the world that even the ubiquitous disco anthem "I Will Survive" was largely unknown there. The song seemed like a perfect fit for a film about lemurs' struggle to survive so the filmmakers asked Hanitra to record her own version.

"Even though Hanitra had never heard the song before," Fellman said, "she totally made it her own, re-writing the lyrics in Malagasy from the perspective of a lemur overcoming the environmental destruction of Madagascar." Hanitra recorded vocals in Madagascar and the song was produced in Los Angeles with composer Mark Mothersbaugh's team at Mutato. Conservation

In addition to the symbiotic relationship with scientists, filmmakers forged an equally strong relationship with Malagasy citizens, many of whom were involved with the film. Shooting in dozens of locations all over the island meant a lot of time spent seeking permissions from the local people.

Fellman explains, "It would start out with a conversation, trying to understand what a village needed and then we would make an exchange that was worthwhile for them. Sometimes we would make donations to the village, fix a leaking roof, or provide a feast."

"The people of Madagascar really went out of their way to help us," he adds. One such incident involved an old Michelin train which filmmakers found dismantled in a siding shed. Essentially a diesel-powered school bus that rides on a track, the rubber-tired Michelin train was an important mode of transportation in Madagascar's early years. The train, however, had no engine. Filmmakers suggested to the workers that if it was repaired, they would rent it. So the workers fixed the engine and Douglas used the train for a sequence with Dr. Wright.

Riding in a Michelin for the first time in years made Dr. Wright reminisce about all the things that have changed in the almost three decades she has been involved with Madagascar, its lemurs and its people. Although a lot of the forest is gone, and deforestation is still the number one threat to lemurs, the seeds of conservation she has planted are slowly taking root. Training people to learn trades and replace slash-and-burn agriculture with eco-tourism is starting to bring in income that does not deplete the rainforest. And, bit by bit, reforestation efforts continue.

"I'm optimistic about the future," Wright shares. "Lemurs may be on the brink of extinction, but it's not too late yet. If we all work together we can save the lemurs, and this rainforest, which is an incredible repository of the world's biodiversity."

"Lemurs have survived dinosaurs. They've survived being castaways. But can they survive humanity? That's the big question," says Fellman. "We hope 'Island of Lemurs: Madagascar' will show people all over the world how special lemurs are-and how worthy they are of our admiration and protection."

"Awareness is the first step," Douglas affirms. "That's happening now in Madagascar largely because of the efforts of scientists like Pat. We're trying to motivate the next generation of Pat Wrights in Madagascar and around the world. There are lots of things we can do to save the rainforest, and lemurs, we just have to do them now. If we do, these 'living fossils' have a chance."

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