Interactive Film Examines The Shrinking Space Between Nature And Technology

<p>Web-based documentary chronicling nine years of a bear&#8217;s life premieres at Sundance.</p>

Bear 71 from National Film Board of Canada on Vimeo.

While watching TV the other night, a commercial came on showing a couple hiking and camping in the woods. The wife was clearly not an “outdoorsy type” and visibly out of her element, but putting on a brave face while scaling the steep cliffs and fighting off mosquitos. Then at night, in the golden glow of the campfire, the guy pulls out a laptop with Boardwalk Empire, “her show,” all cued up and suddenly she’s all glowing and loving camping and life again.

Anyway, images like that make me wonder if we’ve finally reached a point where we’re no longer capable of enjoying nature without the comforting crutch of technology (to speak nothing of the cities, where we’ve proven actively incapable of surviving without our technological appendages). More importantly, do we even consider how our use of technology—even our very presence—impacts animals and nature?

It’s exactly this topic that co-creators Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison are examining in their new interactive web-based documentary Bear 71, from the innovative National Film Board of Canada (NFB), that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this week.

The 20-minute documentary chronicles the life of a female bear in the Canadian Rockies who was tagged and tracked by Banff National Park rangers from 2001-2009. Told from the first-person perspective of the female grizzly, named Bear 71, the film is split between live footage of the bear’s key experiences and a virtual map that the user can navigate freely—supplemented with over one million photos captured by Allison with motion-triggered cameras, as well as several videos, all set to a soundtrack of Radiohead, Atlas Sound, Tim Hecker and Caspian.

As Bear 71 lets us into her life, we learn about how her landscape has changed, how she has to deal with new human smells that hinder her ability to find food, and most importantly how she must learn to not listen to her natural instincts in order to survive in this new kind of world. The documentary poses questions like “How can we coexist with nature?” and shows that even while we’re able to keep closer tabs on nature and animals through the use of technology and surveillance, it renders us even more detached.

As part of the interactive experience, users have the option of either exploring the bear’s world via webcam (where they can interact in real-time with other users) or visiting the Bear 71 microsite and choosing another animal to embody to find out how human presence affects other types of wildlife.

Interact with Bear 71 on the web here, or experience the narrative in installation form at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art through May 19th.