WWF-Canada Blog:

Full Circle: Shooting the Arctic Circle on IMAX

By Shaun MacGillivray, To the Arctic film maker

Three weeks into our voyage in the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway, just 9 degrees from the Arctic Circle, I peered through the fog and saw my 132nd polar bear. We should have seen about 20, but because of climate change the sea ice had receded, condensing the population.

We had incredible luck finding a mother and twin cubs that were completely comfortable with us being with them. We stayed with this bear family for an unprecedented five days, shooting film that provides a look at their lives in a way never seen before.


We started the One World One Ocean movement a few years ago, because we felt that if the public knew about the degradation we saw happening to the ocean, they would act. We knew the best way to communicate this was through the medium my dad’s company MacGillivray Freeman Films has been using for 40 years: giant-screen IMAX films. Capturing top quality footage that illustrates the situation of threatened ocean animals is not easy though. It felt great to finally be here doing it, knowing we would be able to tell their story to the world, especially after 5 trips to the Arctic. We were nearly done shooting our film To The Arctic, which opened in theatres last week.

While shooting in Canada a few months later, we ran into executives from Coca-Cola, who wanted to see the polar bears as well, and quickly realized working together could be a great fit. Our footage of their icon, the polar bear, combined with their marketing leverage, would be a stunning combination. Add WWF’s campaign to protect the polar bear’s habitat, and we had a unique three-way partnership that could make real change on the ground in the Arctic. The success we’ve had so far, raising almost $2 million through the ‘Arctic Home’ campaign, tons of public awareness and laying the groundwork for conserving the Last Ice Area, has been exciting to watch. It has also proven a model for the most effective partnerships for changing the world that we know of.


Eight months later I was in Alaska to capture another piece of the ocean’s amazing story for our upcoming movie on humpback whales. I was sitting in a cove off Chatham Strait, a tributary of Alaska’s inside passage. The water was oily-calm, the gray sky hung like the thick lid of a monumental ice chest high above. The whole crew was intently scanning the water for a sign. Fred, a humpback whale scientist, had his hydrophone over the side and we were all listening to a humpback vocalizer signal to his pack of hunters.

An eerily musical call followed by three more, then silence. They were coming.

A huge ring of bubbles broke the surface and six humpback whales launched skyward, mouths wide as Brad rolled camera. For a few seconds we were on a filmmaking high. All of our time, travel, struggles and hopes were validated in a crystallized moment, capturing IMAX footage of a little-known behavior, called bubble-netting, of these monumental animals. Then the humpbacks slipped back into the depths and all was quiet.