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BORN TO BE WILD

About The Production
The idea for the IMAX® film "Born to be Wild 3D” began germinating 17 years ago when writer/producer Drew Fellman took a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. He recalls, "I heard about a place in Tanjung Puting National Park in central Borneo and Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, who had been raising orphaned orangutans. I just had to go and see for myself. It was an amazing experience that stuck with me for years and years.”

More than a decade later, Greg Foster, IMAX President of Filmed Entertainment, showed Fellman a piece from "60 Minutes” about another inspiring woman, Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, and the orphaned wild elephants her foundation raises in Kenya. The story struck a familiar emotional chord, and Fellman instantly knew that the remarkable stories of these two women and the animals to which they have devoted their lives would make an incredible film. "They are heroes of the earth in the truest sense,” he states.

Having worked as part of the underwater team on IMAX's "Under the Sea 3D,” Fellman knew exactly what format would best serve a story set in the contrasting terrains. "IMAX® 3D is ideal because we're bringing audiences right into these very rich environments to let them be there in a way you can't in any other format,” he offers.

Director David Lickley has helmed numerous films for IMAX® theatres and his interest in natural history has led not only to a strong conservation ethic in many of his films but a desire to bring wildlife subjects to a wider audience through the IMAX medium. "There is an immediacy to IMAX 3D,” he concurs. "You're engulfed. If you can't be in the wild, this is the next best thing.”

Oscar®-winning actor Morgan Freeman lends his distinctive voice to the narration. He remarks, "‘Born to be Wild 3D' is a wonderful story about two great ladies who have made it their life's work to save these orphans. They have well-run organizations set up to do this and the totality of the investment they've made grabbed me. When one out of a million people steps up and says, ‘I'll take responsibility, I'll do this,' it shows an enormous amount of courage and a real dedication to life. And any life is all life on this planet.”

It is a mammoth investment—physically, emotionally, and financially—to care for the animals. But it is one both Dr. Galdikas at Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) and Dame Daphne at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (TDSWT), have done against 2 all odds. It can take several years of living under human care until both infant orangutans or elephants can mature enough to return to the wild on their own. The commitment among their caretakers must be unwavering.

Dr. Galdikas' and Dame Daphne's similar journeys—and their long-running studies of two different species in two very different parts of the world—have unearthed a single truth. You cannot save the animals without saving their physical environment. In keeping with that, both developed highly constructive ongoing conservation programs: OFI assists in protecting the imperiled rainforest, and TDSWT helps protect Tsavo National Park, the largest in Africa.

"Orangutans are on the verge of extinction as their habitat continues to be disrupted by poaching, illegal logging, and palm oil plantations whose ubiquitous by- product, cheap vegetable oil, is sold in myriad products like junk food, soap, cosmetics and some bio-fuels around the world,” Dr. Galdikas soberly points out. "They have become refugees in their own land.”

Elephants have been equally targeted by ivory poachers on a continent that has endured wars and economic degradation for generations. Dame Daphne emphasizes, "The pressure on the African wildlife population has been an ongoing situation for 100 years. Unfortunately the elephant, although highly intelligent, has been viewed merely as a resource to be mined.”

The sacrifices these resourceful women have made for decades in the parallel pursuit to save both earth and beast is a story to which Lickley was drawn. "I found it extremely humbling to be around these two women who have dedicated their lives to making real and immediate changes to the world around them, changes which will continue to have a significant impact long into the future. They are real trailblazers and to literally follow in their footsteps, as we were able to do, was an honor.”

Shooting the IMAX documentary in the spectacular IMAX 15/70, while also capturing nuanced animal behavior, called for a special camera in addition to the cumbersome 70mm IMAX film camera. Director of photography David Douglas helped the IMAX camera team develop a new digital 3D IMAX camera prototype that would address some of the limitations faced by wildlife filmmakers.

Douglas, who has been lensing IMAX films for 35 years explains, "At just a quarter of the IMAX film camera's 300-pound weight, the digital camera allowed us to go into places and situations that would have been impossible before. The result was a striking improvement that has redrawn the practice of large-format wildlife filmmaking.”

The camera is not only lighter but quieter, which made it possible to use natural ambient sounds and also solved another of the filmmakers' concerns. Fellman attests, "One of our biggest fears was how the animals would respond to this terribly loud, enormous camera and crane. The last thing we wanted was for them to change their behavior or retreat all together.”

Despite the lighter camera, there were still logistical obstacles to tackle, including transporting all the necessary equipment around the world, filming for months in difficult terrains, braving weeks of unrelenting rain and heat, and remaining at all times at the mercy of unpredictable, mischievous "toddler-aged” creatures with extraordinary intelligence.

"Being able to roll with the punches at every turn was key,” Lickley remarks. "We couldn't control nature or the animals.” Fellman is particularly proud of the fact that no trained animals appear in "Born to be Wild 3D.” "Every animal featured in the film is either totally wild, a rehabilitant now living wild, or a young orphan being prepared for its release.”

While there might appear to be little resemblance between elephants and orangutans, Fellman observes that the animals in the film share a link that is deeper than biology. "They are orphans whose parents have been killed and some remarkable angels have rescued them from the brink of death and are giving them a second chance at the lives they were born to lead. Interestingly, the orangutans live in Asia and the elephants are in Africa, but they happen to be situated pretty close to the equator—Nairobi slightly north and Borneo just south—so even though they are in separate parts of the world, they are joined by this imaginary line.”

Both elephants and orangutans are highly sophisticated, emotional, intelligent species and have life spans that rival humans. Orangutans can live into their 50s and elephants long into their 70s. But the filmmakers found even more in common with their animal subjects than anticipated.

"Orangutans are mostly solitary creatures; they're thinkers and very independent,” Fellman notes. "Elephants are emotional, highly social and family-oriented. We humans have both those instincts so, in a way, elephants and orangutans represent two distinct sides of human nature.”

Six weeks in Borneo would be the first leg of this unique journey.

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