Disneynature releases a new wildlife documentary for Earth Day every year, and this year’s installment, called “Bears,” has winning subjects — breathtaking Alaskan scenery and plenty of real-life drama. It follows a mama brown bear, dubbed Sky, as she raises, feeds and protects her cubs, Amber and Scout, from predators, including other bears. Keith Scholey, who co-directed with Alastair Fothergill and also produced, spent two summer seasons in Alaska and shot more than 400 hours of footage to make the film, which posed a wide variety of logistical, physical and environmental challenges.
“The remoteness of the location meant that everything had to be flown in by small aircraft landing on the beach,” Scholey explains. “Then we had to do everything on foot, which was challenging with the weight of the camera gear. The Alaskan weather was also difficult, stopping supply flights and also preventing filming for days on end.”
Locations were carefully chosen, and the crew kept at a safe distance. “Sometimes we were very close, within 20 feet, but most of the time we use very long lenses which makes the action appear close,” he says. “We had no dangerous encounters with the bears. The bears in Katmai have only had good experiences with people and are well managed by the guides who supported us.”
The filmmakers worked closely with bear experts who can predict their behavior, but nevertheless captured some sequences on film that were surprising. “We watched wolves and bears together, which is very rare,” says Scholey, “and the adult bears largely ignored the wolves, which was a surprise.”
His favorite sequence involved a wolf attempting to snatch one of the bear cubs. “I don't think many people have seen such an encounter, let alone filmed it.”
He offers a few reasons why bears make a great subject. “Everyone grew up with a teddy bear, but they are also feared. Bears tug at all our emotions and they also seem to be like us. That's why they are perfect for a Disneynature film.”
While the documentary’s conservation message is not overt, Scholey believes “the job this film needs to do is to tell people about how wonderful bears are and build their value. Others can then build on this to help conserve them.”
“Bears,” which is narrated by John C. Reilly, arrives in theaters on April 18. You can see a trailer in the video below.
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