Filmmaker aims to save our oceans

A jumble of vintage cameras and other cinematic treasures that date to the magical beginnings of moving images fills Greg MacGillivray's upstairs corner office.

Next to a staircase in the hallway to his office at the MacGillivray Freeman Films company is a row of cameras, more modern and personal ones that have defined the stages in the Laguna Beach filmmaker's life and long career.

There is his first camera, a Kodak, which MacGillivray acquired at age 10, along with the 8-millimeter camera he used to make his first films during his days as a teenager growing up in Corona del Mar and surfing at Big Corona. And, of course, there's the 16-millimeter Bolex. He and his late buddy and business partner, Jim Freeman, used it to make "Five Summer Stories," a cult classic among the surfing set, and other surfing films in the 1960s and 70s.

Freeman died in a helicopter crash in 1976, but MacGillivray went onto become a filmmaker known for his mastery of bulkier cameras that make films in the high-resolution IMAX documentary format.

On Friday, MacGillivray, now 66, will reach another highway mile marker in his career with the release of "To The Arctic," the first film in an ambitious campaign to make 20 IMAX films in as many years.

Combined with planned television programs and related content presented through different media, the so-called One World One Ocean campaign aims to reach a billion people and raise public awareness about what MacGillivray and other marine conservationists see as an urgent need to safeguard planet Earth's oceans and their animal and plant life.

The campaign will unfold under the auspices of an umbrella group, the One World One Ocean Foundation, a nonprofit co-founded by MacGillivray and his wife, Barbara, two years ago.

The goal, he explained, is to communicate "to the public through entertainment, through things that are easy to do why the ocean is important and how we can make a big difference at home: how we can choose seafood more carefully, how we can reduce our plastics' use and how we can help support what we like to call fish banks — areas that are set aside to regenerate fish stocks that used to be there, and will rebound and be there again if we just give it a rest for a while."

In his view, for the campaign to be effective, it's critical that it be a sustained and consistent one that engages people in such a way that they continue to pay attention to this environmental cause.

For MacGillivray, the cause is a personal one that he lives daily. The filmmaker has seen the ocean environment change in the coastal waters right in front of his seaside home on Thalia Street, where he has lived and surfed for decades.

"I've noticed a huge change in the environment under the water," he said. "You don't see the large schools of corbina and California perch, which are nice, big fish of 12- to 14-inches long. You don't see the same number of crustaceans. It's a changed environment, and the water is not as clean as it used to be. It's not as clear."

"The animals in the sea are super important to us because plankton and algae and sea weeds and all kinds of organic material, creates oxygen for us to breathe," MacGillivray added, when pressed on why people should concern themselves with protecting fish and other species of marine life. "Anywhere from 50% to 70% of the oxygen that we breathe comes from the ocean."

His new, G-rated film, which is narrated by 2012 Oscar winner Meryl Streep and features songs by Paul McCartney, takes viewers on a 3-D journey to the harsh land and seascape of the world's most vulnerable ocean, the Arctic, where climate change threatens to melt away the ice of the northern polar cap.

The film's climax show the real-life consequences of climate change for polar bears that roam the Svalbard Islands onNorway's Arctic rim.

Because the ice is melting, the bears have less room to maneuver on land while preying for seal meat, the film explained during its April 14 pre-screening for the local media at the Irvine Spectrum. As a result, bears grow hungry and desperate to the point that male polar bears have started to develop a cannibalistic liking for cubs from their own species.

The dramatic final sequences, which show a mother polar bear protecting her cubs from a hungry adult male, were captured toward the end of the actual filming, when the crew stumbled upon this family of polar bears.

Shaun MacGillivray, Greg's 32-year-old son and the film company's producer and managing director, said it took six years to make the film. Four of those years were spent in the production phase alone. The crew made five trips to the Arctic Circle to film over the course of eight months.

Not only was it a challenge to lug around the 400-pound IMAX cameras amid harsh conditions, but the film is 10 times larger than conventional 35 mm film and only lasts about 30 minutes per roll.

There were physical dangers as well.

On two occasions during the shoot, while divers from the crew were filming underwater footage, the water was so cold that that the air regulators on their scuba gear froze up. The divers had to scramble up to a hole in the ice's surface to avert disaster.

Twitter: @ImranVittachi

If You Go

What: Orange County screenings of"To the Arctic" (in IMAX 3-D format)

Where: IMAX cinema at the Irvine Spectrum, 65 Fortune Drive, Irvine

When: Starting at 11 a.m. Friday

To see a trailer: Go to

Information: For more about the One World One Ocean campaign, visit

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