Island of Lemurs: Madagascar IMAX 3D
Opens April 4th USA and Canada
Check your local listings or IslandofLemurs
Renowned IMAX 3D director and cinematographer David Douglas is fascinated by lemurs. They’re 60 million years old, for starters. They date back to the time of the dinosaurs and outlived them, floated on debris from Africa to Madagascar and adapted to life there, where they have been large and in charge for millennia. Lemurs are almost illegally cute with those long tails and big eyes; they are fast and agile, social and smart and they are threatened. Douglas who has previously worked on such IMAX 3D films as Rolling Stones: To the Max, Wolves, Mexico, Survival Island and The Fires of Kuwait, traveled to Madagascar to get the real story on these ancient gymnasts. It was an eye-opener.
First of all, how do you compare working with lemurs and the Rolling Stones?I would say that Mick Jagger is the ringtail; Keith Richards is a brown lemur. Ronnie is sifaka, a little slender thing, and Bill, he doesn’t move. He’s no lemur, he’s a crustacean. And Charlie he’s a ringtail too because ringtails sit like him.
Continuing with the pop culture theme, did you hear the Seinfeld line about a character climbing a tree like a ring-tailed lemur?
No, I didn’t but I’m glad there is a famous line about them. What I’ve found is that a light needs to shine on lemurs and on Madagascar. Nobody knows anything about them. Madagascar is a very primitive place. It’s not a tourist destination yet but maybe after the film. That needs to happen to help the lemurs survive. They’ve been on that island for millions of years and were fine until human beings showed up and started burning the forests.
How do you balance that? The lemurs need a habitat but the people have to eat.
They have plenty of land it’s just that they use it in such a primitive way and they’ve never been empowered to improve in agriculture because they’ve been under the colonial thumb of France the worst colonial master. They leave nothing and they don’t educate anybody and that’s Madagascar. They just turn the jungles into rice fields. Then the other side is these cattle zebus brought by the Arab traders. The subset of Malagasy people, the Bara are herdsmen, the wild bunch, a separate culture of Malagasies, a relatively lawless gang and they wander around burning to get a little grass because the ash fertilises it. It works for a few years and then it doesn’t and in the rainy season the soil is washed away. Madagascar is the most eroded place on earth.
Sure but it’s not the solution, it’s to educate the people that lemurs are worth more alive than dead. They’re small and not a great family meal, so it’s really about education and the tremendous lack of education for the Malagasy. There are 23 million people now; there has been an explosion in population. Half of them are under 16 because in the last couple of decades, the survival rate for babies has improved and that’s great but they grow up and they want to eat. So suddenly there are all these mouths to feed. It’s a real struggle and what can do the most for them is getting a tourist industry which will provide money and jobs connected to intact forests and not ruined forests. It’ll bring eyeballs to the place so they can see what’s needed. The extraction industries and the shady characters that are working with the junta trying to run it now, what’s needed is people to put light on it so they can’t get away with it anymore. And the lemurs, it’s heartbreaking to see 60 million years of continuous history scrubbed away by thugs with matches.
You have to have a picture in mind because there is limited utility in getting pictures that don’t fit into the story. You can’t take anything at all because it’s good looking; it has to fit into the story in forty minutes. It’s an onerous master the forty minute format. Tough to squeeze in a big story. There’s a great crew and all but it comes down to can you move this camera fast enough to keep up with these lemurs. Up till recently we didn’t have the capability to shoot in slow motion. Many shots of the lemurs are slo-mo because they are so fats in their movements that they are lost to the human eye. So all that uniqueness and grace and interest is shown in the slo-mo. The big dance number, the MGM musical dance number of the lemurs must be ten different frame rates, real speed, many versions of slow motion, but that’s something we could never have done on film. The digital realm we get content we could never have had. It changes the story and gives us the capability to be whimsical.
They’ll jump on you. There are some hotels in Madagascar where they have lemurs for the tourists to see. There need to be more hotels, more attention to that country from some place other than France, which maintains a nasty record with its former colonies, this one is particular is being exploited, like Vietnam, Polynesia where they set off bombs, and in Africa.
They’re primates, they are smart, they have brains and opposing thumbs, they can do things. They are not our ancestors but on the same branch that we are and you can see that they were an experiment on the way to the human form, an early experiment, one that would have gone extinct but they lucked out. They are a luck story the way they arrived on Madagascar, but the end of their luck is human beings showing up on the island after 60 million years that’s a pretty good run but finally we caught them. They manage to escape the creatures which outcompeted them in Africa, other primates, nut gathering monkeys which are aggressive and thy did that by the escape route they came up with, maybe there will be another side step they can come up with , but maybe not fast enough. There are a few national reserves, there just aren’t enough. They are diverse and colonise the whole island. Lemurs don’t swim, so they won’t be somewhere. Different kinds everywhere on the island; they can co-exist they just haven’t. The value of the land is so low in terms of productivity that there needs to be the bottom line is you have to buy and own the land and you can dictate what happens on it, so no one burns it. It’s worked elsewhere.
The criminal layer of the extraction industries the loggers go in and they pay the bush meat hunters to kill all the spectacular animals in the area so there are no animals so no one wants to protect it anymore and they can go in and take the trees down. People are skilled at exploiting each other and this is how some of these countries operate.
They never had to compete, so they don’t fight. They just kinda hang and their biggest worry is finding a mate and can I find a mate? They are specialised in what they eat. They can adapt to other food sources if they will be there for the long term. None of that has been done in Madagascar. I’m very concerned that the palm oil barons don’t move into Madagascar. They’re not far away. They look for cheap land they can raze and plant for twenty years. It’s the thing now. If anyone has land they’re mowing down jungles and forests to plant palms.