“The Paper Bear” is awarded substantial grant from Walton County

Dec 1, 2023 | Communities, DeFuniak Springs, Freeport, Walton & Beyond

Photo Credit, Arix Zalace

Groundbreaking Partnership

By Wendy O. Dixon

Walton County commissioners unanimously voted to invest $400,000 in local film project, “The Paper Bear,” as a testament to the vision and dedication shared by the county and the production team. The funding will be instrumental in completing the feature film, an innovative project designed to spotlight Walton County’s breathtaking biodiversity and natural wonders.

“Through this partnership, the county is investing in a film, the future of our community, and the preservation of our natural heritage,” the team says. “We believe this initiative will ignite a spark of curiosity and care for our environment, encouraging everyone to play a role in its protection.”

The Florida black bear is a beloved wonder, and the inspiration for the film. Though the species was removed from the list of State-designated Threatened Species in 2012, black bears are protected by the Bear Conservation Rule, which states that it is still unlawful to injure or kill bears without prior authorization from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Set to release in 2024, the goal of the project is to educate others about our eco-system and the natural resources in Walton County. The film’s director, Arix Zalace, is a conservationist and film maker who knows the area’s history, its biological significance and the threats that the region faces. As a Panhandle native, the project is deeply personal to him. “This is something that I have been thinking about for a very long time,” he says. “This project has rekindled a deep love for the Panhandle, for my home.”

The film aims to be more than just a cinematic experience, but rather an educational journey that will enlighten millions of people. “Originally this film was going to be a documentary,” Arix adds. “But we quickly realized that we wanted a much broader viewership. It was at that moment that we decided to make a feature film and began writing the screenplay.” 

Educating the public about the biodiversity in this area, as well as how they can help with conservation, is a critical component of the project. “As the planet continues to warm, biodiversity is one of the most important factors in having a path forward,” Arix explains. “We are smack dab in the middle of a biological hot spot. You can think of biological hotspots like libraries of congress for the world’s genetic material. We will need robust biodiversity in order to navigate the rapidly changing planet.”

Arix spent thousands of hours in the forests and wetlands, all to photograph wild black bears in their habitat. Lead producer and native Floridian Savage Bell recruited cinematographer Brad Richard, also a Florida native. Brad and his team from Los Angeles captured the natural beauty and vibrant diversity in challenging locations. The close-ups, wide shots and dynamic camera movements are expected to thrill audiences.  

Moving forward, “The Paper Bear” project aims to continue to explore new ways to enrich the community.

To watch more clips and learn more about the upcoming feature film project, visit thepaperbear.org.

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