ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR
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
"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
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.
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
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
"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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