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Polar Bears Emerge from Den in Canada

Canadian Wildlife Cinematographer Films Young Polar Bears Exiting Den

Hugo Kitching, a renowned cinematographer and filmmaker in Canada, spent time shooting polar bear cubs in northern Manitoba as they emerged from their dens. It all began when producers of the Kingdom of the Polar Bears requested if he was willing to join the team in filming in one of the coldest conditions.


Unusual Challenges Encountered

Kitching was quick to accept, and off they traveled to northern Manitoba. After reaching their destination, Kitching says that they encountered several unique challenges, including the entire crew catching norovirus due to the extreme cold. He says that the whole team got very sick and feverish, and they, unfortunately, lost one cameraman on the tundra.


He needed to keep himself warm to continue with the shoot in freezing temperatures. The other issue was taking care of the equipment lest they malfunction in the cold conditions. With the shoot taking place in temperatures below -40 C, there was a high likelihood for filming equipment to malfunction, expensive cables snapping quickly, and batteries draining easily.


Besides, the camera gear was more prone to break easily because it would defrost, and condensation would form. To prevent this, Kitching and the team left the gear and equipment in protective cases for hours once they were back indoors.


They also had to remove the memory card from the camera once they brought it back indoors. Otherwise, Kitching says the only solution was to lug the entire case holding the camera outside to remove the memory card.


Overall, it took two months to film the Kingdom of the Polar Bears. However, Kitching admits that eight days in February were the most memorable for him. This is because local Cree guides and a veteran polar bear tracker, Dennis Compayre, identified a den with a mother bear and her newly born cubs.


Kitching’s Outdoor Vigil

Kitching and Compayre positioned themselves at a safe distance, waiting for the bears to emerge, an experience that Kitching compares with holding a vigil. After waiting several days, the mother bear peeked her nose above the snowdrifts. Although Kitching had come across many black bears in his line of work, he admitted that this was more like a dreaming moment for him.

He says that he was amazed by the mother bear’s huge size and grandeur.


Kitching says that she was stunning and appeared to be emerging from an elevator as she slowly came out of the ground. She gave a great shake that sent a giant cloud of snow from her fur. He describes this as one of his favorite shots in the film.


After witnessing the female polar bear emerge, Kitching and Compayre spend more days awaiting the emergence of the cubs. Of course, they were worried that the mother bear would smell their presence, but they tried their best to remain silent and maintain a safe distance.


During their wait, Kitching and Compayre witnessed a wolverine wandering close to the den before finally moving on. Kitching said that seeing this powerful and big animal indicated the many challenges that polar bear cubs encounter when they are born.


The cubs, which were small but full of energy, then appeared from their den. Kitching says that they were encouraged by the fact that the mother bear spent adequate time at the hole while her cubs played outside on the snow for the first time. This allowed them sufficient time for filming.

Filmmaker Wouldn’t Hesitate Going Back

Despite the many unusual challenges, Kitching quickly notes that he would go back to the Arctic in a heartbeat. He said it was a rare opportunity to witness the bears surface from their dens and follow them to Hudson Bay. He also noted the importance of teamwork as the local Cree guides traced the bears on their trek to the bay.  

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