After thousands of kilometres traveled and hundred of hours of footage shot, the epic nature documentary Wild Romania is set to premiere at the 2021 Transilvania International Film Festival. The film is one wholly dedicated to the expansive and diverse nature and wildlife of Romania — the most biodiverse on the continent. Some 10 years in the making, Wild Romania, the film opens up some never before seen images from across the country.
Anticipating the film’s premiere, Modern Times Review spoke with nature photographer, filmmaker, and director of Wild Romania, Dan Dinu. Here, we speak on how expansive Romania’s natural footprint is, where some of its best experiences can be found, the threats it experiences coming from climate change and industry, and more.
Wild Romania will world premiere at the 2021 Transilvania International Film Festival in the Piaţa Unirii Open Air programme on 30 + 31 July. The 20th Transilvania Film Festival takes place 23 July – 1 August, 2021 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
Romania has one of (if not the most) diverse collections of animal life and ecosystems on the continent. Can you explain a little about why this is? And where some of the best nature in the country can be found?
Indeed, Romania is the gem of Europe when it comes to wildlife and nature. This diversity comes mainly from three main features: the Carpathian Mountains, the Danube River and the Black Sea. Because of this we have different climates and different landscapes, some of them unique in Europe or in the world. Out of 11 bioregions in the European Union, Romania has 5. More than any other country. We also have the largest area of primeval forest and the highest number of large carnivores (lynx, wolf and bear) in the EU. But despite all this, wildlife is not easy to find. When you have such wilderness in your reach, it is easy to hide.
One of the most interesting places in Romania is the Danube Delta, the biggest wetland in Europe. Here you can find an impressive number of bird species. It’s a photographer’s heaven and one of my favorite places in the country.
When you have such wilderness in your reach, it is easy to hide.
Wild Romania has been a long production over the course of a decade or so. In that time, what did you find as the most challenging part of the production? Was there anything you encountered to be challenging that you may have not anticipated as being so?
In the first part of the project I was focusing on photography. I was documenting all the national and natural parks of the country in order to have a photography collection that helps promote these areas better than before. I created a photography album as well, the only one in Romania that includes almost all the country’s natural beauty. Later, the idea of a big documentary film appeared, one that was never done before.
At first, the most complicated part was to find the right story. I had no experience in filmmaking so I needed to learn a lot. But it has been a very creative process. Another challenge was to extend the team and to work with some professional sound designers and musicians to create the emotions and the mood of our stories. We had many challenges because everything was new for us. And we were just a small team, Cosmin Dumitrache was the filmmaker, and I was the one to write the story. The editing was also done together as well as the entire production. We have been lucky too. We managed to capture on camera some animal behavior that was never seen before in a documentary movie made in Romania. Even if it is not easy to film nature here, it was also a lot of fun and we had a good time during the entire production.
As a filmmaker, what was your intention with the narrative? Did you draw inspiration from other films or documentaries? How did you find the filmmaking process to differ from your experience as a nature photographer?
I always liked to tell stories. Even though I was used to the ones in the photographs, I think movies are a better tool for that. You are not stuck only on visuals, you can also use sound, music, voice to share your vision. The whole film is composed of small stories about animals or landscapes, which are combined together in a narrative that tells an even bigger story in the end. One about the diversity and natural richness of our country. My challenge was to link all the narrative to feel like you are on a journey. I wanted to unfold the scenes, the comedy, the drama, like you are on a self-discovery. Actually, I wanted to give the audience the feeling that I had when I was seeing everything with my own eyes.
As a photographer I was seeing nature as a self-contained story, framed in a single landscape or animal portrait, but as a filmmaker you have more ways to tell your story and you can sometimes do a better job. Still I kept the photography style of composing and framing the scene, in order to give the film the visual harmony that I was always searching for in my photographs.
I wanted to unfold the scenes, the comedy, the drama, like you are on a self-discovery.
Did you encounter any situation where climate change was evident in Romania’s nature? If so, what sort of form did this take?
You can feel it actually in the changing of the seasons. During my childhood, the starting moment of each season was almost exact. Now it is not the same. The winter is coming later in the year, and the spring and autumn are sometimes shorter. You can also see it in the appearance of some species. More and more birds from the warmer areas are coming to the south of Romania, and the jackals manage to colonize the whole country not only the south like it was before. I am not an expert on this, but I’m pretty sure there are also some other effects that are not so visible, especially in the unpredictable weather.
Aside from climate change, nature is also threatened by business and industry, like illegal logging for example (something that is a problem throughout the country). What sort of message do you have for organizations who are complicit in such nature/resource destructive activities? What sort of measure do you think can counteract these destructive practices?
I think it is more important to address a message to the people listening only to the voices saying that all nature in Romania is destroyed. This is very dangerous, because if people are losing hope and think that there is nothing left to fight for, they will become very passive. That’s what the logging industry, the hunters and all the others that see nature only as a resource want. They do not want optimistic and informed people. So, I would recommend that everyone should try to better filter the news that they read and to listen more to the good NGO’s. I say good ones because some of them are spreading hate and fake news also.
For sure there are measures to counteract the problems, some of the colleagues from the NGO’s are working on that, but because I’m not a specialist here, I think that also a good method is to have more educated and informed people. And more optimistic ones as well. You can fight a lot of things with this kind of people, the ones believing that not everything is lost.
I would recommend that everyone should try to better filter the news that they read and to listen more to the good NGO’s.
What are some of your favorite nature documentaries?
A lot of my inspiration is coming from the BBC documentaries and David Attenborough’s work over the years. Also, I think that the streaming platforms like Netflix are doing a good job with the new series that they produce. Is not enough to have a good movie and a good message, it is also important to have a big good audience to hear your story.
What were your favorite places to visit to produce this film?
For this project we’ve spent more than 450 days in the field so we had the pleasure to see all the important natural areas of Romania. Sometimes it is impossible to pick favorites. But I will try. I mentioned before the Danube Delta, it is truly a wonder and I love working there. I also like the Fagaras Mountains, the biggest in the country, where I was working a lot in the recent years for the film, but also for a conservation photography project. Piatra Craiului National Park is great, Domogled – Cerna Valley or Apuseni Mountains are places that I visit every time with the same pleasure. But sometimes it is not about a particular place, it’s about being surrounded by nature. That’s the real pleasure for me.
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