Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Gunda: An Emotional Journey of Pigs, Chickens, and Cows

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Gunda: An Emotional Journey of Pigs, Chickens, and Cows

“Gunda,” a fascinating and minimalist depiction of the tranquil life in a farmhouse, where pigs, chickens, and cows take center stage. “Gunda” is one of the best documentaries of the year!

Gunda director Victor Kasakovsiy. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2020
Gunda director Victor Kosakovskiy. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2020

Victor Kosakovskiy (“Aquarela,” ¡Vivan las Antipodas!”) is an accomplished Russian documentarian. 

In “Gunda,” he takes us into an observational passage with stunning cinematography, perfect use of a non-intrusive camera, and crystal-clear sound. The film is captivating audiences and awards – at the Berlin and Stockholm film festivals – nominated for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards and an IDA Award. Many may find the pace gridlocked, yet compelling and thought-provoking.

Gunda, executive producer Joaquin Phoenix. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2020
Gunda, executive producer Joaquin Phoenix. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2020

Joaquin Phoenix, an animal-rights outspoken person, serves as an executive producer of the film. As he did in his acceptance speech at the Oscars 2020 when he won Best Actor for “Joker,” his advocacy pleads for love and compassion to other species and how we can balance the food chain intelligently and humanely.

The documentary creates awareness about how domestic animals show emotions through behavior – as we see mamma pig caring for her piglets, or how caged chickens experience freedom for the first time, and how cows run without restrictions on the fields. 

Gunda: The Pig, The Chickens, and The Cows' Emotional Journey
"Gunda." Photo courtesy of NEON.

The film opens with a steady shot of the exterior of a barn. Inside, a mother pig is giving birth to about a dozen piglets. It is the miracle of life. As every little pig comes to the exterior, we fall in love with them. They are adorable! – it is also what the protective mother pig thinks. The day passes by, and the entire pack goes out for a stroll to discover the delights of the dirt in their vast universe.

When a flock of caged chickens, slowly and cautiously move out, it is noticeable the physical damage suffered for an entire life in captivity. One chicken is without a leg, and others miss a substantial number of feathers, all disoriented.

The fascinating trend continues with a gorgeous display of big and healthy cows interacting and running freely in the open. Those images make us think about all sorts of things, such as how valuable life is for everybody in the field, even for those domestic creatures we caged, killed, and consume in our daily diet.

When Kosakovskiy decided to make a black & white silent film, he wanted the audience to experience, in first-person, a glimpse of life on a farm. He knew he needed to spend months with the best equipment possible – best camera and sound, and no music sugar-coating, but plenty of inspiring images of nature.

For years, Kosakovskiy couldn't raise the budget to make this film. It was hard to pitch a black & white trinity movie with pigs, chickens, and cows as the main stars. To convince producers to invest in his project, he referred to other similar successful films like “Ida,” “Cold War,” and “Roma.” Now, he is glad the producers could see his vision and the intention to shoot a naturalistic film.

Gunda: The Pig, The Chickens, and The Cows' Emotional Journey
"Gunda." Photo courtesy of NEON.

To captivate the animals' actions and reactions, the small camera crew worked tirelessly form four o'clock in the morning until sunset. Those long-working hours meant nothing compared with the precious moments they got enriching the story dramatically.

Kosakovskiy's experience working in cinema made him make the right decisions, using long lenses, not to distract the animals. For that, he needed the best steady cam operator to keep the proper distance between the camera and the subject, not be invasive with the animals, or to alter the natural outcome. To photograph the living beings from far was not an esthetic choice but a moral one. 

In a movie set, the director is always in control of every given situation. In this documentary, the director had to be patient not to dictate something he can't control, such as animal behavior, weather, and human challenges. To make “Gunda,” the filmmakers traveled to animal sanctuaries as far as Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom. 

Hollywood Legion Theater Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2020
Hollywood Legion Theater Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2020

Kosakovskiy said after a drive-in screening at the Hollywood Legion Theater, Making this movie changed the way I see life. The whole intention was to show how is the life on a farm without saying anything, and understanding what a mother pig feels; seriousness, sadness, and hopelessness. 

Gunda: The Pig, The Chickens, and The Cows' Emotional Journey
"Gunda." Photo courtesy of NEON.

He continued the conversation. “All of those creatures have a soul, and to discover those emotions is moving. The pig talked to us in a very powerful way. In the very last scene, the pig's behavior looks scripted. It was a miracle; the team cried.”

The film helps us determine the similarities between animal and human behavior.  

After admiring such a marvelous work of art, I decided to take “Lechón Asado” out of my Cuban diet, and I am not Cuban. I am just a simple lover of the world's cuisine. I am also becoming more appreciative of my Mesoamerican culture based on vegetables and insects.

As an agent of change, I will continue loving eating my greens, as much as this documentary made me care for the voiceless creatures of every single farm in the world because sustainable farming is possible. 

 
Festival in LA ©2020

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