Today I was reading my digital subscription to Canadian Wildlife Federation’s magazine Canadian Wildlife. In it is an article on Bear 71. Or more specifically, an article about the web-based documentary, called Bear 71. Yes, a web-based documentary. To be exact, it’s an interactive web-doco that blends video, photography, mapping, data, neat computer animation and music. It’s a really unique format. Created by Gemini Award-winning, Leanne Allison, Jeremy Mendes, and co-presented and produced by the National Film Board, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.
The story is about Bear 71, her life in and around Banff National Park and that of her three cubs. What’s particularly appealing about this doco is that it’s told from Bear 71’s perspective. Now before you go and criticize it for being overly anthropomorphic, just watch the documentary. I don’t think you can help but be moved by it. Actress Mia Kirshner is the voice of Bear 71. Her narrative is poignant, as Bear 71 tells her story about living in an environment that is increasingly touched by humans. She tells of her life with her three cubs and in the end, of her own demise when she is killed by a train while walking on the tracks.
The web link opens with a page that lets you choose to be a character (e.g. Bear 71 or some other character like a mountain lion or big horn sheep). Once you’ve chosen your character, the page shows a trail camera photo of the animal and provides a description of the individual and it’s life. It also presents statistics on the conservation status of that species.
If you click on “Check out the website” at the bottom of the page, this takes you to the web documentary, which opens with some footage showing Bear 71 caught in a leg noose and being tranquilized by conservation officers, then fitted with a radio collar. Next, the video transitions into a funky virtual landscape – a digital representation of the topography in and around Banff National Park. It shows the location and movement of Bear 71 through the virtual landscape, as well as the movement of several other critters. You can move your cursor around to move through the landscape, passing towns, rail tracks, wildlife trails and natural features such as lakes. While roaming the virtual landscape, Bear 71’s narrative plays and your roaming is interspersed with video clips of Bear 71 and music. It makes for a very moving bit of storytelling.
Kudos to Allison, Mendes, and the NFB for their creative and innovative storytelling. I think one of the most effective aspects of the documentary is that the story is told from Bear 71’s perspective. For me, that’s the key to the impact of this doco. It’s not just a documentary about a bear; it’s about Bear 71, by Bear 71 and it is therein, that the story really tugs on your heartstrings.
I encourage you to check it out. I’m a huge fan of using digital media to promote conservation. The key to effectively delivering a conservation message lies in creating a message with impact. This documentary definitely has impact.
Have a look and let me know what you think of it.