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Cyril Dion, environmental filmmaker, discusses ‘Animal’ First Fiction Project

Cyril Dion, environmental filmmaker, discusses ‘Animal’ First Fiction Project

Filmmaker and environmental activist Cyril Dion is planning a follow-up documentary to his Cannes-selected documentary “Animal” as well as his first fiction feature film, adapted from Pierre Ducrozet’s eco-themed novel, “Le Grand Vertige.”

Dion first rose to international prominence with his 2015 environmental documentary “Tomorrow,” in which he and co-director Mélanie Laurent highlighted important initiatives underway around the planet. The pic garnered more than a million admissions in France and won a César for Best Documentary Film in 2016.

His 2021 documentary “Animal,” produced by Capa Studio and Bright Bright Bright and distributed by Orange Cinema and UGC, premiered in Cannes.

It is the story of two 16-year old environmentalists, Bella Lack, and Vipulan Puvaneswaran. They travel the world to meet experts like Jane Goodall.

Five main causes of mass extermination are highlighted: habitat loss and overexploitation of species; climate change; pollution; and invasive species.

The pic focuses on how to reverse this ecological crisis, which in tandem with the climate crisis has decimated 50% of the world’s wildlife over the last 50 years.

It was sold to Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. The company is currently in discussions with Italy, Germany, and is currently in negotiations with the U.S.

Backed by around 15 sponsors, the final post-production costs were covered by a crowdfunding campaign which raised €304,000 ($345,000) from 5,174 backers.

VarietyCyril Dion was interviewed.

What were your key objectives for “Animal”?
When I completed “Tomorrow” with Mélanie Laurent in 2015 it received a very positive response because it was very solution-orientated, very different from most environmental documentaries at the time, which tended to be depressing and gloomy. This film will focus on the threat to mass extinction, which is often overlooked in comparison to climate change. I was a teenager involved in climate strikes when I began working with them. I was astonished by their maturity, and their dark outlook on the future. It was heartbreaking to see them imagine a future in which there would be no life (and they have good reason for believing so). Jane Goodall was a good listener and I decided to take a teen boy and girl on a trip to learn more about what is happening around the world to reverse mass extermination. I wanted to show them different realities. I wanted to show them there was a brighter tomorrow. It was a transformational journey.

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How did these two teenage protagonists influence your filming process
I chose young activists because they were knowledgeable about these issues, and also have a critical view. I wanted them experience everything directly and to see their emotions on the screen. I wanted to confront their activist strategy. I also received their feedback after the shoot, based upon the journals they had written during the trip. Their actions during the shoot was crucial. Vipulan, for instance, was attempting to challenge one of the European deputies about double standards or hidden agendas, while filming at the European Parliament. We followed them through the building, asking these difficult questions. Their spontaneity, and daring play a crucial role in the film.

The protagonists show great empathy towards the animals.
Absolutely. I wanted to make an animated film about our relationship to the living world as seen through their eyes. They formed strong friendships and a strong relationship both with one another and with the animals. They are both vegans, and they assumed that anyone who worked in the meat industry was essentially evil. They gained a more complex understanding when they spoke with someone who works in a rabbit factory farm and with a mountain farmer who wept about the fact that his cattle were slaughtered. Baptiste Morizot (French philosopher) was a key inspiration in this project. He says that the problem is one of sensibility. We no longer feel the pain and anger we should feel while we destroy the animal kingdom. That’s a potential weakness of nature documentaries because they show beautiful shots, but never in the way we will see animals in the natural world. I wanted to make an animated film through the eyes of young people.

What is your next documentary?
I am putting together a follow-up documentary to “Animal,” which will be released directly to TV and streaming platforms. We have a lot of great footage that we didn’t use. Places that we went to and couldn’t use in the film. Everything was shot before the pandemic and I’d like to continue the project with the same two protagonists, mixing the existing footage with new material. People were made more aware by the pandemic that if we continue to destroy the natural world, then we will be living in a perpetual state of pandemic. It is time to consider sharing the world with other animals. It’s a question of survival.

How can films help environmental activists?
Three key elements are required to bring about society change if we are to move forward. We need new narratives, similar to how Martin Luther King described his dream of a better world. We also need a new alignment between forces, with more action in the streets, courts, and economic fields. And we need the right historical circumstances. These factors have been the foundation of all major struggles in history.

What was your first fiction project?
Fiction can help people imagine the future and create new narratives. I really liked what Adam McKay achieved with “Don’t Look Up.” It’s impossible to create a huge movement unless people can imagine a different world. My fiction project is based on Pierre Ducrozet’s novel “Le Grand Vertige” (The Great Vertigo), about a man finally launching a huge European Union project to stop climate change, but, of course, nothing will work as planned. It begins in the present and imagines the future. We are currently writing the script and are looking for partners. It’s important to find partners who are coherent with what we do. At a later stage we look for bigger partners, as in the case of “Animal” where UGC and Orange were great. They gave us creative freedom.

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