To many, the word “rainforest” conjures up images of Jaguars, Toucans and other exotic animals living under the Amazon’s mist-shrouded tropical canopy.
But the Pacific coast of Canada is home to an untouched temperate forest sprawl that’s just as wet, if colder, than the Amazon and home to one of the world’s rarest mammals: the Spirit Bear.
Also known as a Kermode Bear, this white-furred bear is not albino but rather a variant of the Black Bear.
Its cream-to-white hair is the result of a recessive gene so rare that the species’ total population is estimated to be just 50-150 individuals. Revered and protected by First Nations people for millennia, Spirit Bears are only found in a remote corner of Canada’s vast Great Bear Rainforest, which is sometimes referred to as The Amazon of the North.
Beginning Memorial Day weekend, audiences can visit this ancient, unspoiled wilderness and enjoy never-before-seen footage of its rare-bear residents and other amazing wildlife when Great Bear Rainforest 3D begins screening at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater.
“Very few people have ever seen a Spirit Bear. Even people in British Columbia are surprised to hear that we have this globally-rare bear,” says Director Ian McAllister. “To see a Spirit Bear for the first time is a remarkable experience, and to be able to film them so intimately as they went about their lives was a real delight and treat.”
This exciting new giant-screen adventure, which is narrated by Ryan Reynolds, is the result of three years of work on the part of McAllister and his team in the unforgiving and ruggedly beautiful reaches of the Canadian rainforest.
Thanks to improvements in IMAX filming equipment, filmmakers were able to get closer than ever to the bears and the other wildlife, offering views never before captured on camera. On a six-story-tall screen, then, the film becomes a gateway to a place few have been to and even fewer have laid lenses on.
Presented on such an enormous canvas, the film’s sense of “being there” can be almost intoxicating, says producer Jeff Turner, who was the first person to ever film Spirit Bears.
“The ability of the big screen to bring this place to life is unmatchable,” he says. “The hardest thing to explain to people is what it’s like to stand under towering, 1,000-year-old trees or a few feet from a slumbering bear, but on the big screen, you get the full force of these feelings.”
The Great Bear Rainforest owes its designation as a temperate rainforest to its location along the coast of British Columbia. As the film explores the Spirit Bears’ region of this 16 million-acre wilderness, they’ll encounter a rich cast of other wildlife above and below the waterline, from Grey Wolves prowling the beaches and Bald Eagles pursuing spawning Salmon to playful Sea Lions cavorting beneath the waves.
Thanks to their remote location and limited numbers, Spirit Bears are relatively unknown to most of the world, but the First Nations communities of Western Canada have revered these rare animals for millennia. In Great Bear Rainforest 3D, audiences will be introduced to up-and-coming First Nations youth who are learning more about the ecological underpinnings of the rainforest in order to safeguard it and its unique residents for future generations.
The hope is that Great Bear Rainforest 3D serves to inspire audiences about the ancient beauty and fragile balance of a unique, seldom-seen location, McAllister says.
“This amazing place is so incredible that every superlative under the sun doesn't really do it justice,” he says. “I felt that we had to find a way for people to experience it for themselves, from the inside, so you feel as connected to its beauty and life as those of us who love it feel when we’re there.
“I hope we found a balance that represents the beauty, the grandeur, the intimacy and the elegant nature of this place, all woven together with the stories of the fiercely independent First Nations cultures, who have been protecting it for thousands of years.”
The film makes an excellent pairing to an Aquarium visit. As they explore the Ocean Journey building, guests will see the Vancouver Island exhibit. This sprawling tank showcases aquatic animals, which — like the Spirit Bear — call the life-rich waters of Canada’s coastline home.
Great Bear Rainforest 3D will premiere at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater on Friday, May 28. Through Memorial Day (Monday, May 31), screenings will be available at 11 a.m., 1:15 p.m., 3:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. Beginning Tuesday, June 1, the film will be screened at noon, 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.
For more information and to see a schedule of showtimes, visit tnaqua.org/imax/great-bear-rainforest-3d/