“In these dark, ancient forests, lives a creature of legend.” Thus begins Spirit Bear Family, a new wildlife documentary about the elusive Kermode bear.
“This is not an albino or polar bear,” filmmaker Jeff Turner says over the introductory shot of the white bear, “but a rare colour face of the North American black bear known as the spirit bear.”
Shot in the Great Bear Rainforest region of the western province, the documentary follows the eight-month bear season of one black bear family — two regular black cubs and their contrasting spirit bear mother. Turner, a famous cinematographer and wildlife filmmaker who has worked on BBC’s epic Planet Earth series and CBC’s acclaimed Wild Animal, gets up close and personal with these dignified creatures. It is, in reality, a story of two families: the animals’, and Turner’s, as he is assisted by his wife Sue, his son, and his daughter Chelsea, who co-narrates with Jeff.
Through skillful and clever camerawork (particularly the underwater shots), the Turners allow audiences — some of whom will likely never visit to the uninhabited island — to vicariously experience the lives of the animals through this lighthearted, uplifting and fairytale-like portrayal of the bears. The Turners accomplish this calm atmosphere through gentle enthusiasm and narration that focuses on the concept of family and Jeff and Chelsea’s father-daughter relationship.
The film also features some of the other wildlife on the island and in the region. This includes some short shots of wolves and longer snippets on fish, such as salmon — the bears’ main food source — and marine mammals, such as sea lions and humpback whales. Aerial pans of the islands are breathtaking and almost surreal. They serve as reminders to viewers of the pure and untouched land that can still be found in the country’s west coast.
For a brief moment during this digression from the bears, politics come into play. Turner lightly touches upon the potential environmental destruction that shipping tankers may cause to the Great Bear Rainforest region and its waters. He says that this kind of human encroachment will introduce new threats to the ecosystem. It is difficult to feel anything other than remorse while watching these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
The Turners throw the audience into the dramatic life of a Kermode bear, with a tear-jerking moment showing the death of a cub. The film is brilliantly executed, and serves as a true testament to Canada’s rich ecosystem and the diverse wildlife that inhabits it.
Spirit Bear Family premieres on CBC’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki on Thursday, March 28 at 8 p.m. ET.