Polar bears have always intrigued us as majestic bears of the Arctic snow desert, with their power, endurance, and reputation as top predators. However, as directors Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson discovered while filming for Disneynature’s latest documentary film, Polar Bear, their environments remain tough and risky.
The documentary, narrated by Catherine Keener, a two-time Academy Award contender, explores the story of a new mother whose childhood experiences prepare her to handle motherhood in the increasingly difficult world that polar bears face today. Director Jeff Wilson describes how his crew braved the Arctic tundra to film a polar bear’s voyage that had never been witnessed before. Polar Bear is only available on Disney+ Hotstar.
Sharing his experience, director Jeff Wilson said, “We had to figure out how to be in the bears’ presence for the longest period of time possible in order to really capture the kind of character moments and the behaviours that we knew could support a film. To do that—especially in those winter months, you need to figure out how to survive out there.”
The videographers built up a camp in a strategic place to record the bears in their natural habitat. This necessitated the development of a novel, eco-friendly, self-contained, sledge-mounted mobile camp with a kitchen, living space, and sleeping accommodations, among other features. “It had its own heat, generated its own water, gave us protection from the bears and allowed members of our team to survive for up to four months,” added Jeff Wilson.
Bringing to light the incredible feat achieved by the Polar Bear team, director Jeff Wilson said, “No one had ever really put themselves in a position to survive for that length of time in that location before. It made a significant difference to what we could achieve and the level of ambition we could have. It took 18 months to plan and build before filming even started.”
An Emmy and BAFTA-winning long-lens cinematographer, an award-winning drone operator, a breakthrough gyro-stabilized camera system & operator, and skilled Arctic guides made up the Polar Bear team, which logged 241 days of filming in the field. The filming, however, was cut short because of the pandemic, which prevented filmmakers from shooting for a complete season. In order to understand more about the region and bear behaviour, the production team collaborated closely with scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute.
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