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Q+A with Arctic Tale Filmmakers
Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson - Page 2
Text by Mary Anne Potts   Photograph courtesy National Geographic Films

Photo: Camera crew with walruses
Filming on ice

The Unseen Arctic

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You captured a lot of never-seen-before behaviors. Which scene are you the most proud of? 
Sarah Robertson: I think the mother walrus hugging and holding her calf. It really shows how tender and devoted these mothers are to the little calves. They are actually feeling each other's faces with their whiskers as a form of bonding. We've seen female walruses defend their babies in very courageous ways.


You've come to learn something about the temperaments of animals. Was that by trial and error? 
Sarah Robertson: Absolutely. Eventually, you can learn to read the animals' postures and body language to intuitively know how the animal will respond. 

Adam Ravetch: There is this magic space that we maintained to try and keep the animals from getting anxious or nervous. If you break through that, though, you could get hit or slapped by a walrus.


Wait—you got slapped sometimes?
Adam Ravetch: Sometimes they would come up and behave aggressively toward us. They'd go in to tusk us, definitely. But we never wanted to touch the animals, even when we wanted to get very close.   


What was your most adrenaline-drenched moment in the field?
 
Adam Ravetch: Once we were set up in our tent on a gorgeous night. I remember waking up with this nose, this polar bear nose, in my ear, with only a quarter-inch [.6 centimeters] of canvas between us. My heart rate was pumping. We're in our sleeping bags basically in our underwear.

Then, to make matters worse, this was a mother polar bear with two cubs. The cubs started to get tangled in the guide wires holding our tent up. It was like a horror movie. We could hear the mother bear going "Rrr rrr," you know yelling at the two baby bears that were squealing and talking to each other. After a little while, the mother made a little call, and they ran off.

Of course, this happened in the pitch darkness, so we couldn't get any footage. But when we got up the next morning, there were footprints everywhere. We followed the footprints to the family and got some of those most spectacular shots in the film.   


What's it like to be watching through the lens when an animal is dying—how do you cope with that?

Adam Ravetch: We both deal with it differently. When I put on the cinematographer hat and am looking through the viewfinder, my sole goal is to capture remarkable imagery. I'm utterly in the moment. When animals struggle, you can feel it even more intensely through the camera. So for me, I'm trying to capture that emotion. I know that if I'm feeling it in the lens, then the audience is going to feel it. I wouldn't just pop away from the camera and say, "Let's do something to help." My instinct is to film and to capture the real life. 

Sarah Robertson: I have a different perspective, slightly. Because my eye is not behind the lens, I'm probably looking at a slightly larger frame. I become quite emotional sometimes, and I beg Adam to stop. My tolerance to keeping filming is not as high as his.

Adam Ravetch: In the end we keep shooting, and that's why we have this spectacular film. I think it's important to see the real lives of these animals.

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