We’re used to stories of tough productions, but Academy Award-nominated documentarian Greg MacGillivray takes discomfort to a whole different level, having already taken IMAX cameras to the top of Mt. Everest and the bottom of the ocean. MacGillivray’s new “Arabia 3D,” narrated by Helen Mirren, offered its own sort of brutal challenges, including “filming in 120 degree heat, wind blowing, dust on the camera, dust in the lenses, sand everywhere,” as MacGillivray recalls it.
He came away with visually stunning pieces including a trek to the ruins of the Madain Saleh, “two cities carved out of limestone,” he says. “A second visual highlight is diving in the shipwrecks off of Jeddah in the Red Sea. It’s a beautiful environment. The water is like 85 degrees, there are coral reefs and it’s super clear with all kinds of fish and different animals. And a third would be the Hajj — the tribute to faith that happens once a year, when three million pilgrims come to Mecca to celebrate their faith and commune together.” Although he wasn’t permitted in the main mosque, “My camera team was Muslim and were able to take the camera in. We also had helicopters and a view of everything from an adjoining high rise building. It’s an amazing thing to witness.”
“Arabia 3D” was hatched after the 9/11 attacks nearly 10 years ago now. Not by MacGillivray. but by “a group of Arab business people who were educated in the U.S. and have homes over here, who love the U.S. and who love Arabia,” who came to him with the idea.
“They were completely shocked by that event and they completely understand the reaction of everyone toward Arabs after that event, but they decided that, well, the U.S. population isn’t gettting the full picture of what it is to be an Arab. We don’t know much about it, and what we do know is not very good. We’ve gotten a lesson in the bad stuff over the last 10 years. They thought, ‘Maybe if we make an IMAX film to show around the world, it will give a full picture.’”
He maintains that his mandate required filming “not in a propaganda-ish way, no rah rah we’re great kind of thing” — just real.
By now, having shot his film during nine trips over four years of time, he says, “I really loved the people that we met — hundreds and hundreds of really amazing people.”
Next up for MacGillivray: chilling out in a giant way. He’s now working on an IMAX film of the Arctic.