Getting to spend time at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) has been the experience of a lifetime. Even though I am only halfway through my time here, I find that I have already learned a great deal about friendship, loyalty, and trust from both the orangutans and people. There is a certain magic to the OCCQ. It is a place where orangutans are given a second chance at life in the wild. Not only are the orangutans loved and supported by the staff, but in return they teach the staff and volunteers a great deal about compassion and friendship. Recently, Drew Fellman accomplished a very difficult task. He brought this magic to life in the IMAX film Born to be Wild.
The film looks at the conservation efforts of Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas in Borneo and Dame Daphne Sheldrick in Kenya. Dr. Galdikas is founder of Orangutan Foundation International and Dame Sheldrick is founder of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Drew chose these two projects because he believes they “are among the most vital conservation efforts in the world.” He explains that the IMAX team “[...] felt an enormous pressure to do justice to them and all the people involved.” Dr. Galdikas and Dame Sheldrick are two of the people that Drew most admires in the world.
The idea for the film first arose in 1994. Drew was backpacking around Indonesia and visited Camp Leakey, Dr. Galdikas’ original research and conservation station. When Drew arrived at the camp, he was greeted by a young orangutan. It was this interaction that would be the catalyst for his future film. “The close connection between our species’ was so obvious and powerful, and I knew instantly that this was an experience that would move people.”
Drew and the IMAX team spent six weeks filming in Borneo. They had to endure extreme heat, humidity, and torrential downpours all while negotiating heavy IMAX cameras and cranes through jungles, swamps, and rivers. The IMAX team was surprised to find that the easiest part of the shoot was working with the orangutans. “[The orangutans] somehow instinctively knew what were trying to do and never let us down,” Drew explained.
Orangutans can be very clever and cheeky, and one orangutan made sure Drew knew that. A few months before filming began, Drew came to Borneo to familiarize himself with the area. He and a team were taken to Camp Leakey by two speedboats. He explains that, “After a couple of hours, [the group] returned to the jetty but the boats were both gone. Looking up river, we noticed one of the boats about 100 yards away. It had been stolen by an orangutan! Pan, the son of Princess, a famous boat stealer herself, had untied both boats. One floated downriver and he paddled the other one away himself!”
In late February, Drew returned to the OCCQ and Camp Leakey to screen the film for the local staff. It was very important for him to screen the film for them because, “[the] film would have been completely impossible to make without the OFI staff. Not harder to make, but impossible.” He explains that “nearly every shot in the film was made possible by [the employees’] instincts, knowledge and advice. [...] It was a great honor to be able to come back and show the film to them so they can see their work on the big screen and appreciate the impact they are having all over the world.”
When I first saw Born to be Wild in an IMAX theatre in Australia, it was a moving and memorable experience. However, watching the film with the OFI staff and their families at the OCCQ was something I will never forget. None of the local staff had seen the film before, and getting to see the looks of amusement, joy, and pride on the faces of the staff and their families was incredible.
Drew also took some time to screen the film for some of the OCCQ orangutans. When the younger orangutans were out for the day playing in the forest, Drew brought his laptop out to them. Cuddled on their caregivers laps, the orangutans watched Born to be Wild. The young orangutans are full of energy and rarely sit still, but they were fascinated watching their friends, orangutan and human, on the screen.
Drew also screened the film for the OFI rangers at Camp Leakey. Orangutan Siswi joined the viewing, sitting in the doorway of the dining hall at camp. However, when a herd of elephants came onto the screen, Siswi quickly departed and made a nest in the trees closeby.
Drew explains that for him, “while making the film and even watching it, I thought a lot about how these animals are all individuals with rich emotions and life experiences that rival our own. And that the line we draw between humans and other animals dehumanizes us, not them.”
Born to be Wild will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 17, 2012