By Howard Jackson and Dr Audrey Low
After a year and half’s work on our documentary witnessing the pivotal moment in Wong’s big dream for his little sun bears we decided it was close to completion and high time to test it on an audience. The Sydney Film School where Howard works was kind enough to offer their screening theater and so we set about inviting a wide cross section of people to see our big dream little film. Normally, with a preview, all the principle team; the producer, publicists, designers, marketers, sponsors, investors etc, etc…and the film makers; director, camera, sound, editor, talent, narrator, colorist, score composer etc, etc, etc, fill half the theatre. But for our film (our big dream no budget as we’ve come to call it) has a sum total of 2. The thank-you’s and congratulations and stroking of one another’s egos, were therefore mercifully short.
It was an evening screening but we made it a point to let people with children know they were welcome and so in amongst the heads of university departments, Borneo experts, professors, our Sydney sun bear expert (Lesley Small), a small smattering of film makers, educators, advertising people, animal lovers and members of the general public; we had a dozen or so kids ranging from four years old to twelve. Some looked fidgety and bored before we had even begun our introduction and we couldn’t help thinking it could only go downhill from there.
The lights went down, the title came up and within the first minutes the kids had settled and were giving the story their full attention. We hadn’t really considered this film to be something that would engage children so I have to admit we expected them to lose interest after a while but against all expectations they sat with their eyes glued to the screen for the full 52 minutes and 38 seconds.
As filmmakers you tend to judge the audience appreciation (or not) by the sounds and movements throughout the theater. The right ones came pretty soon after the film began: a nice series of chuckles and outright laughs at the interchanges between Wong and the international bear crew and the oughs during the darting and medical procedure. I noticed someone almost jumped off their seat when the first bear was zapped by the electric fence and the macaques stealing the bear’s food were a special favorite. Towards the end a distinguished professor called out “Oh no, she’s not going to go” when it looked like none of the bears would ever leave the cage and then when it happened called out again “Good on you girl.”
In short the audience reaction exceeded our best expectations, and certainly exceeded our worst. The kids were doing Wong’s slow motion “Free the bears” impersonations in the foyer (if you haven’t seen that, it’s on the Wildhoop youtube channel). The question and answer time at the end, normally a polite formality went on so long we finally had to say we surrender and that we wanted to get to the food and drink we had prepared.
One of the heartening aspects of the screening for the BSBCC was the number of people who came up to us afterwards, whist sharing a beverage or two, to ask us how they could help or donate to the cause. The fact they could see where the money was spent and that Wong and Wai Pak, and the people dedicated to Malaysian conservation, were making a difference, or put another way, they could see hope, really struck a chord with people. It also surprised them to learn that you could build a purpose built facility in Malaysia that cost around about the same amount as it takes to fund a fairly low budget documentary.
It has been a fascinating journey for us. We originally went to Sabah to shoot some footage so as to put up a clip on the web to help publicize Wong and the BSBCC and at the same time to use the clip to try to get film investment here in Australia so we could go back with a crew to make a slick documentary. The first part of that plan was a resounding success (we’ve had just short of 50,000 hits on Youtube alone), the second part, wasn’t quite a resounding victory. Insisting we feature the team of people working on the bears without superimposing a western presenter in front of them was never going to help get investors. But, like Wong, we weren’t going to give up. We looked back through the footage we had shot and realized there was a stand-alone story within. Well, we hoped. It’s hard to tell until you put in front of a real flesh and blood audience.
Doing every job between two people is a long and tiring process, we’ve had to stop occasionally to go out and teach so we could start the next stage, but having a close to completely finished project within the time we’ve taken is about what it takes for a production house.
Since the great response to the Sydney Film School screening we’ve had an offer to show it in Melbourne at another film school and, both interestingly and coincidentally, after our surprise at Big Dream’s success in entertaining kids, we’ve had a distribution offer that could see the little bears be viewed in schools and universities (with an education pack included). The film was described as moving, inspiring, and perfect for young people. We’re still in negotiation but it does show that Wong’s belief, if only people knew the Borneo sun bears exist, they would be interested and love them.
We’re almost there, just few last tweaks to sort out the broadcast specs, (the first time we’ve encountered something we can’t do or learn to do ourselves), but we are ever so close to having the dream ready for audiences to join Siew Te Wong and his fantastic team on their quest to save one of Borneo’s rarest and unknown (hopefully we can do our small part to help to change that) treasures.
Future plans? Obviously this process has sent us stark raving mad, we keep dreaming of going back to Sabah and doing another one. Anyone working with animals that no one has ever heard about and no film company would ever invest in. Contact the two crazies at Wildhoop Productions.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/bqYRr_pO_44" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Thank you Howard and Audrey so much for accomplishing such a tremendous task for "making" (producing, directing, filming, editing, narrating, ............) Big Dream Little Bears. I would never have thought that this project has come this far. I still recalled clearly the first email that Audrey wrote me and offering help few years ago. "Do what you do best to help us" was my replied. True enough, Audrey said her husband is a film maker and can help us make some videos to promote our course. The end result is much better! Big Dream Little Bears is a great gift from Howard and Audrey and Wildhoop Production to me and BSBCC.
This is a great documentary that recorded what was happening during the few weeks when we moved the sun bears from the old bear house to the new bear house. We now can always remember every single detail - including the continuous sneezing from my allergy to sun bears.
Thank you Howard. Thank you Audrey. Thank you Wildhoop Production!