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'To the Arctic' tells tale of climate change and survival

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 9:03 p.m.
Polar bear cubs often touch noses with thier mothers reafirming their bond. Location: Barents Sea of the  eastern coast of Nordaustlandet, Northeast Svalbard, Arctic Europe
Polar bear cubs often touch noses with thier mothers reafirming their bond. Location: Barents Sea of the eastern coast of Nordaustlandet, Northeast Svalbard, Arctic Europe

In an IMAX film making its Pittsburgh debut Friday, viewers will follow the arduous journey of a family of polar bears struggling to survive both a harsh and changing climate.

“To the Arctic” — showing at the Carnegie Science Center's Rangos Omnimax Theater — gives people an intimate look at a mother polar bear and her twin 7-month-old cubs as they live their daily lives in frigid Norway, near the Arctic Circle. The bears struggle to survive in a world of melting ice, giant glaciers, waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. Viewers see this on the giant, panoramic IMAX screen, and get the sense that they are right there with the bears, says Stephen Judson, the film's writer and editor.

Judson says that he hopes the film will change the issue of climate change from the theoretical to the personal, in a non-preachy way.

“There's definitely an environmental message in the film,” he says. “If you just make a film about climate change full of facts and figures, it's hard to make that compelling. If you make a film about a polar bear family ... that is struggling with climate change, it kind of brings it home to people.”

Polar bears, who have become poster children for environmental issues, make a great film subject, because they are so appealing to people and offer great visuals, Judson says.

IMAX filmmakers made “To the Arctic” during five shoots that took place over about two years. Filming in the Arctic environment is challenging, and polar bears typically avoid people, Judson says. Yet, surprisingly, the mother bear allowed the crew — filming from an icebreaker ship — to remain close for a few days. An underwater cameraman who was filming the bears swimming got close, and even found himself sandwiched between the cubs and the mother, Judson says.

“Bears avoid people and cameras, which is part of what makes this footage so extraordinary,” he says. “The mother bear wasn't domesticated. ... She just chose not to run away. ... It's rare to be in their presence so much.”

Actress Meryl Streep narrates the 40-minute movie, which includes a part about caribou migration. The movie came out in the spring, shortly after producers finished creating it, Judson says.

He hopes that people who watch “To the Arctic” will care about the animals, and feel motivated to help.

“What we hope to do is make a difference in people's understanding and attitudes toward the environment,” he says. Judson hopes that, through watching the movie, people go further and get a “determination to take action to actually help with the problem of climate change.”

“I try to make the message as palatable as I can,” Judson says. “We don't want to make a movie like a lecture. We want the information and the messages to emerge naturally ... out of the movie, so you don't feel like you're being lectured to.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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