How the ‘Gunda’ DP Got Up Close and Personal With Farm Animals

The new documentary “Gunda” is a narrator-free look at the everyday life of a mother pig, two cows and a one-legged chicken. Filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky takes audiences down to animal eye-level, giving audiences a unique look to experience this world from the animal’s point of view. He shot in black and white, with tightly-focused shots getting as close to the animals as possible.

The documentary is available to rent via Film Forum’s virtual cinema starting Friday.

It was up to cinematographer Egil Håskjold Larsen to find the right gear and visual language to get up close and personal and capture Kossakovsky’s vision.

What was the first thing Victor said to you?

He had helped to edit my first feature “69 Minutes of 86 Days” so that’s how we got to know one another, and I guess he saw my approach. But the first thing he said was that he wanted to make the animals look like superstars and to treat them in the same way you would treat a profiled actor. That was the starting point, and I knew the stakes would be high.

What discussions did you have surrounding the film’s visual language and approaching it from the animal’s point of view?

We knew the audience would spend time with the animals at the farm and hang out at the farm to get to know these animals. I knew with Victor and from his films, that we would need long takes to emphasize this feeling of presence. We approached it the same way, analyzing your position as a filmmaker. How close do you get? What is the distance that you want to have to the characters? What is the intimacy that you can create?

In the opening, we start from an observational moment, shooting from a distance. Slowly, we progress closer to the animals and that was a planned strategy as we made the film and as the audience is getting to know the piglets.

What influenced your lighting choices and the naturalistic approach?

Victor had this idea that it was a painting of a family of animals, and the animals are looking at the painter, and the owner was looking into nothing. The main point was that you felt their presence, so we just wanted to create that sensation.

We chose to light the film based on classical backlit beauty shots. We often shot in the morning light and sometimes Gunda would be lazy, getting up too late for the perfect lighting. We’d take breaks at midday when the sun was hot, and we’d come back again at sunset.

But the farm and the woods were so beautiful so we wanted to capture all of that.

The documentary has a timeless and nostalgic feeling to it, what was it like shooting this in black and white?

When you see images that maybe remind you of something or it creates connotations, and black and white has this, let’s call it nostalgic, or poetic, timeless sensation over it.

We had decided we were going to shoot in black and white beforehand, and when we were looking at it in post, details such as movement of the grass were popping out differently.

I used super modern Master prime lenses which captured that detail right down to Gunda’s fur and her eyelids. Those lenses helped bring that out.

How did filming this and being that close to Gunda change you?

We spent three months on the farm, and we built a house for her. It was a tiny film studio with dolly tracks going around and she was always hanging around there. We’d sleep in the grass and she would come and wake us. It was this tranquil zone. I often thought, ‘Why don’t you spend more time in a place like this?’ and ‘Why can’t animals and humans be this close?’ It changed me.

 

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