Documentarian educates people with his work

Peak performer | Hollywood’s collective wipeout | High-flying advances | MacGillivray’s message

Greg MacGillivray’s commitment to education traces back to his childhood. After a visit to the California Science Museum, he became fascinated with still photography.

“I can remember watching the development process with awe,” recalls MacGillivray, “as a blank white sheet of paper would come to life, right in front of your eyes.”

One year later his parents gave him an 8mm camera for Christmas. At 13 he was making movies, and he’s “just kept doing it.”

His ongoing passion for learning is what led to his nonprofit foundation, which is dedicated to educate and inspire, and to his efforts to give viewers of his giantscreen films a new appreciation for the natural world.

With his wife Barbara MacGillivray, the filmmaker launched the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation in 2004. The foundation raises money, produces films (for which it provides companion educational materials) and runs outreach campaigns, using several platforms to get its message out to millions.

MFF ED president Chris Palmer likens the foundation’s mission to the Imax film experience. In the same way the giantscreen film is meant to have an impact on people in a visceral way, MacGillivray hopes his foundation will “multiply its impact through philanthropic programs,” says Palmer.

The commercial success of MacGillivray’s Imax films supports the institutional theaters in which they play. Palmer is quick to point out that most of the money helps the educational museum facilities stay in business. “Eighty-five percent of the revenue stays with the theater, and some of the museums depend on those theaters,” Palmer says.

Years ago, MacGillivray saw a looming freshwater crisis and wanted to make a film about it, focusing on the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. As a consequence, “Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk” was the company’s first ever 3-D giantscreen undertaking. The film created a widespread public awareness about the freshwater shortage, just as the filmmaker intended.

“It’s something we have to pay more attention to,” says MacGillivray. “We need to understand the value of water and to conserve more as individuals.”

In this regard, shooting begins in the fall for “One World Ocean,” a massive $35 million project to be released in 2015. Six different production teams will travel to all five oceans in 40 different locations to collect images of marine wildlife. The multiplatform project includes an eight-part 3D television series, along with a 40-minute Imax 3D film, a 90-minute 3D theatrical documentary and an online series.

“One World Ocean,” meant to raise awareness of the human effect on our sea world, comes on the heels of several MFF films that focus on water and ocean conservation, including “The Living Sea,” “Dolphins,” “Coral Reef Adventure,” “Mystery of the Nile” and “Hurricane on the Bayou.”

Oceanographer Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory views MFF’s works as vehicles for change. “They dazzle us with the wonder of nature,” he says, “but stay within their goal to educate and show us nature stressed and under attack.”

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