Filmmaker Commits to the Long Lens

A MacGillivray-Freeman crew shooting in Svalbard, Norway, for “To the Arctic,” one of several productions for a recently announced ocean advocacy campaign.” Photo by Florian Schulz.

In a career shift from filmmaker to environmental advocate, Greg MacGillivray has donated $10 million and foresworn a salary for the next decade to support One World Ocean Foundation, whose mission is restoring and protecting the world’s oceans.


MacGillivray and his team plan to produce an ambitious slate of films, television shows and online calls to action over the next 10 years in support of the foundation’s audacious goals.

“We are changing ourselves from a for-profit company into a for-mission company,” said MacGillivray, whose Laguna Beach-based MacGillivray-Freeman Films has made several theatrical releases in recent years that call attention to environmental issues.

“There is no doubt that films can make a gigantic difference in public opinion, particularly IMAX films, because it’s so crystal sharp and real looking, it’s almost like being there firsthand,” he said in an interview this week. “We’ve found that IMAX can really get people stoked and engaged. I look at that as a responsibility, to take the reputation and all these partnerships we’ve established over the last 30 years with all these museum theaters, to help the ocean. We know we can convince people of the importance of the ocean.”

No better testimonial for the power of film to influence public opinion came from the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Hollywood during Oscar week. He made a direct plea to filmmakers to feature global warming as plot lines in future films to reverse the public’s diminishing concern about the issue.

While MacGillivray did not participate in that meeting, his One World Ocean campaign is taking up an equally bold cause with a budget he estimates at $55 million. He is staking $10 million of his own money to cover administrative and other costs, pledging that all donations from others will go entirely to projects and initiatives.

MacGillivray, an Academy Award-nominated director who has made more than 30 IMAX films, said, “90 percent of the big fish in our oceans are gone. Scientists estimate that 70 percent of our planet’s coral reefs will be destroyed by mid-century. Ocean acidification and warming temperatures will cause yet unknown damage. We are destroying what gives us life.”

One World Ocean’s campaign goals are twofold: increase marine reserves to 10 percent of the world’s oceans from their current 1 percent, and change the way people consume sea life.

While both goals are hugely ambitious, both have attracted popular support in some quarters. For example, legal protections for the entire coastline of Laguna Beach, as well as other key areas in Southern California, were recently established under California’s Marine Life Protection Act, which has been hailed as a win for ocean conservationists.

In addition, sustainable fish consumption practices have gained traction, with organizations like Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch issuing sustainability ratings on various fish, and Marriot Hotels announcing last June that at least half of the fish served in its hundreds of locations worldwide will be sustainably harvested.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer in residence and Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet, provided motivation for the campaign.

“What we do for the ocean in the next 10 years will define the next 10,000,” Earle, an advisor to the One World Ocean Campaign, said on its website. She warns that numerous eco-systems in decline across the world’s oceans are near a tipping point.

The campaign will include three IMAX 3D films currently in production by MacGillivray-Freeman. The first, “To The Arctic,” will be released in 2012, with “One World Ocean: The Reef” and “One World Ocean: Humpback Whales” coming later. There will also be a regular format 3D movie release with a top Hollywood distributor that MacGillivray declined to identify as the contract had yet to be finalized.

In addition, MacGillivray plans to produce an eight-part television series in 2D and 3D, which has received expressions of interest for distribution from national networks and top cable programmers, but no deal has yet solidified, he said. Though television production has not been MacGillivray-Freeman’s focus, the company took footage from “Mt. Everest,” the highest grossing IMAX film ever, and produced three one-hour episodes for ABC’s Turning Point, which also turned into the show’s highest-rating episodes, according to MacGillivray.

MacGillivray’s son Shaun, also an accomplished IMAX filmmaker, is co-producing the campaign, which will include an online hub for ocean protection efforts, books, literature, exhibits at museums, programs for seniors and youth, as well as information on the campaign’s results.

For the next 10 years, Greg hand his wife Barbara will work with no salary and will focus exclusively on the non-profit One World Ocean campaign. MacGillivray does leave the door open to commercial work, saying he could take a paying job if he can fit it in.

Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman, who attended an ocean sustainability conference and One World Ocean preview at UC Irvine last Thursday, praised the program’s scope. “It’s an eye opener about what we have to do, and how hard we’re going to have to work to restore our oceans.”

Numerous other ocean-oriented organizations already are advocates for conservation. Oceana, which has attracted Hollywood celebrity supporters, held its annual Sea Change fundraiser in Laguna Beach last August. MacGillivray aims to bolster the efforts of Oceana and similar organizations through his film and social media advocacy.

His foundation can muster alliances any non-profit would covet: a network of 211 museums and theaters in 32 countries that already show MacGillivray made films. This comprises a base of 70 million “loyal and passionate viewers per year,” according to the campaign website.

In addition, campaign organizers aim to assemble grass-roots advocates 15 million people strong, “boots on the ground,” ready to march on Washington, D.C., and other policy centers to participate in rallies and petition efforts and raise $20 million more to sustain the lengthy campaign.

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  1. Thanks to Greg and Barbara MacGillivary for taking on this critically important issue. Their environmental leadership to protect our oceans through marine reserves is much needed. We all need to join the “million boots on the ground” and support this project to ensure a future with abundant marine life and a healthy ocean.

    Mike Beanan

  2. I can’t wait to see your film in an IMAX theatre and would love to see it shown at Heisler Park. Laguna Beach’s economy is driven by tourism and I bet it would bring a few dollars to businesses in the town.

    Audrey Prosser
    OC Green Chamber of Commerce

  3. Mike… Your not the guy I got caught jumping the fence with in Coronado back in June, 1970? You had a bud named Deacon. After SERE, I went to Nam and ran into you in Cam Ranh Bay. Hope all is well.


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