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Clair Popkin

Clair Popkin is cinematographer behind the Academy award-winning documentary film “Free Solo”. The film also received an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography. His recent project ‘Wild Life’ shot with Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin highlights the work of conservationists Kris and Doug Tompkins and shines a light on their personal story, overcoming personal loss and deep ecological issues. Anton/Bauer Dionic XT batteries powered the production team through the wild and remote environment to tell the story.

A portrait of conservationists Kris and Doug Tompkins

‘Wild Life’ directed by Academy Award-winning filmmakers Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, tells the captivating tale of Kris Tompkins, a conservationist. A remarkable love story that spans decades, mirroring the untamed beauty of the landscapes she devoted her life to safeguard.

When Kris and her partner, entrepreneur and adventurer, Doug Tompkins, discover love later in life, they make a bold decision to leave behind their leadership roles in the iconic American outdoor brands they created including Patagonia, and The North Face.

Together, they shift their focus towards an audacious vision: establishing national parks across Chile and Argentina. ‘Wild Life’ delves into the triumphs and tribulations encountered throughout their extraordinary journey, as they strive to achieve the most significant private land donation in history.

Passion for the planet

Behind the lens of this poignant National Geographic documentary was a dedicated team of award-winning filmmakers, lifelong friends and passionate environmentalists including cinematographer Clair Popkin.

“Jimmy and Chai were intent on telling Kris & Doug Tompkins story, loving the planet and this radical conservation effort. You’re filming the most beautiful place in the world with the most inspiring, playful people in the world. It seemed like a natural next step.”

Dionic XT batteries powered our primary cameras, Small HD monitors, Teradek and Litepanels Astra's, they we're powered up all the time, they we're critical. "When important stories are unfolding in front of you, you don't get a second chance to capture it."

The team shot the film on a mixture of cameras depending on the needs of the shooting locations and their environments. Clair explains “Our ‘A’ cameras were ARRI Alexa Mini LF with Zeiss super speeds. We used older prime lenses when we wanted to take some sharpness out of our interview scenes. Other cameras included a Canon C300, a smaller Blackmagic camera and a Shotover system with a RED camera.”

Clair Popkin using Anton Bauer's Dionic XT battery on his camera on set

The power behind the production

Little Monster, the production team behind the film, used twenty Dionic XT batteries to power their cameras as well as Small HD monitors and Litepanels Astras. Delivering 12A of consistently reliable power (with 20A peak and 75A inrush) Dionic XT provides dependable power for cameras, monitors, lights and more.

Anton/Bauer Dionic XT batteries suit my needs. I put them on my list because I know they’re going to be reliable. I’m always going to go with the brand I know. I use them because everyone uses them. They are the professional standard.”

Shooting in remote locations in Chile called for reliable power. Clair gives us an insight into what it’s like running power at critical times. “Power is something I worry about all the time on set. You should always want to have the best equipment. You never want to stop because you’re out of power. You don’t want to compromise and miss the shot.”

Dionic XT batteries are designed for tough environments. High-quality cells in a rugged case ensure consistent 12-amp power in temperatures from -20C to 60C (-4F to 140F).

“In remote environments especially, I need enough batteries to charge quickly and to be light enough to work on monitors, lights, cameras and even charging my phone via USB. Back when I was a camera assistant, I read a lot about power and as a DP I would try to outsource that worry to my camera assistants, but I still worry about it. I always want to think about the story. I don’t want power to be the reason that we miss an emotional moment.”

Clair Popkin in the mountains of Chile with his camera rig, powered by Anton Bauers Dionic XT battery.

Powering up the peaks

One of the biggest technical challenges on the shoot was climbing one of the highest mountains in Chile. Clair recalls

“We spent a week climbing, taking multiple cameras, camping gear, food, etc. Once you get to 10,000 feet the horses don’t go much further, it gets too steep. This is where we pare down our gear and make things lighter.”

Climbing high mountains is a logistical challenge for everyone. Selecting the right gear for the right environment is important. At 1.76lbs / 0.8kg, Dionic XT 90 delivers consistent and reliable power while allowing cinematographers to stay light in the field. Clair explains, “You come to a point where you don’t want to carry the weight of the bigger cameras. You know when you’re hiking far. So, at this point, I’m going to go with the Canon C300 as it’s a much smaller system.”

A greener future

Powerful environmental documentaries take viewers to the most remote places on the planet and tell unforgettable stories. Behind these productions are filmmakers and producers who care passionately for protecting our planet. Clair explains, “I care deeply about the environment. I care about politics; I care about humanity. For me, I think many people I know, especially the teams I work with like Little Monster, they care intensely about the environment. This film is about the love of the planet and the environment.

We should all be making a difference environmentally, but you know, it's not just countries, it's people that can make a difference. The hope of the film is that you fall in love with the beauty of these areas and the planet. And when you love things, it's easy to save them."

Credit: National Geographic, Jimmy Chin, Chai Vasarhelyi & Little Monster Films.

Tompkins Conservation:

Wild Life Anton Bauer Clair Popkin
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