By Paula McGlynn
Last night was the opening night of the 2012 DOXA Documentary Film Festival. The screening for the night was Bear 71, an interactive, multi-media documentary experience. Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes created a three-part project consisting of last night’s screening, an interactive exhibition at the Roundhouse Community Centre, and an interactive website where audience members can browse the world ofBear 71 at their own leisure and also interact with other people online via webcam.
The showing was bookended with live music performances by some of the artists of the amazing soundtrack of Bear 71. As we walked in the doors of the beautiful St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church, we were asked to participate in the first piece by having our pictures taken at one of the multiple photo stands dispersed around the hall. These photos were displayed during a surreal musical performance in a digital collage which appeared to select and zoom in on photos at random. The experience was unlike any other I’ve had before. I was sitting in the pews enjoying the dream-like state induced by the soaring electronic composition and repetitive, yet interesting visuals of faces in the room, when my own face was selected and zoomed in upon. My colleague pointed out what I already knew, that my face was blown up on the big screen, and I smiled awkwardly and stared at it until it shrank back down to an acceptable size and got lost among the other pictures. From that point on, I felt uncomfortable, like I had no business watching other people in the room go through the same awkward moment as I did. I became aware of the theme that Bear 71 was attempting to bring to light, the strange feeling of being wired. While I had just recently tweeted a picture of the church while waiting for the performance, it was different knowing that I was being broadcast to a crowd of strangers who were studying and judging my face. At the same time, it prepared me for the the performance of Bear 71 following immediately after.
Bear 71 is a story about surveillance and habitat destruction in Banff National Park told from the point-of-view of a mother Grizzly Bearstruggling to adapt to human intervention. The narrative is built from found surveillance footage from the trail cams of Banff National Park (put in place partially to study the wildlife, and partially to protect the tourists from the very same thing). Bear 71 is a thoughtfully constructed character who knows enough about wildlife, humans, and technology to adapt to the ‘wired’ environment of the park. However, she has to survive and protect her cubs by resisting what comes naturally. The humanization of Bear 71 brings to life a story that is important, and leaves us with a connection to a world we thought we could only understand through study and documentation.
Paula McGlynn, Filmmaker and Connexions Participant