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 follows two 16-year-old environmentalists, Bella Lack and Vipulan Puvaneswaran, who travel the world and meet experts such as Jane Goodall.
Five core causes of mass extinction are shown: habitat loss, 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 has been sold to Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Poland and Portugal, is in discussions with Italy and Germany and negotiations are underway with the U.S. and U.K.
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.
Variety spoke to Cyril Dion.
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. For this new film I wanted to focus on the threat of mass extinction, which is largely ignored compared to climate change. In 2018 I started working with teenagers involved in climate strikes and I was amazed by their maturity and their bleak view of the future. It was heartbreaking to see they imagined that the future would be an apocalypse (and they have good reasons for believing so). I talked with Jane Goodall and decided to take a teenage boy and girl on a journey where they would learn more about what is being done around the world to reverse mass extinction. I wanted to confront them with different realities. I wanted to show them that there can be a brighter future. It was a transformative journey.
How did the two teenage protagonists impact your filming process?
I chose young activists, who already knew something about these issues and have a critical viewpoint. I wanted them to experience everything directly and see their emotion on screen. I also wanted to confront their activist strategy. During post-production I also got their feedback, based on the journals I asked them to write during the trip. Their actions during the shoot were crucial. For example, while filming in the European Parliament, Vipulan wanted to challenge one of the advisers of the European deputies, about double standards and hidden agendas. We followed them as they advanced through the building posing these difficult questions. Their spontaneity and sense of daring played a key role in the film.
The protagonists also leverage great empathy with the animals.
Absolutely. I wanted to make a film about our relationship with the living world, as seen through their eyes. They forged a strong friendship with each other and a strong relationship with the animals and the people. For example, they are both vegans and at first they more or less assumed that anyone working in the meat industry would be essentially bad. But they gained a more complex vision when they spoke to someone working in a rabbit factory farm, who is also a victim of the system, and with a mountain farmer who cried about the fact that his cattle are slaughtered. A key inspiration for this project was the work of French philosopher Baptiste Morizot, who says that the key problem is one of sensibility. We are no longer experiencing all the pain and anger that we should feel as we destroy the animal world. 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 a film seen through the eyes of young people.
What is your next documentary project?
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. The pandemic made people much more aware that if we continue destroying the natural world, we will live in a permanent state of pandemic. We need to think about sharing the world with animals. It’s a question of survival.
As an environmental activist, how can films change the debate?
If we want to move forward we need three key things to make society change: We need new narratives, a bit like how Martin Luther King expressed his dream of a different world; we need a new alignment of forces with greater action in the streets, in the courts, in the economic field; and we need the right historical circumstances. All key struggles in the past have been based on these factors.
What is your first fiction project about?
Fiction can play a key role in forging new narratives and help people imagine what the future could look like. 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 starts in the present-day and imagines what could happen in the future. We are writing the script now and are looking for initial 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.