Sprawling across a 30,000-square-kilometer swath of Tanzania, the Serengeti is the stuff African dreams (and no small number of films) are made of.
An unspoiled wilderness roughly as large as Belgium, this astounding ecosystem is home to the who’s who of African wildlife, from Lions and African Elephants to Zebras, Hippopotamuses, and Giraffes, not to mention hundreds of birds species and countless indigenous insects.
To many, though, the Serengeti is best known as the site of the “Great Migration,” a 500-mile circumnavigation of the Serengeti by roughly two million Wildebeests, the largest migration of any group of mammals on Earth.
The Serengeti is considered one of Africa’s seven natural wonders for a reason, and for months during the crush of the global pandemic, a trio of filmmakers from Australia, Canada, and Switzerland basically had it to themselves.
“In late 2020, at the height of global lockdowns, we were in the park for a stretch of six or seven months when there wasn’t a single tourist in the park,” says award-winning cinematographer Michael Dalton-Smith, one of the cinematographers responsible for the new giant-screen adventure, Serengeti 3D: Journey to the Heart of Africa .
“This hasn’t happened since probably the 1970s or 1980s,” he adds. “It was a fabulous time for us all to be there and to really have a truly unique and personal experience.”
Audiences will reap the benefits of the crew’s unprecedented “alone time” in this African wonderland when Serengeti makes its debut at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater on Friday, Jan. 13. Dalton-Smith will visit the theater for a special screening and post-film presentation and Q&A session on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Serengeti 3D’s executive producer and distributor, Mark Kresser, describes the project as an “international collaboration of a new generation of giant screen IMAX filmmakers.”
The film’s team was brought together by Australian producer David Gross, who assembled a small, nimble crew of multi-role specialists, including Dalton-Smith, Cam Batten, and Paul Phelan. This trio’s past efforts include notable giant screen stories such as Mountain Adventure: Out of Bounds 3D, Sea Lions: Life by a Whisker 3D, and Turtle Odyssey 3D.
“We were so lucky to have such an amazing international team working simultaneously all over the globe on this landmark giant screen project for K2 Studios and Definition Films,” Kresser says.
Dalton-Smith’s infatuation with the Serengeti began nearly 20 years ago when he booked a safari and filming trip in the park after wrapping up another project about Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was literally love at first sight.
“When I first got there, the place was just so magical that I couldn’t imagine not spending as much time in my life as I could there,” he says. “It’s a place I’ve been 60 — maybe 70 — times in my life. I’ve spent upwards of four or five years actually there in the parks.”
In his time in the Serengeti, Dalton-Smith has explored corners and remote reaches of the landscape rarely seen, even by the tourists lucky enough to visit in person. This deep, abiding familiarity with the ecosystem, combined with nearly unfettered access during the pandemic, offered unparalleled opportunities to capture wildlife and vistas from perspectives few visitors — let alone cinematographers — have ever experienced.
From aerial views of the “Great Migration” filling the vast plains from horizon to horizon to haunting scenes of a lion’s breath steaming in the moonlight, Serengeti 3D offers audiences a thrillingly fresh, timeless window into a wilderness they only thought they knew.
“Our mission was to take our audience in there with the animals, so that as we move, you move with the animals. You’re within the herds; you feel like you’re part of the landscape,” Gross says. “When you produce a film in 3D and present it on that massive six-story IMAX screen in Chattanooga, it gives you the closest thing to actually being there in person.”
During Serengeti 3D’s stay at the IMAX 3D Theater, Chattanooga Zoo members will receive special pricing on tickets, including the Jan. 17 screening featuring Dalton-Smith as a guest presenter. Upon presenting their membership cards at the theater’s box office (201 Chestnut St.), zoo members can purchase tickets at a reduced rate of $7. The discount is not available for online ticket purchases.
Serengeti 3D is presented locally by High Point Climbing and Fitness. The project was filmed in Tanzania over a three-year period. It was produced by Australia’s Definition Films and is being distributed globally by K2 Studios (USA).
The film was fully funded by K2 Studios USA, K2 Films Australia, and Asia Film Investment Group’s Giant Screen Film Fund. It was financially supported by WAYO Africa, Tanzanian National Parks, the New South Wales State Government and the Australian Federal Government.
For more information before embarking on a virtual safari in Serengeti 3D, visit tnaqua.org/imax/serengeti-3d.
The mission of the Tennessee Aquarium is to connect people with nature and inspire them to make informed decisions about water and wildlife. Admission is $34.95 per adult and $24.95 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $9.95. Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities.