Animal associations

Environmental filmmaker Cyril Dion on “Animal”, his first fiction project

Filmmaker and environmental activist Cyril Dion is planning a documentary sequel to his documentary “Animal” selected at Cannes as well as his first fiction feature, 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 on the planet. The film has accumulated more than a million admissions in France and won the 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 at Cannes.

It follows two 16-year-old environmentalists, Bella Lack and Vipulan Puvaneswaran, who travel the world and meet experts like Jane Goodall.

Five main causes of mass extinction are presented: habitat loss, overexploitation of species, climate change, pollution and invasive species.

The photo 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 past 50 years.

It has been sold to Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Poland and Portugal, is in discussion with Italy and Germany, and negotiations are underway with the United States and the United Kingdom.

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

Variety talked to Cyril Dion.

What were your main goals for “Animal”?
When I finished “Tomorrow” with Mélanie Laurent in 2015, it received a very positive response because it was very solution-oriented, very different from most environmental documentaries of the time, which tended to be depressing and dark. 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 was amazed by their maturity and bleak vision for the future. It was heartbreaking to see that they imagined the future to be an apocalypse (and they have good reason to believe so). I spoke with Jane Goodall and decided to take a teenager and a girl on a journey where they would learn more about what is being done in the world to reverse the mass extinction. I wanted to confront them with different realities. I wanted to show them that there can be a better future. It was a transformative journey.

How did the two teenage protagonists influence your filming process?
I chose young activists, already knowing a little about these issues and having a critical eye. I wanted them to experience everything directly and see their emotion on screen. I also wanted to confront myself with their militant strategy. During post-production, I also got their feedback, based on the diaries I asked them to write during the trip. Their actions during filming were crucial. For example, during a shoot in the European Parliament, Vipulan wanted to question one of the MEPs’ advisers on double standards and hidden agendas. We followed them as they walked through the building asking these tough questions. Their spontaneity and sense of audacity played a key role in the film.

The protagonists also show great empathy towards animals.
Absoutely. I wanted to make a film about our relationship to the living world, seen through his eyes. They have forged a strong friendship with each other and a strong relationship with animals and people. For example, they are both vegan and at first they more or less assumed that anyone working in the meat industry would be basically bad. But they gained a more complex view when they spoke to someone who worked on a rabbit farm, also a victim of the system, and to a mountain rancher who cried over the fact that his cattle were slaughtered. A key inspiration for this project was the work of French philosopher Baptiste Morizot, who says the key issue is one of sensibility. We no longer feel all the pain and anger that we should feel when destroying the animal world. This is a potential weakness of nature documentaries because they show beautiful shots, but never of how we’ll 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 preparing a follow-up documentary for “Animal”, which will be broadcast directly on television and streaming platforms. We have a lot of great images that we haven’t used. Places we’ve been to that we couldn’t use in the movie. Everything was shot before the pandemic and I would like to continue the project with the same two protagonists, mixing existing images with new material. The pandemic has made people much more aware that if we continue to destroy the natural world, we will live in a permanent state of pandemic. We must 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 elements to change society: we need new narratives, much like the way 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 of the key struggles of the past have been based on these factors.

What is your first fiction project about?
Fiction can play a key role in creating new stories and helping people imagine what the future might look like. I really liked what Adam McKay did with “Don’t Look Up”. It is impossible to create a great movement unless people can imagine a different world. My fiction project is based on the novel “Le Grand Vertige” by Pierre Ducrozet, about a man who finally launches a huge European Union project to stop climate change, but, of course, nothing will work like foreseen. It starts in the present and imagines what might happen in the future. We are in the process of writing the screenplay and are looking for initial partners. It is important to find partners consistent with what we do. Later, we look for bigger partners, like in the case of “Animal” where UGC and Orange were great. They gave us creative freedom.