One of the Canadian productions currently appearing at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, is not what might be traditionally considered a film at all. While Jeremy Mendes' and Leanne Allison's Bear 71 is a documentary for the National Film Board of Canada, the festival has slotted it into its New Frontier section, and labeled it a "Multiuser Interactive Experience."
You also don't need to go to Utah to see it: Bear 71 is very much a multi-media creation, and is perhaps best experienced by visiting the NFB website.
On one level, the project uses video to tell a simple narrative, much like any standard documentary film. Cameras record the capture and tagging of a female grizzly bear, who is then released into her home territory in Banff National Park, outside of Canmore, Alberta. Her travels from that point are recounted in voiceover, from the perspective of the bear herself.
But this is also a story about technology, and how it shapes our interaction with the world around us. Following a bear as it moves through its environment no longer requires just an intrepid film crew: Bear 71 is tracked by surveillance technology, and the land she travels through has been rendered into a precisely mapped grid, monitored by cameras, sensors and satellites. Every motion is known, not only of the bear, but of other actors in the environment: other wildlife, humans, traffic and every other reality of 21st century Banff.
Viewers do not passively watch this information pass, but enter into the landscape themselves, whether via the internet or their phones, and become active participants in the process: moving through the digitally rendered landscape, tracking life forms and developing a multi-dimensional understanding of the surrounding environs.
But while grid points, co-ordinates and surveillance cameras provide the entry points, there still remains the very emotional story of Bear 71, who must move through this new world, hunted by a new kind of predator and struggling to adapt to a changing environment.
Click on the image below to enter into Bear 71's world:
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