Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Wall of Shadows (2021)

Dir/Wri: Eliza Kubarska | Polish Doc 98′

As Buddhists, Sherpas are very respectful of spirituality of their mountain habitat as we discovered in Jennifer Preedom’s award-winning documentary Sherpa. Their habitat of the Himalayas has long been exploited by an increasing number of tourists who they depend on for their livelihood, offering expert knowledge of the unique mountain range in return. But recently things have got out of hand with tourists expecting an increasingly luxurious experience that has led to overcrowding of the region that often results in tailbacks and risk-taking.  

The focus here in Wall of Shadows, that took a prize at the Bergen International Film Festival in Norway, is once again the intrinsic spirituality of this visually stunning but highly treacherous part of the world, where the weather can change in minutes leaving climbers stranded and in danger.

The film takes place in Nepal’s Kumbhakarna Mountain, the 32nd highest in the World and an outlier to Kangchenjunga, the 3rd highest peak with some highly challenging weather conditions and steep ascents. This is home to a Sherpa family who agree, against their better judgement, to take some experienced climbers who push the guides to uncomfortable emotional limits in order to reach the top. The Sherpas continually voice their concerns, but equally realise they won’t get paid if they don’t complete their contract, forcing them between a rock and a hard place. Meanwhile the Sherpas are clearly uneasy but continue to pray to the mountain spirits.

Their clients are three leading alpinists, the outstanding Polish climber Marcin Tomaszewski and two-time winners of the climbing Oscar (Golden Ice Axe) Dmitry Golovchenko and Sergei Nilov from Russia, take part in the expedition on the eastern face of the mountain which, at 7,400 metres, is one of the most difficult challenges in alpinism today. This is the first time they’ve worked as a team and tensions start to emerge surrounding their different strengths and weaknesses.

DoPs Piotr Rosolowski (who also co-wrote the script) and Keith Partridge conjure up a real sense of awe in the majesty of the locations making this feel like a spiritual journey while at the same time a highly dangerous one. Barbara Toennieshen creates a sense of slowly building tension with her clever editing which never cuts corners in allowing the unique serenity of the place to beguile the audience. To this day, Kumbhakarna’s East Face (7710m) remains unconquered. MT

The film is the third collaboration between director Eliza Kubarska and producer Monika Braid and is a Polish-German-Swiss co-production. MT

IN CINEMAS in the UK and Ireland on Friday 22nd April 2022.


Fire Will Come | O Que Arde (2019)

Dir: Oliver Laxe | Wri: Oliver Laxe, Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe | DoP Mauro Herce | 90′

One of the strongest films in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2019 was this stunning docudrama from Mimosas director Oliver Laxe.

Set in the remote Ancares region in the heart of the Galician mountains Oliver Laxe’s stirring third feature transports us back to a rural way of life where the occupants live in gentle and humble acceptance of nature, eeking out their existence from the land and the animals who live amongst them.

This wild and savagely beautiful part of North East Spain is covered in rain-drenched forests and rolling mountains where the gusty winds can kindle even a small fire and send it raging incandescently through the region decimating flora and fauna. Laxe’s gaze is detached but brooding with sensitivity, inviting us into to this strangely unsettling world.

Amador grew up here with his parents and his respect for the local way of life is palpable. His regular cinematographer Mauro Herce (Dead Slow Ahead) shooting on Super 16, films a row of fir trees cascading to the ground and eventually revealing a massive bulldozer causing widespread mayhem as it moves ominously through the wooded hillside like a behemoth .

Amador (Amador Arias) comes home after serving time for causing a fire that almost wiped out the villagers, not to mention the vegetation and livestock. Set to the sonorous tones of a Vivaldi psalm we can sense this is a bitter homecoming for a middle-aged man with no one but his 83 year old mother Benedicta (Sanchez) to welcome him. She does this with a simple acknowledgement. “Are you hungry?” Both characters are played by non-pros who inhabit their roles with the naturalism professionals

Mother and son continue their day to day life as they left off. Amador is rather harsh on his sweet and obliging mother who runs their smallholding single-handedly, tending their three cows and trudging backwards and forwards with their ageing Alsatian. The other locals in this mournful corner include Inazio (Inazio Abra), who is working on a large-scale refurbishment of his parents’ stone farmhouse. Amador is emotionally buttoned down and taciturn, refusing to rise to the bait when one of the villagers shouts, “Hey Amador, have you got a light?”

There is a solace to this spartan existence drawn by Laxe with moving simplicity. The animals complete their household. Elena (Fernandez) the vet is the only intruder and she arrives to help pull one of their cows out of a ditch. The journey back to her practice is one of poignant beauty and wry humour as Amador once again remains tacitly unfriendly while the cow’s gentle eyes look on trustingly.

This is a minimalist film of rare eloquence. Nothing is forced or spare, the unsettling narrative gradually unfolding with a growing sense of doom as, predictably, the fires come back to the mountains forcing the animals to flee amid devastation, firefighters struggling with the raw power of the mammoth flames. One image that remains seared to the memory is of a horse stumbling bewildered from the wreckage, having been singed by thefla,es. The tiny figure of Benedicta is seen wandering disconsolately across the charred landscape. And we are once again left to ponder Amador’s involvement. Fire Will Come is pure cinema. Set to the atmospheric ambient sounds of nature and full of naturalistic detail and subtle undercurrents, it is joy to behold. MT


The Ponds (2018) Netflix

Dirs: Patrick McLennan, Samuel Smith | UK Doc | 76′

“If you can face the water at 5 degrees, you can face anything”  

Hampstead is still reeling from the unauthentic romcom that took its name in 2017. So hurrah for this  documentary that reflects the real Hampstead, London’s hilly heartland and home to 320 hectares of woods and pastures. Hampstead Heath also has several fresh water ponds where all year round visitors can wallow and frolic or simply just swim.

The Ponds is Patrick McLennan’s debut as co-director/producer along with Samuel Smith, and he also wrote the script. Drone footage captures the changing seasons chronologically, beginning with early Spring. We meet regulars Dan, David and Jim who extol the virtues – and rigours – of this open air communal bathing experience. There are even some local swimmers in their 80s who consider it a must for their health and social life – even though at times the water is a spine-tingling 2 or 3 degrees. But the endorphin rush is addictive and life-affirming.

From the 1880s these ponds were regulated for the local community. Tom is part of a hard core of 60 or so bathers who take a dip at least once or twice a week in the chilly brackish waters. He considers it his place of ‘religious’ worship. From the 1920s local women got their own segregated pond which is regarded by the female regulars as a spiritual place to reunite against life’s hardships, and maintain confidence in their bodies – even though they may not even know each other names. And although the men’s ponds see more nude swimmers, some female interviewees gives us a flash of their assets, just to be going on with.

Tom forms the connective tissue of the film with his eventful life story. He sees his swim as a chance to disassociate from the “silliness of life”. This was particularly important when he was nearly killed in a road accident in Oxford Circus. Another regular Carrie, has battled cancer and found the Ponds invaluable for keeping her hope alive. And she doesn’t get so many colds!

Oliver completely fell in love with the Heath and its ponds and when his romance finished. He felt bereft moving back to Camberwell. He now returns to the Heath every day. Another keen bather suffers from degenerative blindness and describes how his daily fresh water exercise is a life-saver.

Whilst the older swimmers talk of the spirituality, social and health benefits of pond swimming, the young express their joy of escaping the city to enjoy the open air with their friends in the heat of the summer. It’s a melting pot for rich and poor, old and young, gay and bisexual, families and singles. David now prefers the open-air freshness to his local gym experience and he’s incorporated his workout into his swimming time. In his youth he even used to wear a weighted vest to improve his strength and endurance.

Made on a shoestring budget, and none the worse for it, The Ponds is a graceful and cinematic documentary that shows how the trend for fresh water swimming can provide a bonding experience, enriching and supporting the local community. The film ends on a high note at the end of the season – with a competitive swim for Christmas. Keeping up with the zeitgeist, some locals air mixed feelings about trans-gender bathing, but a more burning issues is why the women’s pond has no diving board. “We want to bounce ourself in”, said one feisty female. I’ll second that. MT


Kamchatka Bears: Life Begins (2018) ****

Dir: Irina Zhuravleva, Vladislav Grishin | Writers: Dmitry and Igor Shpilenok | 52′ Doc, USSR

South Kamchatka Federal Sanctuary is often called bear paradise. This magnificent wild countryside lies on a peninsular to the far east of Russia on the Northern Pacific seabord. And this is where Irina Zhuravleva and Vladislav Grishin took their cameras to film the early years of life for a brown bear family.

Only the ambient sounds of the wild can be heard in this desolate but spectacular northern region where the newborn cubs’ early months play out. In this instance, the mother stayed with her cubs for three years, but often they have a much shorter time together. The directors seek out innovative camera angles, aerial shots and time lapse photography in their attempt to reveal the lives of their impressive animals and their exotic habitat . From flighting for territory and foraging for wild salmon in the lakes, to hunkering down in the closeness of their pack while foxes, and rabbits watch respectfully from a distance.

This is a far cry from Werner Herzog’s 2005 bear chronicle Grizzly Man that followed the tragic life of bear activist Timothy Treadwell and Arnie Huguenard who were killed by bears they had ‘befriended’ on the other side of the ocean in Alaska. Here the directors make no contact with the furry mammals, although their intimate close-ups certainly offer us a feeling of being apart of the wild bear pack through the spring, summer and the first snows of autumn.

Seven months in the making the extraordinary story unfolds as a meditative experience free of any commentary, bookended only by a brief introduction and epilogue accompanied by delicately drawn animations and an informative inter-titles outlining the tragic facts about bear survival. Pavel Doreuli studio’s sombre sound design accompanies this final act explaining that the main threat to Kamchatka’s wildlife is the change of habitat due to mining, construction of hydroelectric stations near the spawning streams and gas pipelines, a hazard of modern life and growing populations. The film very much connects with the narrative of disappearing animal communities all over the world. MT


The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain (2018)

Dir: Ridham Janve | India, drama | 97′

A mysterious “Sacred Mountain” in the Himalayas is the focus of Ridham Janve’s seductive first feature that won the Silver Gateway award at last year’s Mumbai Film Festival and was selected for Rotterdam’s Bright Future Sidebar.

Spiked with subtle humour and an atmospheric ambient score The Gold-Laden Sheep shows him to be a skilful storyteller in a film that works as a realist moral fable, a sinuous thriller and a stylish monochrome nature mystery with a slow-burning narrative that unfolds in the stunning landscape of the remote Dhauladhar mountain region .

While tending his flock, an old shepherd hears news about a local plane crash and is determined to cash in on the booty, remembering stories of other accidents that have yielded their treasures to the hills. Blinded by greed, he leaves his skiving side-kick to tend the sheep and lambs while he goes in search of the wreckage and – with any luck – the crock of gold. Naturally, things don’t end well for any of them, least of all the lambs.

The cast of newcomers from the Ghaddi community add a convincing feel to this carefully crafted debut that tells through its long takes and fluid camerawork a touching tale about their respect for nature and the holiness of the mountain, which, if disturbed, will change life forever. MT



Donkeyote (2018) ***

Dir: Cico Pereira | Spain | Doc | 87′

If you love animal documentaries and nature stories, DONKEYOTE is for you. There’s something endearingly charming about this soothing tale of an elderly shepherd from Andalucia who decides to embark on an pilgrimage with his donkey Gorrion, and a couple of dogs. Filmed in the wild landscapes of Southern Spain by Cico Pereira and his cameraman Julian Schwanitz, it’s a simple story, but an enjoyable one.

Manolo has a traditional life in Southern Spain. He is both ambitious and naive. Against the advice of his doctor, he decides to plan one final journey. From his home in the hillsides near Cadiz, he decides to walk the 2200 mile Trail of Tears in America’s West. Foolhardy he may be, but his positive mental attitude is inspiring. To overcome the obstacle of shipping a donkey with a fear of water, and himself with chronic arthritis and a history of heart problems, is no mean feat.

DONKEYOTE  follows their adventure, and shows that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, and particularly in this case. Touching, amusing and quietly wonderful, Manolo may be a modern day Don Quixote, but you have to admire his style. MT



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