There’s Take Your Kid to Work Day, then there’s take your kid to a remote wildlife refuge in the northernmost corner of Alaska. The nearest city, Fairbanks, is two hours away by bush plane.
Those are the perks when your dad is a National Geographic photographer and a film director. Florian Schulz brought his boys, Nanuk and Silvan, with him on the job to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His documentary film, “The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness,” opened at the Pacific Science Center on Nov. 25 and is playing in the IMAX theaters.
“For me, it’s really important to find a way to conserve some of these last wild places,” Schulz said. “It’s the future of the children. I want them to see this magical place and take the message of how we all fight together to protect it and keep it.”
The trailers were originally released just in time for the pandemic to take off. Womp womp. Two years later, audiences are finally seeing Schultz’s film documenting the wild beauty of the vast Arctic refuge. On the IMAX screen, it’s breathtaking.
Filmmaking with kids
Schulz and his family visited the Pacific Science Center for the film’s Seattle premiere, and Seattle’s Child caught up with them while they were in town. They had just flown in from Anchorage (where it was 14 degrees) to Seattle (a balmy 35 degrees) and the boys were amazed to see green grass.
People tend to think of the Arctic as a barren wasteland, Schulz said, and he hopes his film will help change that perception. The film opens with the howling wind, then cuts to polar bears taking a nap. Over four seasons, you’ll see caribou calves, a newborn musk ox — and Schulz’s own kids.
In one scene, the boys lie on their bellies to peer at the caribou, and the caribou stare right back at them. “It turns out they’re just as curious about us as we are about them,” Schulz said in the film.
“Seeing the refuge through the eyes of my children, I realize even more how important it is to protect it for future generations,” he added.
The 45-minute film took five years to shoot. Access to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge is difficult. And you can’t exactly make an appointment with a polar bear. There’s a lot of watching, waiting, being really cold, trudging through snow carrying heavy camera equipment.
But then something works out, and it’s worth it.
It’s 40-below and Schulz is filming musk ox fighting. In the movie, you see the males butt heads as they assert their dominance.
“Suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw something going on out of the corner of my eye,” Schulz remembered. “And there was this tiny baby musk ox that had just been born. The mother and baby touched noses. That was a special moment.”
Parenting: animal and human
The film includes other seminal animal parenting moments. A plover tucks its chicks under its body, but there’s one curious chick who’s late. The jaeger, a ground-nesting bird, chases off an animal 300 times bigger to keep its eggs from being trampled. A mother polar bear nurses her cubs, every feeding costing her precious calories.
Schulz’s sons, now 7 and 10, were just 2 and 5 in the film. Imagine bringing a toddler to a remote base camp, and hanging cloth diapers to dry all over the willows. The kids can play outside and not worry about cars (there aren’t even any roads) but you do have to watch out for grizzly bears.
In the summer, the sun never sets. The boys turned their schedules around, staying up all night and sleeping in the middle of the day, to match their dad’s filming schedule.
“They were just troupers,” Schulz said. “They totally adapted to it, as if it was the most normal thing. They are up for anything, even now.”
Schulz and his family used Seattle as their home base for more than a decade, and now split their time between Anchorage and Baja, Mexico.
“We’re modern-day nomads,” he explained, because his job — photographing the natural world — requires getting out in the wild. His wife, Emil Herrera-Schulz, homeschools the kids.
“Our belief is, it’s so good to have the kids connected to nature instead of in front of screens,” Schulz said. “The main thing that is important to us is that they maintain their curiosity for the world. They have curiosity and the will to learn. If you have that combination, there are not that many limits.”
‘The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness’
Rated G, running time 45 minutes
Tickets: $12 for adults (18-64), $9 for youth (3-17) and seniors (65+)
Pacific Science Center showtimes and online tickets
Related resources: Educator information, games and coloring pages.
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