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Film On Lyme’s Ben Kilham Screens Tonight

The unconventional work of Lyme bear researcher Ben Kilham is the subject of a new documentary film by Dartmouth students that will be screened tonight.

Out of the Den: A Winter with Ben Kilham, which will be screened tonight in Loew Auditorium at Dartmouth’s Black Family Visual Arts Center, follows Kilham as he seeks to better understand the behavior of black bears by raising orphaned bear cubs, while also delving into Kilham’s personal story, including his work as a gunsmith and his struggle with dyslexia. The screening is free and open to the public.

Eleven Dartmouth students enrolled in Professor Jeffrey Ruoff’s “Introduction to Professional Videomaking” class took part in the filming of the documentary. Some 20 hours of footage of Kilham, as well as interviews with his family, were condensed into a half-hour film. Kilham’s approach to studying bears is highly observational, as he raises the cubs and before releasing back to the wild.

“He’s a very self-made man,” said Rena Sapon-White, a Dartmouth junior and the film’s director. “In terms of a documentary film, that’s a story a lot of people can connect with, seeing someone who knows something makes them happy and pursues that. It’s a very universal success story that’s intriguing to a lot of people.”

His work has garnered him a great deal of media attention, including appearances on NBC’s Dateline and National Geographic TV spcials, but it’s fundamentally at odds with methods used by the greater scientific community. Yet the film focuses less on Kilham’s approach to working with bears, and more on his personal background, which has been largely ignored by other media.

“I really felt like there was a bigger story there, which we could draw out, which was Ben himself,” Sapon-White said. “He’s not just a bear researcher. He does so many things. He has a tree farm, he’s done sugaring, he’s been a gunsmith for even longer than he’s worked with bears. He’s a figure in the Upper Valley for more than just the bears he rehabilitiates. He has so many passions.”

Having seen an early cut of the film, Kilham was pleased with it, and was glad to see his struggles with dyslexia highlighted. “There’s a lot of kids out there with the same issues,’’ he said. “It’s nice for them to get a chance to see that there’s life after having a tough time at school.”

“Out of the Den: A Winter with Ben Kilham” will be shown at 7 p.m. tonight in Loew Auditorium.