«I really like making films with animals, which become metaphors. They represent an innocent and pure filter to look at the life of men. Then, as Jorge Luis Borges wrote in Aleph ‘all animals are immortal because they ignore death’». With these simple and meaningful words Brando Quilici traces the manifesto of his cinematographic works.
He is a guest of Castellinaria where he presents his recent feature film ‘The boy and the tiger’ (2022) and where he will take part today in a public meeting at the covered market (at 5pm). The film, on the other hand, will be screened this morning in the Kids Competition section, at 9.15am, and tomorrow, Saturday 26 November, at 3pm.
Brando Quilici on set
Seizing the opportunity; as soon as I arrive in Bellinzona by train, I join the documentary maker and director in the hotel bar where he is staying for a chat (a nice conversation, to be honest) about his film and its genesis, about tigers (even those in the film) and about future generation, which will have the difficult task of remedying the environmental messes caused by previous generations; from us. But he immediately clarifies: “If you call me lei, I won’t answer any questions”.
Before leaving the field free, I linger with two biographical news. Brando Quilici – son of Folco – is one of the most recognized documentary filmmakers in the world: in his twenty-year career he has worked on about a hundred specials for television networks such as National Geographic and Discovery Channel, just to name a couple. Among his most important projects will be ‘Iceman’, ‘Iceman-Murder Mystery’, ‘Kings Tut’s Final Secret’, ‘Nefertiti and the Lost Dynasty’.
The story of Balmani and Mukti is his second film presented last October at the Rome Film Fest; the first of 2014 is ‘My friend Nanuk’, produced and directed in co-direction with Roger Spottiswood. Set in Nepal, it tells the story of Balmani (Sunny Pawar), a nine-year-old boy who is orphaned by the terrible earthquake that shook Nepal in 2015. He ends up in the orphanage run by Hannah (Claudia Gerini), from which he will escape intending to return to Kathmandu, his hometown. He immediately comes across a tiger cub (whom he will baptize Mukti) left alone after poachers killed her mother and destined for the black market. The boy saves Mukti and decides to take her to the famous Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s Nest), a mythical place whose birth is told by a popular legend that his mother used to tell Balmani.
With the script co-written by Rupert Thompson and Hugh Hudson, the film, in some ways, reflects on the conservation of wildlife and the disappearance of species, on the importance of defending the Earth and its inhabitants, telling the story of two puppies left alone and together they will find their place in the world, crossing a naturalistically extraordinary and very varied region: in fifty kilometers as the crow flies you go from the sub-tropical forest to the eternal snows of the Himalayan range; from sea level to eight thousand. The initial idea was written in 2015: it took three years to complete the work, one of which was filming (started in December 2020).
To captivate children
Among the masters of the documentary – and it can also be seen in this work – Brando clarifies the reasons that prompted him to make a feature film to tell the story of the disappearance of tigers (there are only 3,900 specimens in the wild, while in Nepal, the place of origin, there are less than three hundred): «What differentiates a documentary – by its scientific nature a little more aseptic – from an adventure film are the emotions, if you work well on the dialogues you can create many». And emotion creates empathy and therefore sensitivity. The film is designed above all for young people: “It is important that they know that this world of tigers exists, in danger”. A choice to turn to them dictated by very specific reasons: «The environment and the world in which we live is going through a critical moment, because my generation, all talk, has done very little and has “broke it up”. Then the young people of Greta’s generation arrived – and fortunately they exist – who began to make us reflect on this sad legacy that we will leave to the alpha generation, the one that has the world at its fingertips and which will be forced to face the consequences of our environmental policies. Thinking of them too, for me it is very important to tell simple stories that show the real world and that make children passionate about environmental issues », she says.
Sunny Pawar and Brando Quilici on set
One film, many sparks
The sparks of history are many and even distant in time. On the one hand there is the legend that tells of Guru Rimpoche, a holy man for Buddhists, who flew on the back of a tiger from Tibet to Buthan to found the Tiger’s Nest monastery; on the other, the WWF program ‘Save the Tigers’ (brought by Leonardo DiCaprio to the United Nations). But a first spark – which will remain latent for years – strikes in 1995, when Brando is in Nepal to follow the American researcher David Smith (“a nice character”) who worked for the King Mahendra Trust for the census of tigers in the Chitwan Park , at the foot of the Himalayas, where there is «the tallest grass in the world, reaching six metres!». At the time «I had filmed tigers in Nepal for the Discovery Channel and we had followed a specimen that had been induced to sleep. Found asleep in the grass, the group of Nepalese who were with us looked wide-eyed at the animal – they were amazed –, they approached and touched the fur and belly, the paws », he recalls vividly. An almost reverential fear that was due to what the feline represents: «Tigers are a symbol of courage and strength. According to Chinese tradition, they are protectors of good-hearted men, while they attack the wicked”.
A great fascination that “betrays” even Brando when he recalls – holding back the emotion – Dora and Diego, the two tigers in the film. An anecdote: «Diego – the little tiger cub – was crazy about Sunny, who fed him from the first month and a half of his life. The young actor arrived in Italy three months before filming to practice feeding the tiger. The first day the trainer explained how to do it, but as soon as the puppy clung to the bottle in a few seconds he emptied it, like a vacuum cleaner (they eat a lot!) and the boy started shouting ‘help, help and now what I have to do?’. Sunny was very good with the tiger» and the understanding, in the film, can be seen.
Sunny and Diego