Letters from Charlie...

Letters from Charlie...

May 31, 2004

Hello, my faithful Kamchatka followers. I have been here for one month and there has been a lot going on. I wanted to keep you updated on how things have turned out on this rather tentative trip back to Russia. The problem is that so much of what I do here is sensitive negotiating and I did not want to shoot myself in the foot by writing on the internet what I hoped to do. There are people here who watch the internet and unless I follow protocol, everything could fall through. Now my situation has progressed to the point that I can talk.

I got myself in a big bind as usual, and I'm scrambling to find a way to meet my commitments. I mentioned in my last letter about a complicated opportunity that I mulled over the winter which was to try to sort out if there is any possible way to work with Hollywood in creating a feature film based on Grizzly Heart. They wanted the rights to the book after an article last October in the Los Angeles Times came out about the work we did in Russia and how it all ended up. Actually, the LA Times has done a few stories over the years. I started getting calls from four different studios and it took a long time to understand how I should respond to them. For months, no matter how I tried I could make no sense of what they proposed. (Computer generated images of things is big excitement in their town). They wanted me to decide which one of them it would be, sign and then don't ask questions or try to be involved. They only offered about $25,000 for the rights, but wave millions around in insinuations about what is possible if the film would be a success. I spent most of the winter trying to decide if I wanted to work with any of them. Finally, after all the work we have done to change the way people thought about bears and knowing that I did not want to be embarrassed by their ideas of how bears should be represented, I turned them all down.

However, there was one Canadian film company left who wanted to create the film and to me they were the best option, perhaps the craziest of ideas, but they had no money. They are Jeff and Sue Turner, who as you know I worked with on the BBC film Islands of the Ghost Bear. We have now formed a company to create an Independent Feature Film, something I personally had not the minutest interest in doing six months ago. We will work with actors and wild bears back at our cabin at Kambalnoye Lake here on Kamchatka. Most of the actors will be Russians, but the hardiest pair will be English speaking.

Additionally, I have been working on my ranger program as well. Of course finding a reliable way to protect the South Kamchatka Sanctuary has been the first priority so we can create this film and end it without another wreck. If the film is a success, I plan to put much of my profits into the Protection Fund that a Russian and I are forming now.

I'm in the process of asking the preserve system if I could get three orphaned cubs for the spring of 2006. The director said he had no objection to this idea. Then he offered me the cubs that are in the zoo now -- two beautiful females that were only 10 pounds each when I first saw them. Someone found them by their den, beside their skinned, dead mother.

You can imagine my surprise at the Zapovednik's cooperation after how much trouble it was to get our first cubs in 1997. There were still lots of hassle to get the final OK and remembering that our problem back then was not the initial yes that counted (back then the director said yes also). This is the reason I was silent, but now it looks like I will get them.

Of course we are not ready. A year from now we probably would be, but if I can pull this off with these cubs now, it would solve a problem we had identified about how to have the older cubs in the film. As you know Chico and Biscuit were very interesting as they got older, but we don't want to have to film for more than two years. So now we have cubs and are promised more in 2006. These cubs will be almost four year old in 2007, the second year of filming.

Of course all this is a big headache. I did not raise funds for this idea because I thought it would be an enormous long shot, even two years from now. My second challenge is that we sold much of our equipment last year and I'm scrambling to find what I need. Thirdly, the authorities have finally shut me down as far as flying. This means more expense because I used it to get back and forth from the city at a cost of a few dollars instead of a few thousand.

I have found some very important help. I e-mailed a friend from Banff, Reno Sommerhalder who, at the time I sent out my plea was temporarily living in Switzerland. He had told me once that he would help if I ever need something like this. Reno, his wife and their child are coming and they will be a great help. He has worked as a bear viewing guide, consultant for Eco-tourism on bear related issues and assisted an orphan brown bear in Alaska one summer. Now, Reno has dropped everything to come and that is making my scheme possible. I am working non-stop on being able to pack up the cubs and head south, probably in about two weeks.

The biggest bind is not having the money in place. It sure felt like a good idea when I said yes to the cubs. As you know from the book, I often will act on ideas that appeal to me, sometimes with only a faint hope that it will all turn out. This one has me sweating! Without Maureen's help in Cochrane, sorting out all the things that need to be done, helping find money to make it happen, I would not have a hope of succeeding.

Will write again soon, I hope.

© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 2004