Friday, April 8, 2011

Born to Be Wild (opens April 8th at the Great Lakes Science Center)

[BORN TO BE WILD opens in Cleveland Friday April 8th exclusively at the Great Lakes Science Center.]

Review by Ben Lybarger

Geared more toward children, this short G-rated film wisely chooses not to scold the audience with heavy-handed lessons about the negative impact of human development, agriculture, and deforestation on wildlife populations. Though these things do factor heavily into the message of the film, they do not become the overt focus, nor does the audience leave feeling hopelessly disillusioned with humanity. Instead, director David Lickley spends his brief 40 minutes of screen time conveying a sense of awe, not only at the fascinating animals tragically facing extinction due to poaching and habitat destruction, but also at the passionate people devoting their lives to helping them survive. The result is an inspiring piece of Science Center cinema exploring the empathetic pathways between some endangered species and some extraordinary human beings. We are left with a tangible feeling of why the animals are special, rather than a feeling of helpless indignation over their heart-wrenching plight.
BORN TO BE WILD bounces back and forth between Borneo and Kenya, following primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, the world’s foremost authority on orangutans, and Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who is equal in her expertise about African Elephants. Mentored by famed anthropologist Louis Leakey, Dr. Galdikas has spent the last 40 years of her life in Borneo living with and studying orangutans, while Sheldrick was born in Kenya and has lived inside Nairobi National Park amongst elephants and other wildlife since 1977. An integral part of each remarkable woman’s conservation work is the rescue, rearing, and eventual release of orphaned animals into the wild. We see every stage of the process, from the nail-biting acquisition of an elephant baby whose mother had been killed by poachers, to a successfully re-introduced orangutan dropping into camp for a social visit. In between, it is the rare viewer that can watch the animal keepers bottle-feed, bathe, sleep, play, and otherwise bond with their adopted animals without feeling a tinge of jealousy.

At one point, Dr. Galdikas confesses her feeling that the shrinking rainforest where the orangutans live is much like the Garden of Eden that humans left long ago, and suggests that our subsequent fall from innocence has isolated us from something beautiful and profoundly important. Decidedly not dour or too cerebral, BORN TO BE WILD makes its case with positive emotional resonance rather than through overbearing lectures. It invites us to share the experience and feel why conservation is important. Adults can easily gripe and grumble about wanting more information about the animals and the complicated issues surrounding conservation efforts, but in the end the film likely achieves what it sets out to achieve: making the young, unhardened viewer feel a connection to something wondrous in the natural world. Even better, it can potentially make all but the most jaded grown-up feel that same empathy and awe. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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