A lyrical and haunting portrait of reindeer herding in the twilight expanses of the Lapland wilderness.
Congratulations on having your film Reindeer selected for the Sundance Film Festival this year in the New Frontier category! What did you find most interesting about this subject, the reindeer or the herders, or both?
I was always fascinated by the idea of going to Lapland, and seeing reindeer and Northern Lights, so when Nowness approached me about making a film about reindeer in Lapland in the run-up to Christmas 2011 I jumped at the chance (albeit, I never managed to see any Northern Lights, but I did see plenty of reindeer). The original idea was to make a film about reindeer racing. Unfortunately, a couple of days before we were due to travel, we discovered that the racing hadn't started due to recent weather conditions. When we traveled there in early December, it was unusually warm, temperatures were around 5 to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, which meant the herding of the reindeer had been delayed but also there was not enough snow to seriously start training the reindeer for racing, let alone for the racing to take place.
Once I got to Karigasniemi, we therefore had to re-group and explored our surroundings. I realised very quickly that I wanted to to film at the herding pen where the reindeer are corralled and then separated coming down from the mountains. We visited the pen on our first day, and I was fascinated by the place, it had a very distinct atmosphere, even completely deserted. I wanted to capture the eerie isolation of the Artic landscape and capture the sheer adrenaline rush and excitement of the herding.
The reindeer really do make the most incredible noises, and this something I never even considered or thought about before going there. You can literally hear them from a long distance, and it is beautiful. I also was amazed how small they actually are, even compared to deer. Once you are in the herding pen, their energy is incredible; I will never forget standing in the middle of the animals frantically running around us in circles as they were being separated. What was amazing, was standing in the path of the running reindeer and barely being brushed by them. At the incredible speed they move and with those antlers it's amazing how they manage to avoid obstacles in their path.
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You filmed this in the Arctic Circle in the Lapland region. What did you find most challenging about the production process, including the extreme cold weather?
The biggest challenge was really working with the limited amount of daylight available to us, but also in the subzero temperatures. Knowing we only had three days to film this, we had to make the most of our time, and were often filming until late at night. Yet, whilst it was unseasonable warm when we were filming, it was still very cold, making it very hard for us to work long hours but also impacting on the equipment we were using. We had to make sure cameras and lenses were not fogging up due to the cold; and our sound equipment actually failed due to the weather conditions, luckily we had a back-up system on the camera. It really was a very tough shoot.
Traveling wise, we flew from London to the most Northern airport in Finland (Ivalo) via Helsinki. From there we picked up a hire car and travelled the final 2 hours along some very daunting ice covered roads to Karigasniemi. (I can tell you there were some extremely close calls with reindeer on the road! Karigasniemi is a tiny village on the border between Finland and Norway, it is pretty much as far North as you can (or want to) go in Finland and there is not a lot before you hit the Barents sea.
The New Frontier category is reserved for work that celebrates "innovation in filmmaking," and Sundance calls your film "a haunting portrait of reindeer herding." What does this mean to you as a filmmaker? Did you set out to be innovative with your film?
I am thrilled that my film will be screening as part of the New Frontier category. I think it is such an exciting section of the program. In the past, my films have been shown both in festivals and art galleries, and I enjoy seeing them in these different contexts and experiencing the different ways audiences react to them.
Eva's film screened on January 18, 19 and 21, and will screen again in Park City on January 26. Read more about the film and see the screening schedule in the Sundance Festival Program.
Originally from Germany, Eva Weber is a London-based filmmaker working in both documentary and fiction. Her award-winning films have screened at numerous international film festivals, amongst others, at Sundance, Edinburgh, SXSW, BFI London and Telluride. Her films have also been broadcast on UK and international television, and shown at art exhibitions and museums. Her film The Solitary Life of Cranes was described as “one of the most absorbing documentaries of the year” by The Observer newspaper in the UK. Eva is currently developing a number of feature projects, including the fiction/documentary hybrid Ghost Wives. Together with Vendela Vida, she is also taking part in the 2013 Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab with the feature film Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name.