New IMAX film 'Backyard Wilderness' proves there's no place like home

Backyard Wilderness promo
© Backyard Wilderness

Nature's wonders are not restricted to exotic locales. Take a look around and you'll be amazed at what you see.

Many nature films feature exotic creatures in faraway lands -- bat caves in the Yucatan, penguins in Antarctica, lions in the Serengeti. But what about the nature that surrounds us on a daily basis? It is just as wondrous and fascinating, if only we'd take the time to notice what's going on.

Backyard Wilderness is a new film designed to showcase the incredible animals and seasonal patterns that exist in our own backyards. Filmed in Croton-on-Hudson, on the filmmakers' own property north of New York City, the 45-minute film transforms a natural world that many north-easterners shrug off as ordinary and even dull (compared to a rainforest or jungle) into a place teeming with life and stunning rituals.

The basic story line is simple, narrated by an 11-year-old girl named Katie who lives beside a pond with her parents and brother. She describes herself as a lucky kid, but one whose life "seemed to be about things and keeping track of them." Initially Katie and her family are blind to the real-life spectacles happening around them. This is underscored by examples such as Katie watching a shark show on TV and expressing amazement while a frog glues itself to her window and eats flies. There are captivating predator-prey relationships happening right before her eyes, but she's not looking.

One sunny day, while playing a game on her tablet, Katie looks out the window and sees ducklings falling from the sky. Witnessing this surreal event, which is the astonishing rite of passage that every one-day-old wood duckling must undergo in order to travel from nest to pond, changes Katie's life. From that point on, she becomes far more attuned to her surroundings.

duckling© Backyard Wilderness -- A baby wood duck is unruffled after its 50-ft leap from a tree.

IMAX films are known for their spectacular cinematography, and this one is no exception. Andrew Young and Susan Todd worked in extreme weather and at all hours of the night to capture elusive events, such as the annual migration of spotted salamanders back to their birth pond and the births of raccoon kits, a fawn, and the aforementioned ducklings. They said,

"We had to calculate gestation periods precisely, be in the right place at the right time, and be extremely patient. Capturing the growth and seasonal change of plants with time-lapse cameras was also a really challenging process that took many attempts before we got it right."

Todd and Young even filmed a courageous mouse making its way into their house; it ran through the kitchen and scurried through a hole to its nest of wood shavings in the wall.

The married pair has been deeply influenced by Richard Louv's book, The Last Child in the Woods, which warns of nature-deficit disorder. Louv argues that many of modern society's afflictions could be cured, or at least improved, by spending more time outdoors. Todd and Young wrote,

"Our lives are now almost 90% indoors and we spend hours in front of computers and on our cell phones... We hope this film will help remind everyone to put down their screens and get outside to appreciate the nature around them."

I enjoyed the film so much that I had my three young children watch it, too. They were captivated, laughing frequently at the baby animals' antics, and then talked about the film for several days. My 8-year-old commented, "I can't believe how much Katie's life changed," and my younger child has begged to search for salamanders on the first night of spring rain.

Because the film is set in an ecosystem similar to the one I inhabit in Ontario, Canada, it feels wonderfully relevant. It has inspired me to get my kids outside more and to appreciate what's happening around us, especially as spring arrives.

"Backyard Wilderness" is a true gift to those of us parents and educators who are trying so hard to get an online generation of kids back into the forest. We need all the help we can get and this film does that beautifully.

"Backyard Wilderness" is now showing at select IMAX and Giant Screen locations. You can search for specific locations here.

New IMAX film 'Backyard Wilderness' proves there's no place like home
Nature's wonders are not restricted to exotic locales. Take a look around and you'll be amazed at what you see.

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