We reached out to our festival filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
What inspired this story?
Director Ben Wallis: The story of this film was inspired by the film “Born In China” – a cinematic release made for Disneynature. As soon as we decided upon the mission to film snow leopards in China, we knew we had the makings of a potentially great film about how the team attempted that. Snow leopards have been hardly filmed, the remote and very high location in China had never been visited before by an international crew and it would take planning and collaboration at the level never really attempted before to make this work.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.
BW: The challenges were many! Just getting to the location involved many days travelling, mostly to get used to the extreme altitude but also because we were the first international crew to reach the location. Everything we needed to survive had to be taken in with us – there were no short trips to the shops! The team had to deal with extreme altitude and isolation, were only connected to the outside world via satphone and had to organise each day with military precision and radio comms to keep everyone safe. Getting through daily outbreaks of extreme weather, long hikes and driving through remote landscapes in search of a predator rarely filmed, became a daily ritual.
How do you approach storytelling?
BW: I think the art of a good story has a few key elements. Drama, immersion, simplicity, relatability. Our film had all these. The drama of finding and filming the story of an animal that hadn’t been told before. The immersion of a team in a really remote, tough, high location not visited by an international crew before. A “simple” story arc in which every moment drove the narrative on and a relatability between the audience and our key human characters.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
BW: I hope this film (like “Born In China”) will open a wildlife interest in China and therefore a focus on the endangered animals that live there and the landscapes that are crucial to their survival.
Were there any surprising or meaningful experiences you want to share?
BW: The silence of the location was a really special element to this shoot. Scary to get used to but amazing to experience. The trip would not have worked without the support of the locals that live there. The vastness of the location led to us experiencing what appeared to be a really rich ecology – from marmots to wild ass, wolves to pallas cats and blue sheep to snow leopards. It was a great joy to work with cameraman Shane Moore. It was a huge team effort but without his professionalism, dedication, and field craft skills we wouldn’t have achieved what we did - getting close to a very elusive animal in such tough and demanding terrain.
Anything else you would like people to know?
BW: Filming snow leopards – let alone new snow leopard behaviour – has been a focus of natural history producers for years. The aim was achieved because of the backing of Disney, an international filming collaboration like none other and a hugely talented team in the field for more than 250 days.
BW: A 5 part series on China for Nat Geo Wild.