Bear71: wired in the wild

Bear71 is a powerful interactive documentary that follows the life of a Canadian grizzly bear and explores how the natural world adapts to human interference and our attempts to manage and control wildlife

Bear71 is a powerful interactive documentary that follows the life of a Canadian grizzly bear and explores how the natural world adapts to human interference and our attempts to manage and control wildlife…

In 2001 wildlife conservation officers at Banff National Park in Canada began monitoring the movements of a three-year old female grizzly bear. Over the next eight years, the activities of ‘Bear71’ were tracked via an electronic tag and recorded on hundreds of motion-triggered cameras stationed in the park.

Examining the details of her movements (and those of a host of other wild animals, even people) the collected data revealed much about the interaction between wildlife and humans in the park.

In order to survive among the roads and railway lines that criss-cross Banff, for instance, the animals have learned to ignore their natural instincts – many are captured on film ‘using’ the man-made paths and tracks, or navigating train lines.

The project’s co-creators Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes decided to turn the 1m photos taken during the time of Bear71’s monitoring into an interactive project with the help of the National Film Board of Canada’s digital studio, NFB Interactive, and have Bear71 herself as the narrator of the story (she is voiced brilliantly by actress Mia Kirshner).

The project launched recently at the Sundance Film Festival and is now available to view online at bear71.nfb.ca, where users can explore a rich digital map of the park and its inhabitants, and even interact with other viewers via webcams.

There’s also an augmented reality app (shown above) to complement the experience and, at Sundance, an accompanying exhibition on the project was staged. And if this array of storytelling modes sounds like too much, simply watch the 20-minute documentary unfold at bear71.nfb.ca.

As the creators write on the project website, Bear71 has had to “take stock of the various technologies that affect her, and critically assess human efforts to ‘manage’ wildlife in an area where grizzly bears are barely hanging on”.

Indeed, while new technologies appear to have allowed humans to get closer to nature, many of the processes are actually divorcing us from it. Bear71 sums it up as “sometimes it’s hard to say where the wired world ends and the wild one begins”.

It’s moving stuff. Towards the end of her story, Bear71 discusses the loss of one her cubs. “More than a million years of evolution have prepared her to live in the wild,” she says of her young daughter. “But let’s face it, the wild isn’t where she lives. She’ll have to learn a new way to survive and so will her cubs and their cubs after that. They’ll have to learn not to do what comes naturally. And I wonder: maybe the lesson is too hard.”

The trailer for Bear71 is here:

Watch/interact with the Bear71 project at bear71.nfb.ca. Running time: 20 mins.

 

 

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