Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Top 10 Wilderness Films

Wilderness Matters! Here is my top 10 of wilderness films. Films that show the beauty of  wild places -  whether mountains , desert or the ocean but also encourage reflection on what they have to offer humankind and why they should be protected.

1. Sweetgrass.

Year: 2009. Director: Lucien Castaing-Taylor.

This film follows a group of shepherds/modern day cowboys driving a herd of sheep 300 km to summer pastures in the Beartooth Mountains of Montanna for the last time. The area is beautiful but harsh and the flock must be protected from  a variety of natural dangers (storms, wolves and bears). Put together from material shot over 3 summers, the film has no narration and no soundtrack.


2. Into The Wild
Year: 2007. Director: Sean Penn. 
Based on the life of Chris MacCandless. MacCandless grew up in a wealthy family and was gifted intellectually and athletically. He graduated from Emory University with Honours in 1990 and had plans to attend Harvard Law School. Soon afterwards however, he gave 24,000 dollars  that he had saved to Oxfam and went ‘walkabout’, severing all contact with his family and friends, creating a new life for himself tramping around the US. In April 1992 he hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wild. Five months later his decomposed body was found by a hunter. A lost man in a lost world searching for answers.

3. Grizzly Man

Year: 2005. Director: Werner Herzog.

A documentary  about grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard. They were both  killed in October of 2003 by a grizzly bear. Timothy had lived among the grizzlies in Alaska for 13 summers.
" Behind me is Ed and Rowdy, members of an up-and-coming sub-adult gang. They're challenging everything, including me. Goes with the territory. If I show weakness, if I retreat, I may be hurt, I may be killed."


4. The Last Trapper

Year: 2004. Director: Nicolas Vanier.

The film is set in the Yukon in Alaska and is based on the life of a real fur trapper called Norman Winter who plays himself.  Winter, 50, is a modern-day Jeremiah Johnson living off what he hunts and fishes, making most of what he needs with his own two hands, including his log cabin. Not a true documentary - the scenes acted out are based on events in Winter's own life.

5. Alone in the Wilderness.
Year: 2003. Director: Bob Swerer.
This is the first in a series of films that shows how Dick Proenneke lived his dream of being self sufficient in the Alaska Wilderness.
"Thousands have had such dreams, but Dick Proenneke lived them. He found a place, built a cabin, and stayed to become part of the country."  Proenneke filmed his own adventures, and Swerer later turned the footage into a film.

6. Dances With Wolves
Year: 1990. Director: Kevin Costner. An 'eco -western' directed and starring Kevin Costner. The fictional story follows John Dunbar an officer in the US Cavalry who has the choice of any posting he wants and chooses the 'Far West' frontier, because he wants " to see it before it's gone." Dunbar meets and becomes friends with a Sioux tribe of Native North Americans. He discovers their culture and the respect they have for the land.

7. The Big Blue

Year: 1988. Director: Luc Besson.

The fictional story follows the path of two 'free divers' who first meet as children. Both have a deep bond with the ocean.

8. Never Cry Wolf

Year: 1983. Director: Carroll Ballard

This film dramatizes the true story of Farley Mowat, a government researcher sent to the Canadian tundra area to collect data about how the wolf population was allegedly harming the caribou herds. While studying the wolves and  learning more about them and the harsh environment they live in, Mowat has his old beliefs and prejudices about wolves and the threat they pose challenged.

9. Jeremiah Johnson
Year: 1972. Director: Sydney Pollack.  
A war weary veteran of the conflict in Mexico (1846-48), Jeremiah Johnson (played by Robert Redford) seeks to escape from his existing life and find peace and refuge on the frontier of the Western U.S. He becomes a mountain man supporting himself in the Rocky Mountains as a trapper.

10. Walkabout
Year: 1971. Director: Nicolas Roeg. 
Two upper class English children find themselves stranded in the 'alien' Australian outback. They survive with the help of an aboriginal/Native Australian boy on walkabout and finally manage to return to 'civilisation'.

Monday, April 16, 2012

From the Ariege to the Big Apple

With the arrival of Spring and the rise in temperature, the brown bear population in the Pyrenees mountains is waking up after the winter hibernation.

The film shows the male adult brown bear Balou soon after leaving his hibernation site (16 March) The bear is attracted to this tree because a mixture of cows blood and mashed up sardines has been spread on it.  It is important to attract the bear to this point because nearby is an automatic camera. The captured image is one way to keep a track of the bear population. Another is by using radio collars like the one Balou can be seen wearing. The signal emitted by the collar helps to locate the bear and track its movements.

About 20 live in the Pyrenees at present. This number is growing due in part to the programme of introducing bears from Slovenia to boost the Pyrenean population and add new stock but the growth in numbers is slow and 20 is still not  a viable population.

At the end of the XIX century bear numbers were much larger particularly in the Couserans region of the Eastern Pyrenees. Life was very hard for the inhabitants and some had the idea to earn their living by becoming bear tamers.

Bear cubs, often left after the mother had been shot, would be trained to do tricks and would be displayed from town to town. The public would pay to see the bear perform. The men were called "montreur d'ours" — literally, "displayer of bears".

In villages like Ercé, Ustou, Aulus in the Couseran area of the Ariege, bear taming became something of an industry. Ercé even had a 'bear training school'

Some Ariege bear tamers travelled far from France including to America realising a better living could be made in the U.S. Some made money travelling with their bears dispalying them from town to town while others became animal trainers in the circus. Others changed their occupations completely and went to work in the mines or in hotels and restaurants, notably in New York.

In New York, it is in Central Park that the immigrants from the Couseran often meet near a rock formation called Ercé Rock, to exchange news from the Pyrenees or prepare for a new arrival from the the 'old' country.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's Official.....

It's official, the Canigou Massif in the Eastern Pyrenees has just achieved the label 'French Grand Site'.

Pic Canigou

It is the first site designated as such in the Pyrenees. The site includes Pic Canigou the highest point in the site at 2 874m/9 133 feet and the sacred mountain of the Catalans. It also includes the St Martin de Canigou Abbey, the Cortalets and Marialles Refuges and 3 nature reserves.

The Canigou Massif is rich in wildlife like these Isard.

To earn the French Grand Site label from the Ministry for Ecology and Sustainable Development, the site must have implemented a programme of conservation, management and development that follows sustainable development principles.

The Grand Site de France logo.
Pyrenees Mountain Adventure plans to add a 7 night walking holiday in the Canigou Massif, including an ascent of Pic canigou, to its existing range of summer walking holidays for autumn 2012. Have a look at the PMA website for more information.