Last Spring I had the pleasure of meeting the director of Mammoth, Grant Slater, in a Gondola at the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride, CO. The festival was inspiring. It showcased important nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, political and social justice issues. Several talented filmmakers attended to share their hard work to effect change. It was a picturesque setting, appropriate for the topic on hand. Creative minds gathered wherever they could to share ideas and get inspiration. It reminded me of a modern-day salon.
Mammoth is a docupic about Sergy and Nikita Zimov, a father and son team, living in the remote Russian Arctic who are trying to recreate the Ice Age. They call their experiment Pleistocene Park – a perfect home for woolly mammoths, resurrected by modern genetics. Why? To slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost. If this frozen underground layer warms too quickly, it will release some of the world’s most dangerous climate-change accelerants into the atmosphere, wreaking havoc on human beings and millions of other species.
But, how – specifically – can Pleistocene Park and mammoths prevent this from happening? Mammoths and other large mammals like bison and musk oxen help maintain grasslands that, when covered with snow, keep the earth’s surface cool and insulated (i.e. they pillage and eat trees that would otherwise absorb heat from the sun and warm the earth’s surface).
The earth was once covered with many such grasslands but they have since been replaced by urban development. Sadly, the animals that were responsible for keeping grasslands grasslands, like mammoths, have either gone extinct or been driven into wooded areas where they have adapted to live.
For me, the most compelling piece Slater’s film is his illustation of the relationship man and animal need to keep in order to maintain earth’s proper ecological balance. It seems that often our nature is to consider animals insignificant to earth’s health. This film is an important reminder that’s not the case.