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IMAX Filmmakers Discuss 'Ocean Oasis' Featuring Sea of Cortez

Aired September 11, 2000 - 1:35 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: IMAX cinematography has opened up many of the world's wonders to millions of people who would never see them any other way. Mountains, rivers, even outer space have been captured like never before on larger-than-life IMAX screens.

Well, now filmmakers have turned their sights on the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, between Baja, California and mainland Mexico. It is one of the world's richest ecosystems.

And joining us from Washington to talk about "Ocean Oasis" are the project's producer/director, Soames Summerhays, and its narrator, Iliana Ortega.

Thank you both for being with us.

Iliana, I see that you are from Mexico. You live in Mexico City, but you conduct tours along this area so you know this area very well. Tell us what strikes you about it?

Tell you -- can you repeat the question again?

ALLEN: What strikes you about the beauty of this area?

ILIANA ORTEGA, NARRATOR, "OCEAN OASIS": OK. Hi, first of all. Hi, Natalie.

Well, as you mentioned, yes, I've been working for eight years in Baja, California and it is just a magical place and I love showing it to people. And "Ocean Oasis" is a great opportunity for the public to see such a beautiful place.

ALLEN: Well, I have a picture here in front of me with you swimming with a giant manta ray. Is something that -- you're in this film, correct?

ORTEGA: Correct, Natalie. Yes, I feature in the film.

ALLEN: And tell me about that experience of appearing with this manta ray. Are they dangerous?

ORTEGA: Oh, no, not at all, not at all. I have to say that it is probably one of the most exciting experiences that I've had. Manta rays are powerful, huge, gentle animals, and it is amazing to have them that close to you. It is an experience of being with a -- like a living magic carpet. It's just...

ALLEN: There you are. We're watching you now.

ORTEGA: That's right, that's me.

ALLEN: That's amazing. And we're going to see other underwater video that is just breathtaking.

Mr. Summerhays, you're the producer and director of this film. Why did you pick Baja? What is it that makes it so special?

SOAMES SUMMERHAYS, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR, "OCEAN OASIS": Well, this film has been a dream of mine for possibly 25 years, since I first went to Baja, California and the Sea of Cortez back in 1976. And we first began this project making "Ocean Oasis" back in 1993. And it wouldn't have been possible for us to have completed it without our partners in the venture, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and their Mexican partners, Pronatura, the oldest and largest conservation organization in Mexico, our corporate sponsor, Sempra Energy, and of course the help of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

So it's been a project that's been long in coming, been a dream for me. And for a naturalist like myself -- I began life as a naturalist -- having the opportunity to work in this extraordinary playground, an area the size of the state of California, with one of the most diverse ecosystems on the face of Earth -- goes from two- miles-high mountains to where it's alpine, almost, and then all the way down to desert and tropical land forms. And then the ocean surrounding it is probably the richest -- one of the most richest seas in the world. So it's just a spectacular place. With so much wild life, it's difficult to know exactly which parts to miss out. So we tried to get the good parts, but we had to miss out some of them, too.

ALLEN: It's amazing how pristine it is. Is this a protected area?

SUMMERHAYS: Yes, indeed. It's got several areas in it which have been put aside, set aside as biosthetic areas. And I think Iliana would probably be better able to explain the size of those conservation areas.

ALLEN: Well, Iliana, tell us about whale sightings as we see these -- this video of whales. Because you take people on excursions there, you have probably seen many in this area.

ORTEGA: That's correct. And going back to your question, the Sea of Cortez has a large number of islands and most of them are protected by the Mexican government. And they are what we call a biosphere reserves. So to be around this area, we do need permits.

But the whales -- well, probably you've heard that the gray whales migrate all the way from Alaska to these waters in Baja, California on the Pacific coast to give birth to their babies, have their babies and spend some months there. But, also, inside the Sea of Cortez, there's close to 33 different species of marine mammals, and that's a really large number of marine mammals, including sea lions. And, again, this doesn't happen in a lot of seas in the world, that you have the chance to see such a large number of these species.

ALLEN: Iliana, was that you that we just saw swimming with a bunch of sharks surrounding you?

ORTEGA: That was me, Natalie. I know that that looks a little bit crazy, and I think I was a little bit crazy to do that. But, again, it was an amazing experience. Having sharks around you like I had them at that time -- I probably I counted over 15 of them -- it is quite exciting. They are wonderful animals and we had the idea in "Ocean Oasis" to show people that they're actually not killing machines, and, in general, people have such a bad impression of them...

ALLEN: Right.

ORTEGA: ... because they do have such a bad reputation. And, sadly, we have reduced their populations to 90 percent. So it was scary. I'm not going to say that it was being surrounded with kitty cats, but it is amazing to see their behavior and to be able to show that sharks are not that terrible, they're not monsters.

ALLEN: Well, the IMAX film is opening in Washington. It's 38 minutes of oohs and aahs.

And then, Mr. Summerhays, we know you're taking on Yosemite next, so good luck with this one and in the future. Thanks to you both.

ORTEGA: Thank you, Natalie.

SUMMERHAYS: Thank you very much, Natalie.

ORTEGA: It was a pleasure.



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