Snow Bears: an incredible winter wildlife story

Filming a polar bear family’s epic 400-mile Arctic trek required a monumental effort – and 12 body doubles

Snow Bears (BBCPictures,mh)

“This is a dramatised story based on the extraordinary adventures of nature’s snow bears,” whispers narrator Kate Winslet. In an age of fake news, it’s a crucial bit of qualification. For while this enchanting documentary appears to follow a single mum and her two cubs on a 400-mile trek over the polar ice, they do, in fact, have a fair number of body doubles. Around 12, in fact. Not that the creative subterfuge diminishes the storytelling, it’s just that these days transparency is everything.

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Snow Bears (BBCPictures,mh)

“It just wouldn’t have been possible to follow the same mum and cubs on that journey for that period of time,” says producer/director Philip Dalton. “Therefore clarity is important so that people understand what they are seeing.

What Dalton and his team did was pore over years’ worth of archive polar bear footage, shoot weeks and weeks of new material in the Norwegian Arctic and then meticulously piece it all together in the edit suite to tell one linear story. And no, you can’t see the joins.

Snow Bears (BBCPictures,mh)

The result is a captivating account of the perilous journey undertaken by mum and cubs as they head from their underground birthing den in search of food. “They seem to know where they are going even though, in terms of the evershifting ice, everything is very dynamic,” says Dalton. “They’re looking for pack ice from which they can hunt seals because the richest areas of life are at the edges of that pack ice.”

Snow Bears (BBCPictures,mh)

Dalton is proud of what’s been achieved. “I’ve seen every stage of this story and I’ve always wanted to put it together as a single film. It was an enormous challenge getting all the pieces together. We ended up sleeping on the edit-room floor just to get it done.”

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Snow Bears is on Boxing Day 6.30pm BBC1