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May 07, 2000|Dave Gardetta

Greg MacGillivray of Laguna Beach-based MacGillivray Freeman Films has been shooting IMAX movies since 1976, a career on the really big screen that includes the invention of several IMAX cameras, the exposure of more than 4 million feet of 70mm film and the production of "To Fly!", the first IMAX film selected by the Library of Congress. His latest film, "Adventures in Wild California," opens next weekend at the California Science Center's IMAX Theater and is a foray into some of the state's loneliest and some curiously not-so-lonely places.

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"Wild California" takes us from a sea otter habitat to the Academy Awards to sky-surfing. What's your definition of "wild"?

In the context of the film, my definition is twofold: One, the beauty of the natural world--the wilderness of California itself. And two, a "wildness" in the character of people who have always been attracted to our "Wild West."

You've said you want to capture "wild unpredictability." How do you do that when strapped to an 80-pound camera?

Being in the right place at the right time and shooting more footage than you'll ever need helps. But nature is inconsistent. We put a cameraman right in the waves off Maverick's [near Half Moon Bay] for two days, shooting surfers, trying to get one dream shot. He's out there, being knocked around by waves as high as 25 feet, just for a shot I have in my head.

And?

And he never got it.

This continent's original European settlers feared the wilderness, believing it was something to be conquered. Do you think any traces of that belief still survive today?

I think we've cast off a lot of that original fear, though some of it has been transformed into what we actually like about nature. The fear of bears while camping, the threat of natural disaster while you're out there--part of the settlers' fears is what makes wilderness exciting to us today.

While two decades ago people found spiritual renewal in our forests, your film seems to point to the high of extreme sports like snowboarding as a new value of the wild. Has there been a cultural shift?

I don't think so. It doesn't matter what color your hair is or how many rings are in your nose. Just because those extreme-sports kids are flirting with danger doesn't mean they're not still finding a sense of spiritual renewal out there.

Would John Muir have been a snowboarder or a surfer?

Surfer.

Controlled and under surveillance, Disneyland would seem to be California's tamest spot. Why is it in your film?

We wanted to show people who risked everything and went their own way out here, and [Walt] Disney was a perfect example, putting his entire future on the line for his dream of animation. I think the film is about people as much as place, and he fits perfectly.

What, then, is the state's tamest spot?

I'd say downtown L.A. in an air-conditioned high-rise.

Is Mr. Toad's Wild Ride really wild?

I haven't been on it since I was 6, but I don't ever remember it being an E-ticket.

wild ride

Greg MacGillivray's three picks for the wildest places in california:

Death Valley "for its heat, bleakness and size."

Mt. Whitney "for its beautiful, lonely spires."

kelp beds off the Channel Islands "wild forests as deep as 100 feet that are invisible to almost everyone in the state."

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