The documentary filmmakers behind Tribeca Film Festival award winner “Island of the Hungry Ghosts” are hitting Visions du Réel film festival with a new project, examining urban migration and the rapid pace at which climate change has impacted the lives of one cattle-herding family.
“The Wolves Always Come at Night” (a working title), from Australian/U.K. director Gabrielle Brady, is one of the projects gaining buzz in the Nyon-based festival’s pitching section, which will feature in VdR’s Industry program next week.
The pitch will be presented online by Berlin-based duo Brady and her producing partner Julia Niethammer, working for Germany production company Chromosom Film.
The narrative focuses on a family of nomadic herders Anktuya and Dorji and their two daughters, who are forced to migrate to a cramped and polluted settlement following the death of their cattle herd, which they discover frozen overnight, like ice sculptures, on the rural Mongolian landscape.
At first the family believe their cattle was taken by wolves – which play a huge role in Mongolian rural culture, according to Brady – and the film’s title acts as both a metaphorical and literal comment on the family’s plight.
Cut off from nature and given limited time to find work by government officials, the film also intends to document the ruptures that begin to grow within the family.
According to Brady, the story was inspired by a nomadic farming community in Mongolia, which she had lived and worked with for two years over a decade earlier.
The director plans to use her contacts there to help her tell the story. The organizers of the Mongolian International Film Festival (MIFF) have also come on board as a co-producer.
Brady will deploy the same hybrid documentary format that she perfected in “Ghosts” – which blended documentary with magic realism to document the plight of refugees on Christmas Island and won the Buyens-Chagoll Prize at Visions du Réel and best documentary at Tribeca.
Niethammer emphasizes that the way they work with their subjects is a highly collaborative process. “They influence the narrative and bring their own ideas into it. It’s not just a film made about them – it’s a film made with them.”
Brady believes that building a narrative construct around what has happened to the herders can have a far greater impact on an audience than another story about climate change.
“It’s not about detail, context, or painting the whole picture of the consequences of climate change, we are zooming in on this one family, this one community and this one virtual period of time to dissect the smaller details. In these small details and encounters we then get a sense of a much bigger picture,” she added.
And while “Ghosts” is as much about the red crabs that populate Christmas Island as it is about the immigrant community, according to Brady, natural history will also feature heavily in “Wolves.”
“I’m really interested in cross genres and we will dive into this natural world: Yaks being born and the loss of the animals and how this collides with the human experience,” she said.
Many of the same talents who worked on “Ghosts” are also attached to the “Wolves” project, including cinematographer Michael Latham and composer Aaron Cupples, who will be working in collaboration with an acclaimed Mongolian female throat singer.
At Visions du Reel, the project – which has an estimated total budget of 700,000 Euros – is looking for financing and distribution partners.
Almost 10% of this has been raised for the film’s development, with backers including the BBC’s “Storyville” strand, Screen Australia and FFA Germany. Niethammer is also in talks with German funders on a regional and national level as well as local broadcasters.
“Ghosts” is still running in festivals three years on from its initial release (and has also been released on Prime in the U.S. market) and Niethammer envisions a similar path for “Wolves” and is hopeful for a theatrical release in Germany, Australia and the U.K. – with Mongolia being another key territory.
Brady likes to spend time with her subjects before she starts filming and has already undertaken three research trips to Mongolia, with one more trip scheduled before a two-month shoot planned for April next year. The expected release date is February 2023.
“We have a family in mind; the plan is to go back and start filming with them. We weren’t able to go back last year because of border closures but with documentary you have to keep diving back into the world and checking that the elements are still there,” said Brady.
“While we have plenty of rich stories to explore, what I’m really interested is putting the family’s loss under a microscope and tracing it back and visiting what’s been left behind,” she added.