"Pandas" introduces beautiful life saved by international cooperation

By Julia Pierrepont III
Print E-mail April 23, 2018
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Panda, the adorable black and white bear that has won hearts of the world over and been immortalized by Disney's megahit "Kung Fu Panda," has inspired another media coup this April: Imax's stunning film "Pandas."

Distributed by Warner Brothers, till this Wednesday "Pandas" has nabbed a 100 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- one of only a handful of films to ever do so.

It has also piled up 425,500 U.S. dollars in revenues in just 10 days -- a formidable haul for a documentary short which would normally never even reach the big screen, let alone break a profit.

Though starring the cuddly giant panda cub, Qian Qian (pronounced Chen Chen) and replete with a gaggle of other adorable panda cubs, this 43-minute-long film is of a more serious bent than "Kung Fu Panda."

It deals with the very real problem of the future of the entire panda species.

With populations as low as 1,000 in the late 1970s due to widespread habitat destruction, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature placed Giant Pandas on the endangered species list.

Since then, the Chinese government and international conservation groups have worked diligently to protect the panda's bamboo habitat, which has bolstered the total population up to 2016 by 2017.

But, that's still a dangerously low figure.

The film chronicles a fascinating part of the gripping struggle to save the species, led by eminent Chinese scientist, Hou Rong, of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan Province.

To help increase the panda population, Rong's goal is to reintroduce panda's bred in captivity into the wild. This is no easy feat in the best of times and is rendered even more difficult by the panda's own genetic peculiarities.

"The problem is pandas have little instinctive behavior. They must learn everything from other older, more experienced pandas," said Eve, a panda-keeper at the panda reserve in Chengdu, China, who recently moved into public relations.

"This includes simple things, like how to forage for food and water, even how to mate," she told Xinhua in an interview. Like human Millennials and Gen Z'ers, captive pandas learn by watching videos of other pandas, she said, but this is hardly as effective as the real thing.

And given that female pandas are only able to mate three days out of an entire year, wild pandas, who are solitary creatures, have trouble finding each other in time to hit that narrow window, which just adds to the problem.

"Only three days ... not much fun for pandas!" quipped Eve.

Seeking more effective options to accelerate population growth, Rong's research leads her to the work of Ben Kilham, New Hamshire's acclaimed "Bear Whisperer," who has successfully reintroduced 100 orphaned young black bears back into the wild.

"Introducing captive bears into the wild can increase genetic variation and vigor," Kilham said.

"The film is a great story about international cooperation, the Chinese and the Americans working to save a threatened animal, the giant panda," he said.

In the film, Rong teams up with American conservation biologist, Jake Owens and Chinese researcher, Wen Lei Bi, to assist her in adapting Kilham's program to China's pandas.

Though it sound dry and academic, the spectacular scenery of the gorgeous mountainous terrain of Southwest China's renowned Sichuan province, and David Douglas' stunning cinematography make the film soar, especially when viewed in IMAX's breathtaking 70 millimeter 3D format that virtually transports audiences deep into the panda cub's leafy lair in the towering bamboo forests of Chengdu.

The film, narrated by actress Kristen Bell, is enticingly co-directed by David Douglas and Drew Fellman, who use uplifting emotional nuance and compelling storytelling to elevate this important conservationist documentary into an art form.

The loving relationship that Jake Owens develops with the cuddly and inquisitive Qian Qian, the first giant panda cub to be reintroduced, makes the film come more alive.

It's touching and bittersweet to watch them interact and one can't help but identify with feisty Qian Qian's challenging struggle to adapt to her new life confronting the perils of the wild on her own - far from the keepers she's grown to love.

"Wonderful family-friendly documentary about one of Earth's most loveable creatures," an user of IMDB.com with name Rannynm posted such comments last week.

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