The Arctic is in danger. The world's north polar ice cap is melting. Over the last three decades, the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice at summer's end has shrunk significantly. Some forecasts predict that if the trend continues there will be no summer sea ice by as early as 2040.
A new film documents the impact of warming conditions on this historically ice-bound world and the animals that live there.
Arctic Tale www.arctictalemovie.com is a story of survival at the very top of the earth. The story beings one spring on a snow-covered mountain. With actress Queen Latifah playing the film's narrator and guide, we meet Nanu, a polar bear cub, as she and her twin brother emerge from their den to a vast frozen world.
Moviegoers also meet a walrus pup named Seela, and her extended family of blubbery giants of the icy sea. Husband and wife co-directors Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson spent 15 years making Arctic Tale for National Geographic Films. Ravetch says they created the composite animals, Nanu and Seela, from 800 hours of footage. What resulted was a 90-minute chronicle of milestones in the animals' lives. "We wanted to pick the things that deeply resonated with the human experience. It is undeniably human-like to see a mother walrus hug her baby."
A maze of ice floes serves as a nursery for the baby pup. In an underwater dance Seela's mother brushes her whiskers over her new born and appears to kiss her. The two memorize each other's faces for life.
Moviegoers can feast on the beauty of the crystalline landscapes where bears and walruses are shadowed by foxes, ring seals, gulls and narwhals.
But all is not right in this Arctic paradise. Ice is melting early and abruptly. We see Nanu stranded on shattered ic e. Queen Latifah narrates, "She's never been so hungry. Never been in circumstances where her mother's training was no help at all."
Seela gets into trouble, too. In one dramatic scene, the walrus pup is stalked by a polar bear. Driven by hunger and melting sea ice, the bear pursues the walrus to a rocky island. Filmmaker Sarah Robertson says she and her husband Adam Ravetch sat vigil waiting for the attack. "Finally one day he [Ravetch] saw a polar bear's head swimming in the water, and he knew what was going to happen."
This sequence leads to another heart-wrenching moment in which a female walrus called "Auntie" sacrifices her life for the pup. Robertson says underlying the scene (and the film) is the struggle to survive and adapt to climate change. "I think that we are at this precipice right now. And I hope that our movie in a small way will help people understand that we are at this tipping point and will help motivate us to make the right choices."
Robertson says like the bears and walruses in Arctic Tale, humans faced with change will have to learn to live in new ways. "All our fates," she says, "hang in the balance."