Disneynature’s newest documentary is now available for at-home collections. Enjoy this fascinating film that focuses on three animal families; pandas, golden monkeys, and snow leopards in their natural habitats. In release of the film on Blu-ray and DVD, we had the opportunity to sit down with the director, Roy Conli of the Born in China Disneynature documentary.
I was invited as press to cover this event. All opinions are my own.
Born in China Disneynature Interview with Director Roy Conli
Roy discussed the beautiful uncivilized land where the photographers and cameramen went to for shooting Born in China. He shared that it took 8 days for them to get acclimated because the snow leopards live in an area 16,000 feet in the air. There were medics and oxygen on stand by because of the steep land. While crews were covering the snow leopards, he was mostly in China with wildlife photographers covering the pandas.
Q: How did you get involved?
“They actually approached me when I just came off of Big Hero 6. I didn’t have my next project yet and the label asked me if I’d be interested. I’m a huge animal rights guy. I have pets. I’m a vegetarian, so you know, I really have a lot of respect for that.”
Q: At what point in the filmmaking process did the story develop?
“It’s the early footage that starts coming in and the cinematographers who were out in the field will journal everything that they see and they tell us about the characters, what’s happening and slowly, usually by about the third installment of footage that you get, you start seeing patterns of a story that evolve.”
The animals give you the story
“For instance with the monkey story, we initially were going to go with the concept of Tao Tao’s little sister and the birth. And in this particular case, what we started seeing is that this little monkey who had been somewhat removed and ostracized from his family was actually the more interesting story.”
Adding, “It was pretty clear with the (snow leopard) cub footage, it was going to be about the raising of the cubs in probably the most inhospitable place in the world. Which for being inhospitable, is so strikingly beautiful. Pandas are just so naturally cute and you couldn’t go very far from the mother daughter relationship in that particular story because the fathers are absent. Pandas are incredibly solitary beings and it’s only when the mother has a cub, for two years they have that relationship.”
Q: What did you took away from your observation of the pandas?
“First of all, in Chendu there’s a very famous panda reserve and research center and if you’ve ever seen an infant panda, it is the most amazing thing because they’re tiny, and it’s going to grow into an eight hundred pound bear! And as they grow they’re so incredibly uncoordinated [LAUGHS]. I mean, it really takes them a long time. There’s something in the film that I love and it’s the yin and yang of their life. They are these incredibly wild, but incredibly tender creatures, and so watching them react is pretty impressive.”
Q: Have the people in China wanted to do more conservation efforts since seeing the film?
“This is very interesting. The awareness that this film brought and the pride that they had (because they don’t get to see this stuff) was enormous and there has been a boom in nature filming in China now as a result of this film, which is kind of cool. For many years World Wildlife Find has been in China helping with the pandas and helping with the snow leopard population. And one of the great things was our partnerships that a portion of every ticket that was sold the first week went to World Wildlife Fund. Now there’s a resurgence in giving.”
Q: Did someone step in for the baby cubs?
“I’m very happy to say yes they were. It was tough because we didn’t know what happened because literally that was the end of the shoot. The snow leopard population was in terrible jeopardy for a while. And a company or NGOs like Snow Leopard and World Wildlife Fund who we partnered with on this film were very instrumental in bringing them back.” Adding, “it’s really an amazing story.”
Roy also shared that when they began shooting the animals they started at approximately 16 football fields away. Adding, “and then slowly, as the animal realizes that you are not a threat, these guys move in. Shane, who did the snow leopards, has tracked big cats in every continent sans Australia and the Arctic, which have no big cats. But wherever there’s a big cat, Shane has tracked them, so he understands their habits. Shane was able, eventually, when Dawa was with her cubs, he was able to get within about a hundred meters from her.”
Q: Did you notice any behavioral changes as the animals became more comfortable with the cameras?
“There are shots in the snow leopard sequence where it looks like the snow leopard is looking straight into the camera and in fact, she is. She’s going like, don’t come near me.” Roy adds, “The monkeys, obviously, the most difficult because the monkeys want to come to you. The monkeys have no fear and they want to play and you can’t then repel them because if you start repelling them, you’re not going to get [close], and so there’s a fine balance with how they react with monkeys.” Speaking of monkeys, check out this fun scene of them with the cameramen below.
Monkey Mischief Clip:
About the Born in China Disneynature documentary:
Narrated by John Krasinski (“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” NBC’s “The Office,” “Amazon’s “Jack Ryan”), Disneynature’s new True Life Adventure film “Born In China” takes an epic journey into the wilds of Chinawhere few people have ever ventured. Following the stories of three animal families, the film transports audiences to some of the most extreme environments on Earth to witness some of the most intimate moments ever captured in a nature film. A doting panda bear mother guides her growing baby as she begins to explore and seek independence. A two-year-old golden monkey who feels displaced by his new baby sister joins up with a group of free-spirited outcasts. And a mother snow leopard—an elusive animal rarely caught on camera—faces the very real drama of raising her two cubs in one of the harshest and most unforgiving environments on the planet. Featuring stunning, never-before-seen imagery, the film navigates China’s vast terrain—from the frigid mountains to the heart of the bamboo forest—on the wings of red-crowned cranes, seamlessly tying the extraordinary tales together.
For more information on Born in China Disneynature, including fun animal facts, check out this post.
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The Disneynature Born in China film is now available on Blu-ray and DVD!