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Are we there? asks a little boy in wonder from behind his 3D glasses on his first movie experience watching Born to be Wild 3D, according to his mother who sent a happy email to the film’s director, David Lickley, who tells it to Andrew L. Urban.

The cinematic power of 3D comes into its own in a documentary like Born to be Wild: the miniature trunk of a baby elephant in Kenya reaches out from one side of the giant screen for a drink out of a bucket, tantalisingly close. It could be in your backyard.

Half way across the world in Borneo, a baby orang-utan swings playfully in front of the audience, close enough to count every red hair on its body. 

It’s the kind of experience that puts the audience within virtual reach of its rather cute subjects. So much so that one two and a half year old boy, experiencing Born to be Wild as his first ever movie outing, asked his mother in awe, “Are we there? Where are we going now?” watching wide eyed through his 3D glasses as the film takes audiences from the baby orang-utans in the jungles of Borneo to the baby elephants in the Kenyan savannah. 

"it takes you right into the setting"

“I just got an email from the little boy’s mother yesterday,” says wildlife filmmaker David Lecklie, “happily telling me the story. That’s what IMAX 3D does – it takes you right into the setting.” 

The stories of the orphaned baby animals are linked by two extraordinary women who have devoted their lives to saving and nurturing the babies until they are ready to be released into the wild.

Primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas is ‘mother’ to dozens to baby orang-utans, while Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick is caring for baby elephants who have been orphaned, often by cruel poachers killing their mothers for the ivory of their tusks.

“IMAX 3D is the most impressive and most impactful way of showing wildlife,” says Lecklie, who has made over 30 nature documentaries. This was his fifth IMAX format film, but his first in 3D. 

“They say that going from 2 D to 3D you double the cameras but you quadruple the problems . . . and that’s absolutely true.” Lecklie and his crew of a dozen 3D specialists needed patience – and luck. Patience to allow the baby elephants and orang-utans to get used to the sheer sound of the two cameras, “like two large lawnmowers” says Lecklie.


Luck to capture random moments, such as when they came across an orphaned baby among a herd of bull elephants. A tricky situation as the bulls are not keen to have a kid along – but unsure of the film crew’s intentions. “Capturing something like that is just extraordinary,” Lecklie says of the footage they got. 

But there were occasions they didn’t manage to capture on film, like the locally famous boat thief orang-utan. “We had tied up our motor boat on the river’s edge to go scouting in the Borneo forest,” Lecklie recalls, “and when we came back the boat was gone. We looked up the river and about two hundred metres away there was an orang-utan in our boat, paddling with his hands. He ransacked the boat, jumped off and ran into the forest. Apparently his mother had taught him this trick.”

They had a rather more frightening experience that wasn’t captured on film when walking with teenage orphan elephants and their carers in Kenya. They came across a herd of dangerous Cape Buffalos. “The guides told us to get behind the elephants who would shield us. We did, but then the elephants saw the buffalos and turned round and stampeded through us so we would be their protection,” Lecklie says laughing down the phone from the safety of his Toronto base. 

"I love what I do"

But that’s part of the wildlife filmmaking job; “I love what I do,” he adds.

First published in the Sun Herald

Published April 28, 2011

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David Lickley


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