Photography director Brad Ohlund discusses environmentalism, IMAX process
By Anthony King | Downtown News
The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center premiered its latest IMAX film, “To the Arctic,” on Friday, April 20 in their newly renovated Heikoff Dome. Narrated by Meryl Streep, the documentary includes coverage of a mother polar bear and her twin cubs as they maneuver through the changing climate of the Arctic.
The film focuses on the effects global warming has on animals. The polar bears, while only one aspect of the educational film, are the main draw.
Director of Photography Brad Ohlund said the Polar Bears are “a great device to use in telling this story because people can relate to them.” Ohlund appeared at the Science Center for a pre-screening event on April 17 to introduce the film and answer questions.
“We were fortunate in that we came across this mother and two cubs who seemed to not only not mind us being around, but actually appreciated us being around,” Ohlund said. “Even when we would get… close, she would hardly even take note of it. It allowed us to really get some really fantastic footage. We stayed with her and her two cubs for five days and witnessed some pretty amazing natural drama.”
“To the Arctic” is the latest production from MacGillivray Freeman Films, the company behind “The Living Sea,” “Everest,” and “Dolphins,” among others. “I’ve wanted to make a film about the Arctic for a long time,” Director Greg MacGillivray said in a press release. “In 45 years of producing films, many of which have been about oceans or remote areas, I was still unprepared for what I found in the far North.”
Ohlund attended the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. and has worked in the large-format film industry for 25 years. He and MacGillivray went into production on “To the Arctic” with a specific, environmental focus, Ohlund said.
“We actually started this film with environmental issues in mind. We don’t want to be political, but we also won’t steer clear of controversy,” Ohlund said. “No matter what you think about climate change… the fact is that the Arctic region is being affected by changes in weather.”
The melting ice resulting from climate change adversely affects the polar bear population, Ohlund said. “Polar bears live on the ice and if they don’t have ice, they can’t hunt,” he said. “If they can’t hunt, they can’t continue to exist.”
Ohlund said both animals and people living in the Arctic feel global warming effects, and the purpose of the film was, in part, to introduce audiences to all aspects of the region without causing unnecessary damage. As a result, he said he was constantly aware of what the production crew was doing when on location.
“It would be a contradiction for us to be making a film which is trying to show people an environment and animals that we want them to care about, and not be caring about them ourselves as we’re filming. We always try to be very respectful,” Ohlund said.
Filming for “Into the Arctic” took more than three years, with several month-long trips to the Arctic followed by two to three months in the United States. “Typically what we’ll do is we’ll go out to a location… with a script, if not an outline, knowing what it is that we want to get. Then when we get there, we adjust according to the conditions that we run into,” Ohlund said.
Ohlund said his production team would then use the film captured on location to guide the next steps for the film, although as director of photography, he worked closely with MacGillivray to stay with the director’s original vision for the project.
“The director of photography performs a number of different functions,” Ohlund said, including composing and lighting shots, deciding what appears in a scene and choosing how a shot will be accomplished.
Calling IMAX the “perfect medium to engage people,” Ohlund said shots were the core of the film but also said they were difficult to get. “The IMAX format is a really challenging format. The cameras are really bulky and the magazines carry three minutes of film. There are so many shots we didn’t get,” he said, adding, “We always erred on the side of not disturbing the animals, even if it cost us the shot.”
“Into the Arctic” was especially difficult on the cameras, Ohlund said. They outfitted the cameras, film and batteries with weather protections because of the cold and wet conditions. While they occasionally used footage taken on digital cameras, Ohlund said the primary footage was taken on IMAX cameras.
“With these IMAX films, we try to introduce Hollywood-quality production value in a documentary so you’re drawn more into the experience,” he said. “All of our films have some sort of message in there. Our job is to inspire, to educate and to entertain but… we don’t want people to feel like they’re being preached to so we want to entertain them first.”