Nature in 3D: The 10th Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival
By Barry Clark
More than 500 filmmakers and broadcasters from around the world--a bumper turnout under the current economic circumstances--convened September 28 to October 2 amid blazing autumn leaves, blinding snowstorms and smoldering forest fires to celebrate the tenth biennial Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. A record 500+ films were entered in the awards competition--a sign, to many, that the natural history genre not only remains alive and well but (perhaps thanks to growing global environmental concerns) is poised for a vigorous comeback. Prominent among the entrants in the film competition were a growing number of made-for-the-Web productions (on one end of the spectrum) and a stellar selection of high-end, meticulously-produced blue-chip productions (on the other)--the latter inspired, it would seem, by the high-profile success of the BBC's Planet Earth TV series and its lucrative cinema spinoff, Earth, which has reportedly grossed $120 million worldwide to date.
Standouts among the blue-chip productions that screened at the festival were the award-winning Swamp Troop, shot by Adrian Bailey for National Geographic; Yellowstone: Winter, shot by Shane Moore for the BBC; The Crimson Wing, shot by Matt Aeberhard for Disneynature; and The Forest: Realm of Shadows, shot by Jan Haft for NDR in Hamburg. With NDR, ORF (in Vienna), NHK (Tokyo) and Disneynature (in Paris) now joining the high-end club alongside BBC, Discovery and National Geographic, the HD nature spectacular seems to have gained a second wind. It should be noted, in passing, that all of the blue-chip productions at the festival were shot with HD cameras--far-and-away the medium of choice for nature filmmakers not only in the US but around the world.
At its launch in September 1991, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival introduced high-definition cameras, monitors, tape decks and projectors to the natural history filmmaking community. And 18 years (and ten festivals) later, Jackson Hole, with the enthusiastic support of Panasonic, introduced the new technology of 3DTV to many of the assembled broadcasters and filmmakers. As part of Panasonic's "Full HD3D" initiative, the company presented its new 103" 3D plasma and its soon-to-be-released 3D Blu-ray player, and throughout the event the company screened, to enthusiastic response, an action-packed demo that showcased the new technology, which delivers full 1080p images for viewing via comfortable active shutter polarized glasses. A sizable contingent from Panasonic/America was present for the rollout, a team headed by its chairman/CEO, Yoshi Yamada.
While Panasonic expects to be first in line in the "Full HD3D" marketplace, the rollout of its in-home systems will be followed in short order by Sony, whose director of marketing, Rob Willox, sketched its 3D plans during a well-attended seminar at the festival. Also under discussion by Sony was its new full-4K digital cinema camera, a product eagerly anticipated by the big-screen industry, expected to arrive on the market around this time next year. JVC's marketing manager, Craig Yanagi, countered with a rundown on its KY-F4000 "real-time" 4K prototype, a camera designed for live-transmission of 4K video, introduced last month at the IBC event in Amsterdam.
Surprisingly, Red Digital Cinema was not represented this year at Jackson Hole but, despite the absence, the "4K" RED One cameras were much in evidence, some of them deployed on 3D rigs from 3ality and Evergreen Films. Until higher-res cameras arrive on the market, these are the image-capture devices of choice for IMAX 3D films-- another hot topic at the festival, with three productions (Wild Ocean-3D, Sea Monsters-3D and Bugs-3D) screened in 3D to capacity audiences, using a Barco DLP projector and Dolby's proprietary 3D display technology.
Another intriguing motion imaging technology--the digital still camera--was also introduced to the festival attendees by representatives of Canon and Panasonic. These companies (along with Nikon) are marketing still cameras with 1"+ imagers that also record up to 20 minutes of 1080p video to inexpensive memory cards, offering nonfiction filmmakers (for about $1,500 plus lenses) the opportunity to capture broadcast-quality footage with an ultra-lightweight device, and at an astonishingly affordable cost. These cameras, as the Panasonic and Canon reps pointed out, can also be deployed on lightweight 3D rigs, for those filmmakers who wish to deliver programming to those brave broadcasters that are ready to jump on the 3D bandwagon.
There is no doubt that 3D was the hot topic of the festival--as it was at this year's NAB and IBC. But many of the panelists, including 3D guru Phil Streather, took pains to point out to the crowd that shooting 3D involves daunting challenges, including the horrors of miniaturization, cardboarding and the dreaded "walleye" effect--an artifact that has been known to trigger migraine attacks, or worse, among vulnerable members of the audience. Clearly, extensive 3D production workshops will be a feature of future Jackson Hole Festivals, along with rigorous boot camps in the technology, which will, no doubt, be conducted over the next few years in production centers around the world.
One thing is certain: 3D (as HD was 20 years ago) is the cinematic medium of the future--a potent new tool for both dramatic and nonfiction storytellers. And to that end, David Newman of CineForm conducted a series of workshops at the festival that walked participants through the nuances of editing in 3D on Apple's new Final Cut Pro 7 platform. It was heartening, for those of us who have attended the festival since 1991, to see filmmakers from India, China and the United Arab Emirates eagerly devouring the tricks of 3DHD production and post.
As Panasonic's Yamada emphasized in his meetings with filmmakers, the success of the 3DHD rollout is critically dependent upon the existence of a stream of high-quality 3D content. And in that regard it must have been gratifying to him to learn that many of the big-ticket natural history productions on the near horizon amount to 3D remakes of series and specials that were originally shot in Super-16, then later re-shot in HD. Among these titles are productions from major producers that have the working titles Australia-3D, Africa-3D, Amazon-3D and Alaska-3D.
Lisa Samford, the long-time executive director of the festival, pulled off another coup this year, and the global natural history community is once again in her debt. Another guiding force has been Festival Chairman Bill Grant of WNET who, after eight successful years at the helm, turned over the reins to National Geographic TV President Michael Rosenfeld.
In what has become a beloved tradition at Jackson Hole, the festival was, of course, studded with parties and special screenings, including the legendary National Geographic BBQ and the lavish Panasonic Gala (with its wide-open bar and its roast bison carving station) that culminated in the presentation of the Festival Awards (The list of the winners is available at www.jhfestival.org.).
Yet, despite the bright spotlight on high-end HD and 3D productions at this year's event, the upset winner of the Grand Teton Award was the heart-wrenching tone-poem Green, directed by newcomer Patrick Rouxel for Paris-based Tawak Pictures--a 48-minute non-narrated film that documents the demise of a female Orangutan, a victim of runaway logging in an Indonesian forest. This masterwork, a winner at a number of other festivals around the world, was reportedly captured with a relatively affordable HDV camcorder.
Food for thought.
Barry Clark, one of the founders, with Wolfgang Bayer, of the JHWFF, is currently developing a slate of IMAX 3D productions with Evergreen Films.