Los Angeles Daily News features P22 film

Los Angeles filmmaker Tony Lee has just completed a documentary on issues facing the threatened big cats living in wild enclaves within metropolitan Los Angeles, including Griffith Park, the Verdugo Mountains and the Santa Monicas along the coast.

The film, “The Cat that Changed America,” focuses on the P-22 mountain lion in Griffith Park, which crossed two freeways to become hemmed in by urban sprawl.

The documentary, which follows the cat and those trying to build the wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills to help others like him, has just been accepted by the World International Film Festival in Los Angeles and New York. A trailer was posted this fall.

“Many of the issues facing mountain lions are due to man-made causes resulting in a lack of connectivity,” said Lee, a producer and director living in Los Angeles, in an email from London.

“Mountain lions are territorial animals which need very large home ranges, but they are hemmed in by urbanization and the development of our freeways,” Lee added. “As Los Angelenos, we have to decide if we are going to be responsible or inconsiderate neighbors if we are to live alongside mountain lions.”

You can read the entire article here:

http://www.dailynews.com/environment-and-nature/20161203/p-45-cougar-drama-draws-attention-to-proposed-wildlife-freeway-crossing

Citywatch LA article on P22

ANIMAL WATCH–This week is Urban Wildlife Week, culminating with ‘P22 Day’ on Saturday October 22nd, a day-long celebration of Los Angeles’ most famous feline resident.

P22 is a 7-½ year old mountain lion living in Griffith Park, right in the heart of the city. His story is so captivating and inspirational I felt he deserved his own documentary feature film, “The Cat that Changed America”, which has just been submitted to the Sundance Film Festival, as well as other major film festivals in the US. When the trailer was released on social media last weekend, it rapidly reached an audience of 30,000 people, adding to P22’s already established fan base.

P22 was born in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Downtown LA, and he had to cross two of the busiest freeways in the country, the 405 and the 101 to arrive in his new home in Griffith Park. In doing so, he travelled through one of the most densely populated areas, through Bel Air and Beverly Hills, and came within a couple of miles of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Incredibly no one saw him. Los Angeles is one of the few urban cities to have large carnivores living within its city limits.

“He’s called P22 because he is the 22nd puma we’ve captured in our study,” says wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich from the National Park Service. Jeff has been radio-tracking P22 ever since his first discovery in 2012, and the National Park Service biologists are conducting extensive studies into the Mountain lions of the Santa Monica mountains, looking at their genetic diversity and issues of connectivity.

For four years now, Jeff has been following P22 in Griffith Park, monitoring his movements and finding out about his habits. P22 like all mountain lions is secretive and nocturnal, so filming him for the documentary was the biggest challenge. Mountain lions are called ‘Ghosts Cats’ for good reason. They are shy of people, incredibly elusive, and difficult to track. Luckily photographs and footage of P22 was filmed on camera traps, provided by the Griffith Park connectivity study as well as the National Park Service. Cameras were placed along trails. Hundreds of pictures were taken of the wildlife coming in and out of Griffith Park, including bobcats, skunks, deer and coyote.

As a natural history film maker myself, I first became aware of P22 when he was photographed for National Geographic magazine, walking in front of the Hollywood sign. But it was only after speaking to wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana, who captured the first photograph of P22 on one of his camera traps – “It was the biggest discovery that no one expected” – did I uncover the extent of his incredible journey.

Yet despite P22’s celebrity living in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, and becoming a symbol for urban wildlife, he is now trapped in the park. He’s hemmed in by freeways and the urban sprawl, and will probably die a lonely bachelor. It’s very unlikely that another mountain lion will make that journey and survive.

P22’s plight has aroused the sympathy of not only conservationists but also anyone who hears of his story. “Angelenos love him,” says Beth Pratt, the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Who can’t relate to being dateless on a Friday night and stuck in traffic?”

The territory range of a mountain lion is 200 square miles, and males will fight to the death over territory. As a young male, P22 had no choice but to leave his birthplace in the Santa Monica Mountains and strike out to find a territory of his own. “He’s the Neil Armstrong of his kind,” says Beth. “He made a journey into the unknown.” It was a miraculous but hazardous journey, as mountain lions die on our freeways as they try to disperse.

Beth is spearheading the “Save LA Cougars” campaign to raise over $55 million to build a wildlife crossing over the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon, near the place where P22 was born. “I’ve been working in environmental conservation for 25 years now and the Liberty Canyon crossing is the most inspirational thing I’ve worked on – it’s also maybe the most challenging,” says Beth. In order to stay on target, the campaign’s near term goal is to raise $10 million by 2017, and the balance by 2019 for the crossing to be completed by 2021. But Beth is confident that they will raise the money needed.

Part of the fundraising is happening this week with a 40-mile hike, which is starting at the proposed site of the Liberty Canyon wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills, and will take three days. “We’re going to hike the backbone trail in the Santa Monica Mountains,” says Beth. “Then we start getting into towns, cities and roads. In the morning of the fourth day, we’re going to end up in Griffith Park, pretty much where P22 entered. This will show what P22 had to go through to get here.”

Beth will be leading the 40-mile hike from the site of the wildlife crossing, and will be wearing a mountain lion radio collar so people can track her movements online. She’ll also be carrying a cardboard cutout of P22, inspired by one of the National Geographic photographs.

“It’s going to be an inspirational journey for many people,” says Miguel. “They are going to be inspired by the places they visit and the people that they see. There are a lot of people along the way who care about wildlife, especially urban wildlife like P22.”

The hike is going to end on October 22nd, because it’s 22, and P22 day. As Beth says, “We’re going to celebrate with a day-long festival of music, arts and celebrity and fun.” Gerry Hans, President of Friends of Griffith Park agrees, “We’re really happy that the culmination of P22 day and P22 walk is going to happen right here in Griffith Park.”

Working with LA based cinematographer Alex Rapaport, the aim of my film is to raise awareness for the plight of mountain lions living in Los Angeles, including the issues of fragmentation and connectivity.

But that’s not the only dangers that urban wildlife is facing. Over 80% of mountain lions are said to have ingested rat poison in some form, whether it is by catching and eating raccoons and coyotes that have consumed rats which have eaten the poison.

The effects of anticoagulant rodenticides are devastating upon wildlife; the animals bleed internally, they suffer side effects like mange, and die a slow and agonizing death. Poison Free Malibu who I interviewed for the documentary, are grass roots activists who have done incredible things to ban rodenticides in shopping centers and housing associations.

The hope of this film is to bring attention to the mountain lions suffering from both rodenticides and lack of connectivity. A new study suggests that mountain lions could die out in the next 50 years because of inbreeding, lack of genetic diversity and connectivity. Many people, including Los Angelenos are unaware of the problems facing their big cat neighbors.

“The Cat that Changed America” will be released next year and you can see the trailer on Youtube or on the film’s website. P22’s celebrity has influenced people to change our thinking and see cities as acceptable places for wildlife to thrive. I know that Angelenos and the rest of the world will fall in love with the story of a cat who can’t find a mate.

This article first appeared in Citywatch LA

http://www.citywatchla.com/index.php/the-la-beat/11993-la-s-p22-the-cat-that-changed-america

 

Feature in Natural History Network

http://www.naturalhistorynetwork.co.uk/features/cat-changed-america

29th September 2016
by Tony Lee

After attending the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival last year, when I won the Special Jury award for ‘The Secret Life of Your House’, I was eager to continue filming in the US and make a story about the most famous cat in America.

P22 is a 7 ½ year old mountain lion who lives in Griffith Park, in the heart of Los Angeles. He was born in the Santa Monica Mountains west of downtown LA, and had to cross two of the busiest freeways in the country, the 405 and the 101 to arrive in his new home in Griffith Park. In doing so, he travelled through one of the most densely populated areas, through Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and came within a couple of miles of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Incredibly no-one saw him. Los Angeles is one of the few urban cities to have large carnivores living within its city limits.

As I spend half my time in California, I was aware of P22, at first because of National Geographic photographer Steve Winter’s famous picture of the big cat in front of the Hollywood sign. But it was only after speaking to wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana, who first discovered P22 living in Griffith Park, did I uncover the extent of his incredible journey and his amazing discovery.

It was a story that had to be told, and since attaching the right broadcaster to the documentary can take months, I decided that my production company Sabana Films would finance the film until I secured broadcaster or distributor interest.

The aim of the film was to raise awareness for the plight of mountain lions living in Los Angeles, including the issues of fragmentation and connectivity. Mountain lions die on LA’s freeways as young males try to disperse and eke out a territory of their own. The territory range of a mountain lion is 200 square miles, and males will fight to the death over territory. Over 80% of mountain lions are said to have ingested rat poison in some form, whether its by catching and eating raccoons and coyotes that have consumed rats which have eaten the poison. The effects of anticoagulant rodenticides are devastating upon wildlife; the animals bleed internally, they suffer side effects like mange, and die a slow and agonizing death. Poison Free Malibu who I interviewed for the documentary, are grass roots activists who have done incredible things to ban rodenticides in shopping centres and housing associations, and bans are passing city by city.

As it was an intricate and sensitive story, I needed a Director of Cinematography who was professional, good with contributors and cared enough to want to tell this story. At Jackson 2015, I was fortunate to meet Alex Rapaport, a cameraman and filmmaker, living in Los Angeles. That’s part of the reason why film festivals such as Jackson Hole and Wildscreen are important to attend, as valuable collaborations are forged, and you meet like minded people with similar interests and passions. I asked Alex to be my DP on the project, and we collaborated closely on the interviews and filming. I flew to Los Angeles at the beginning of September to film around Griffith Park, which is P22’s home territory.

As P22, like all mountain lions is secretive and nocturnal, filming him was the biggest challenge. Mountain lions are called Ghosts Cats for good reason. They are shy of people, incredibly elusive, and difficult to track. Footage of P22 was filmed on camera traps, provided by Miguel and Matthew Whitmire, wildlife biologists of the Griffith Park connectivity study. Cameras were placed along trails. Hundreds of pictures were taken of the wildlife coming in and out of Griffith Park, including bobcats, skunks, deer and coyote, and footage of P22 was captured. Recently, vocalisations of P22 have been recorded by Miguel which is an exciting first.

The challenge was having enough film and photographs of P22 to tell a 1 hour story. Luckily the National Park Service also have many photographs of P22 and other mountain lions which are in the public domain. P22 is being radiotracked by the National Park Service who are conducting extensive studies into the Mountain lions of the Santa Monica mountains, looking at genetic diversity and issues of connectivity. I interviewed Jeff Sikich, a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service, who has been radiotracking P22 ever since his first discovery in 2012.

Conservation films have always been a passion of mine, ever since I was a director of BBC’2 ‘Earthline’ strand in The Animal Zone in the 1990s. The most rewarding part of making the documentary, is raising awareness for the campaign to raise money for a $55 million wildlife crossing in Los Angeles, at Liberty Canyon over the 101 freeway. A new study suggests that mountain lions could die out in the next 50 years because of inbreeding, lack of genetic diversity and connectivity.

Beth Pratt, California Director of the National Wildlife Federation is spearheading the Save LA Cougars fundraising campaign to raise the money for the wildlife crossing. Beth is a passionate and energetic speaker in the documentary. In order to stay on target, the campaign’s near term goal is to raise $10 million by 2017, and the balance by 2019 for the crossing to be completed by 2021.

With enough publicity, the aim of this film is to raise awareness for the mountain lions who are effected by both rodenticides and lack of connectivity. Many people, including Los Angelenos are unaware of the problems facing their big cat neighbours.

As filming was imminent, and I had a looming deadline to submit to Sundance by the end of September, the whole film was completed relatively quickly within three months, plus a month’s preproduction. Audio post production was provided by The Farm Group in London and Quality Control provided the online editing and grade. I felt so passionate about this story, that I wanted to make it regardless of funding onboard.

Sundance has always been a market where distributor deals are made, and independent films can achieve worldwide impact. Previous conservation films such as ‘Racing Extinction’ and ‘Blackfish’ have premiered at Sundance. Discovery acquired ‘Racing Extinction’ last February after its Sundance premiere. The intention is then to show my film in the major US festivals, especially the metropolitan areas of New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles where conservation film do well. Sundance is a good place to premiere The Cat that Changed America. I know that Angelenos and the rest of the world will fall in love with the story of a cat who can’t find a mate.

http://www.sabanafilms.com
http://www.thecatthatchangedamerica.com

Press Article in the Topanga Messenger

P-22 Documentary Aspires to Sundance Film Festival
September 22, 2016 –

A documentary, “The Cat That Changed America,” about Griffith Park mountain lion, P-22, has been submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. It features several local activists like Beth Pratt Bergstrom, California Director of the National Wildlife Federation, National Park Service researcher, Jeff Sikich, who have done so much to care for our mountain lions, and Poison Free Malibu (PoisonFreeMalibu.org).

“P-22, the most famous mountain lion in the world, took up residence in Griffith Park, right in the heart of Los Angeles. He was born in the Santa Monica Mountains and crossed two of the busiest freeways in America, the 405 and the 101, before he settled in the park. Yet he is now trapped, hemmed in by the freeways and the urban sprawl, with little chance of ever finding a mate.”

The documentary explores his plight and the development of the wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon in Los Angeles. Angelenos and local conservationists alike are battling to help P-22 and all the mountain lions of the Santa Monica Mountains, as they try to raise $50 million for the wildlife corridor, while educating the public about the importance of the big cats and the danger to them from rodenticides in the food chain.

The participants are very excited about the documentary, which they hope will highlight the cause of supporting wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains and everywhere.

Urban Wildlife Week is October 16-22, 2016. (thecatthatchangedamerica.com/about/)

http://www.topangamessenger.com/story_detail.php?ArticleID=8530