Jul 31, 2007

Bye, Polar: An Interview With "Arctic Tale" Director Sarah Robertson

Two years after Morgan Freeman and his penguin posse marched their way towards staggering box office success and a Best Documentary Oscar, a doc concerning polar bears comes as little surprise. For 'Arctic Tale' director Sarah Robertson, the success of 'March of the Penguins' only came as a relief.

“I was ecstatic to know that Penguins did so well, because it proved what [husband/cinematographer Adam Ravetch] and I always knew, that there was an audience for this stuff,” said Robertson in a recent phone interview. “It belongs on the big screen, and it showed that there was an audience out there for it.”

The film represents fifteen years of Robertson and Ravetch’s work in the Arctic, although only the last four were more dedicated to making a movie out of their experience. “We didn’t know we were making Arctic Tale, but it ended up being an accumulation of discovering all of the animals and drama taking place over that period of time. We only spent the last four years more actively trying to get it on the big screen.”

Since it seemed that people would have trouble following the main animal protagonists throughout, they named in an effort to help. “We had tried calling them just Walrus and Bear, but audiences still had trouble. You know, they’re not Jane and Tom.” Eventually, the female polar bear was referred to as Nanu, while the female walrus became Seela, with each moniker being derived from their respective Inuktuk names. It comes as no small surprise given the timespan and conditions of shooting that Nanu and Seela represent composite characters of the Arctic. “No, they’re not just one bear or walrus, but a representation of all animals in the North.”

However, just because the animals are named doesn’t mean they can speak for themselves. Enter Queen Latifah. “At the end, we always knew that we’d have an A-list, highly recognizable storyteller, because Penguins did it and it went well for that,” shared Robertson. “We wanted a woman storyteller, a comedienne, since the story was pretty heavy, and we needed someone to put as much lightness into the movie as they could, to provide the comedy and accessibility to young people, but carry the weight and authority of the film, and she was perfect for that.”

Although the opening credits and film that follows might suggest otherwise, the inclusion of Kristin Gore, daughter of Al, to the narration staff was for laughs more than lessons. “Kristin Gore is a comedy writer, she’s worked on ‘SNL’ and ‘Futurama.’ She was brought on near the very end to infuse some funny lines. Contrary to what people tend to assume, she had nothing to do with the climate change message in the film.”

And as for the film’s evident message? “I don’t know if climate change can be reverse or held at bay, that’s really science stuff. We need the film to show and celebrate the qualities of these animals and their will to survive, and their dignity and charisma in the face of climate change, on the front line of creatures dealing with it, more and faster in the Arctic than anywhere else, to show them responding and celebrate the ultimate result: that these animals have the capacity to change and that’s really a metaphor for us, for humans who’ll have to face these changes with courage,” Robertson explained. “It’s really a morality tale, an inspirational tale, and not one of politics.”

The release of Arctic Tale doesn’t mark the end of the couple’s efforts. “We have other films in development, but our work in the Arctic will certainly continue. It is a big part of our lives, and we hope to capture this time capsule of animals adapting before our very eyes.”

Arctic Tale opens today in NY and LA, and will be in theatres everywhere August 17.

*Interviewed by William Goss. This article is officially published at http://efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2231

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