Bear 71

A new interactive movie documents the journey of a grizzly bear in Banff National Park

Bear71

Watch the movie and interact with Bear71 at bear71.nfb.ca     Photo: Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison

Bear 71, an interactive online documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, opens with an ominous epigraph: “There aren’t a lot of ways for a grizzly bear to die. At least, that’s the way it was in the wild.” A second later, you’re watching close-up footage of a 3-year-old grizzly trapped in a snare at Banff National Park. As we learn from the female voiceover, told from the bear’s perspective, the snare snapped shut with the “breaking strength of two tons.” But she’s not dead. Instead, park rangers tranquilize her with a shot of Telazol, tag her with a VHF collar, and release her back into the wild—christened as Bear 71.

For the next 20 minutes, the poetic narration paints a portrait of Bear 71’s life over the course of a decade. The bruising narrative informs you that, for example, trains have killed 17 Banff grizzlies in the last decade (bears roam the tracks in search of grain leaked from trains). Or that “bears and humans here live closer together than any other place on earth.” Or that there are 44 ways for animals to cross Banff’s highways—even though, as Bear 71 wryly points out, “There’s nothing natural about a grizzly bear using an overpass.”

Short grizzly videos accompany the narration, and when the videos aren’t playing, you can use your mouse to navigate over an interactive map of Banff. As your pointer glides across the terrain, you encounter wolverines, moose, wildcats, and other fauna—each represented by a thumbnail that enlarges into a video. Co-creators Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes collated the footage from a collection of one million images shot by motion-sensor cameras around the park.

There’s a technology theme at play here, but the more gutting message of Bear 71 is the way in which human presence—roads, trains, tourists—has affected Banff’s natural habitat. (It’s all heightened by a powerful soundtrack that includes Radiohead, Caspian, and Tim Hecker.) Essentially, animals are being punished for acting naturally in an increasingly unnatural environment. In Bear 71’s words, as she frets about the future of her cubs, “They’ll have to learn not to do what comes naturally. And I wonder, maybe the lesson is too hard.”

To watch the full movie and interact with Bear 71, go to bear71.nfb.ca.

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