New IMAX film, 'Great Bear Rainforest,' reveals wondrous North Pacific coast

Great Bear Rainforest header
© MacGillivray Freeman Films (used with permission)

It features magnificent footage of the elusive white spirit bear, of which there are less than 200 left.

The Great Bear Rainforest is located on Canada's remote Pacific coast. It is the largest, most intact coastal temperate rainforest left on Earth – a unique ecosystem that contains more life by weight than a tropical rainforest, like the Amazon. At its peak, it covered only one-half of one percent of the world's landmass, but much of that is now gone.

This stunning place, where a cold ocean meets a rain-drenched mountainous landscape, is the topic of a new documentary film titled, "Great Bear Rainforest: Land of the Spirit Bear." The 41-minute film launches in IMAX and giant screen theatres around the world on February 15, 2019. TreeHugger was fortunate enough to get a sneak preview.

Great Bear Rainforest waterfall© Ian McAllister/ Pacific Wild – The Great Bear Rainforest is the lastremaining intact temperate coastal rainforest in the world.

As the title suggests, the main focus of the film is the elusive spirit bear, a white bear that looks albino, but is in fact a rare subspecies of the North American black bear. The spirit bear is better at catching salmon than its black-furred cousins because its white coat camouflages it against the sky. Despite this advantage, its population is minuscule and there are only an estimated 50-200 spirit bears alive today.

Some of the film scenes had me on the edge of my seat. The cameras were so close to the bears – spirit, black, and grizzly – all of whom share (and sometimes fight over) the same hunting grounds. In an interview, director Ian McAllister explained why he isn't afraid of getting close to these powerful animals.

"These bears are well-fed, they live in an incredibly rich environment, which means their reproductive rates are higher than their continental kin, which in turn means their stress levels are lower. So, as long as you’re not stealing their cubs or taking a salmon out of their mouth, they’re pretty tolerant! There’s also this long-lived human relationship with the bears where First Nations people have lived alongside them and fished alongside them for centuries and centuries."

Great Bear Rainforest film scene with bear© Deirdre Leowinata / Pacific Wild – Director and cinematographer Ian McAllister sets up his camera to film an all-white spirit bear as it hunts for salmon in a stream in the Great Bear Rainforest.

McAllister also pointed out that filming as a solitary person is less threatening to a bear than, say, a group of three: "Wildlife often responds better to one person. Understanding the intentions of one person is a lot different than trying to figure out multiple people."

The film offers spectacular footage of other wildlife as well, revealing how interconnected all these species are. Every year, when the herring come to spawn, it attracts humpback whales and surf scoters, birds that arrive by the thousands and dive 30 feet underwater to eat the herring eggs. There is so much spawn that the Pacific waters turn milky along the coastline for miles and the Heiltsuk First Nation People submerge hemlock boughs in the water to catch the roe, a favorite delicacy.

The film depicts the work of young people, particularly members of the First Nations groups that have lived in this rainforest for thousands of years. Whether they're using high-tech DNA tests on bear hairs to track their diet and health, or spending time on riverbanks observing the spirit bears that they've been told to guard by their ancestors, these young people are combining new technology with ancient wisdom to fight for the rainforest's preservation.

Marven & Nelson Robinson watch a spirit bear© Spirit Bear Entertainment for MacGillivray Freeman Films (used with permission) – Father and son, Marven and Nelson Robinson,are the protectors of the spirit bear within their Gitga’ata tribe.

One cannot help but feel tremendously hopeful while watching this film, and that was one of McAllister's goals all along.

"I hope people leave the theatre with a sense of real hope, knowing that places so valuable ecologically and culturally still exist and still can thrive, and seeing that ecological protection can be something exciting and beautiful, rather than dark and difficult."

Exciting it is, without a doubt, and I highly urge you to make a trip to a nearby IMAX or giant screen theatre to watch this awe-inspiring film. Learn more at 'Great Bear Rainforest.' Watch trailer below.

New IMAX film, 'Great Bear Rainforest,' reveals wondrous North Pacific coast
It features magnificent footage of the elusive white spirit bear, of which there are less than 200 left.

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