The city of Durham’s first Lemur Week will conclude with the release of a documentary featuring Duke lemurs.
Lemur Week was declared by Mayor Pro Tempore Cora Cole-McFadden as part of an effort to raise awareness about the endangered status of lemurs and announce the release of the documentary, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar.” Filmed over the course of six months, the documentary is intended to highlight the importance of conservation efforts in Madagascar. More than 90 percent of forests have been destroyed in Madagascar due to practices like slash-and-burn agriculture and 75 percent of lemurs are at risk of extinction.
“Lemurs have been around for 60 million years, and it’s about time they got a week,” said Drew Fellman, writer and producer of the film.
He noted that he was inspired to do a documentary about lemurs specifically because of their “epic origin story.”
Fellman—who previously wrote and produced “Born to be Wild,” a documentary filmed about orphaned orangutans and elephants—added that the documentary was one of his hardest to shoot due to the difficult terrain and lack of infrastructural support in Madagascar.
The difficulty of producing the film was echoed by Patricia Wright, a primatologist who was featured in the film. She worked at Duke for eight years prior to becoming director of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments at Stony Brook University in New York.
For one shoot, the crew had to take a plane to another part of the island and was then told they would have to drive ten hours to the location, Wright said. When the vehicle then got stuck in the mud, the crew walked for four hours and took canoes across a river to the film site.
“I thought I was going to be struck by lightening, but we made it across,” she said.
Although “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” was filmed primarily in Madagascar at ten different locations on the island, the opening scene was shot at the Duke Lemur Center. Fellman said dwarf lemurs were “casted” to play the role of the proto-lemurs that floated from mainland Africa to Madagascar on a raft of vegetation.
To film the scene, the dwarf lemurs had to walk through a log into the light. Because dwarf lemurs are nocturnal, however, they immediately fell asleep upon seeing the light, causing the scene to take six hours to film.
Singer and songwriter Hanitrarivo Rasoanaivo, a Madagascar native, produced her own version of the song “I will survive” for the film. She said the film is important in raising awareness about lemurs so that there can be more collaboration between the United States and Madagascar for future conservation efforts.
“I put myself in the shoes of the lemur,” Rasoanaivo said about producing the song for the film.
Having served as an activist her entire life, Rasoanaivo said conservation efforts to protect lemurs have increased over time. She hopes the film will raise even more awareness so there can be increased activist work on the island.
“I was born in the forest. I lived with the animals—these are my friends—and seeing what is happening now is catastrophic,” she said.
The 3D IMAX film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, will premiere in select theaters April 4. The film is one part of a week-long series of events geared toward educating the public about lemurs and the threats they face. FullSteam Brewery held a Lemuria Beer release party Saturday and sold beer made with Madagascar vanilla and chocolate. Funds from beer sales went toward the DLC.