“Artic Tale” is like “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” on defrost with Queen Latifah’s voice as a tour guide. But the end result seems to put an emotional face on the issue of climate change, something husband-and-wife filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson are counting on.
The quasi-documentary, which opened Friday, chronicles how two animal families — one walrus, the other polar bear — are being affected by climate changes. It mixes wildlife family bonding with just enough global warming 411 to make audiences want to carpool home.
It took Ravetch and Robertson 10 years to capture enough footage for the project, something he considers a brand new genre of film because the animals he features are considered “composite characters.”
“It really does blur the lines between fiction and documentary,” Ravetch says. “We wanted to take advantage of that narrative construct to tell a strong story following two characters, but we wanted to keep it authentic by using the real observations and backing that with scientific literature.”
To that end, the filmmakers’ seasonal visits during the course of a decade revealed some startling results.
“Fifteen years ago, science was telling us that walruses and polar bears didn’t come together, but as time went on, we started to see that it did happen,” Ravetch says, noting how much longer it now takes for arctic ice to reform after initially breaking up in summer.
“We saw the animals coming together much more frequently and predictably,” he adds. “Mother bears would take their cubs to the walruses and teach them about them. The bears were being more communal, even though they are solitary animals. But when they are on an island with other animals, they have to share. Otherwise these animals would starve.”
Ravetch was also impressed with how much the animals seemed human-like in regards to familial bonds and how they dealt with loss.
But behind the scenes, another drama was unfolding. Not only did the Ravetch and Robertson lug around heavy camera equipment and bulky sleds over ice in 30-degree below zero temperatures, they managed to raise three kids in the arctic. The couple’s youngest son, Cooper, was 6 months old when shooting began. Eventually, they bonded with the Inuit people of the region, learned how to build igloos and had two more kids by the time filming wrapped.
As for braving all brutal weather, sometimes months at a time, the filmmaker says he learned a great deal about survival from the Inuit community, many of whom joined the project.
“You have to pitch in,” Ravetch says. “You have a 20-hour day and at the end of it, you might have to build an igloo. And that takes about four hours and everybody has a role. You have to forget about yourself so that everybody can be comfortable — so that everybody can survive and get on with life.”
Meanwhile, oldest child Cooper might have appreciated something entirely different: the large supply of condiments on hand over the years. To this day, he thinks that mustard is the perfect accompaniment to beardedseal intestines.
Now that’s a chilling arctic tale you don’t often hear about.