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Q & A with Director Jeff Turner
In your films, you manage to get much closer to wild bears than most people do. What does it take to gain the grizzly’s trust when you’re filming?
You want them to make any decision with your presence. You’d like them to know you’re there. Most bears tend not to be afraid of people, so if you give them the right signals they know you’re not a threat.
Keep yourself a respectful distance. It’s all about a mental respect. Problems arise when you are highly charged – that goes for any animal. How the animal will look at you is also a clear signal. Animals are good at sensing [signals].
Have you ever been threatened by a bear? What was it like?
I’ve been charged by a bear a few times, but each of those times I put myself in a place where the bear wasn’t aware of me. He charges, then realizes I’m not a threat and he usually runs away. It’s usually over by the time you realize what has happened!
Director Jeff Turner
Tell us about your first wildlife film shoot.
I was taking a Fisheries and Management course, and my professor was into film. He had an old film camera and suggested that I take the camera out to shoot the mountain sheep. Sue and I went out with this camera. We weren’t married at the time.
We had a manual camera and no change bag. We had to figure out how to change the film without exposing it to the light – that meant getting it from the bag and into the camera. The only place to do this was at the bottom of the sleeping bag. I had to feel for the sprocket, the film, and the reels. It was a challenge, but we figured it out in the end.
What animals are difficult to film?
Wolves can pose real challenges because they are so nervous of people. They are a different sort of animal. Wolves are very cautious, and so when filming, we have to be too.
What was your favourite place to film?
My favourite place to film has been the coast of B.C., on Princess Royal Island. We made the first film about the spirit bear [a white bear that is a subspecies of the black bear – also known as the Kermode bear]. It was like an Eden. The island had hardly been touched by people. There are no villages, so the island’s landscape has seen very little impact. When we were there, it was pristine. We found that as we moved into the island, many of the animals had never had contact with humans. They had little fear, if any, towards us – letting us get amazing pictures!
What has been your favourite film to make so far?
So far, I’d say it’s been the Bear Man of Kamchatka. Charlie Russell, a Canadian bear biologist, raises orphaned grizzly bear cubs, and they look at him like he was their mother. It’s amazing to be in the natural world and have the bears look at you in a positive way - like you belong in their environment. It’s a very privileged thing.
Director Jeff Turner with son Logan
For this film, your son Logan came along with you. What was it like to have your children in the field while filming?
The relationship with our children is special. When they were little they were often on location with Sue and I. Logan is spending more and more time in the field with me – it’s a wonderful thing to share that with a child. Logan is a wonderful photographer, and it is fantastic to share exploring that with him.
Any last thoughts?
This movie was called The Last Grizzly of Paradise Valley for a reason. I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. We need to remember that there is a lot of habitat out there, and yet there aren’t that many bears left. We are having an impact on the landscape. We need to be aware of how we’re affecting our surroundings. It gives me hope that we can do something about it.