Wildlife drama roaring good


Driving through the jungle of Los Angeles to get downtown during traffic rush hour is something most Angelenos would avoid, but to see the 70mm film, National Geographic’s “Roar: Lions of the Kalahari,” it is definitely worth the effort.

Now playing at the California Science Center’s IMAX Theater, “Roar” is a 40-minute “wildlife drama” as described by director Tim Liversedge.

Seeing these powerful yet graceful animals hunt their prey, defend their turf and raise their young in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert on a seven-stories high screen is an enthralling experience. The film centers on an aging lion king and his two lionesses whose kingdom is anchored by a pond-the only source of water for miles-and which is threatened by a younger lion that seeks to take over the elder’s turf.

Liversedge knows his subject well. Born in London, he moved to the middle of Africa with his family at the age of one. He has lived and worked in Botswana for 40 years.

“It was the most wonderful upbringing,” Liversedge recounted at the film’s premiere screening April 28. “[It] was total freedom … Africa was a different place then.”

At the age of 20, Liversedge was hired by the Smithsonian Institution to research the animals of Botswana. He later became Botswana’s first game warden (the republic helped sponsor “Roar”). To further explore the wildlife of the country, he built a 25-ton riverboat, on which he lived for five years and conducted scientific studies and safaris in the Okavango Delta with his wife, June.

In the mid-80s Liversedge bought his first 16mm camera and made a film on flamingos, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. From then on he was able to “make deals with National Geographic” to help fund further efforts. He also formed his own production company.

In recounting the almost two-year long effort to make “Roar,” Liversedge said he almost gave up.

“Making an IMAX film is very difficult,” he said.

It’s also very expensive. The 200-pound, 1,000-foot camera loads cost $3,000 each and last for three minutes. And, as Liversedge explained, “Lions are notorious for lying around, doing nothing. Imagine you run out [of film] and then the lion gets up.”

Some of the shots Liversedge got leave viewers wondering how he got so close to the animals (not only lions are featured, but huge African elephants, giraffes, springboks, which the lionesses hunted, and various other creatures). In one frame, an elephant charges toward a lion that Liversedge is filming and when the lion leaves, the huge creature comes toward the camera-the entire seven-story high, 90-foot wide screen is filled with the elephant’s face.

Liversedge said he and his crew spent months getting the animals used to them and to the cameras, which, he said, “make a sound like a tractor.”

He explained how the lionesses would come from behind the Land Rover the filmmaker carried the camera in and, as Liversedge had the camera set up on the ground in front of the vehicle, a lioness would creep up right behind him to hunt prey at the waterhole.

“As compelling as it was, I would never look back [at the lioness],” Liversedge said, explaining the well-known rule against looking directly into a predator’s eyes.

And “there we would be,” Liversedge said of he and the lioness, “both waiting at the waterhole.”

For those who can’t make it to Botswana, seeing “Roar” will give you the feeling that Liversedge may have felt-goose bumps from the thrill of seeing these magnificent creatures so intimately.

More information and viewing times about “Roar: Lions of the Kalahari” can be obtained by calling 213.744.7400 or by visiting the Web site, www.californiascience center.org