Vadlovak – Török Zoltánnal forgattam

Good Morning Good Morning! 80,000 cranes are staying overnight on this lake now. We didn’t really come here for them, but to try to film a fox, rumour has it that it comes out to the cranes. Nature filmmakers need luck in addition to patience. For a good moment you have to be in the right place at the right time and wait in humility. This is the wild and legendary Hortobágy, the world-famous vast wilderness the „Puszta” of Hungary, the muse of poets and writers… We had no luck. The fox would not show up, but we were compensated by the beautiful sunrise and the sound of the cranes. This is the wild and wonderful Hortobágy and I came to see how the newest film of Zoltán Török is made about the wild horses who once got really close to extinction. The wild horses were named after a Russian explorer, called Nikolai Prsewalski. This species is the closest ancestor of modern time domestic horses, the only surviving wild horse to date. The zebra-sized wild horses, smaller than the domestic ones, were once widespread throughout Inner Asia, but completely disappeared due to hunting and the shrinkage of their habitat. Only few specimens were left in zoos, therefore a breeding programme had been launched to save the species. The first few Prsewalski wildhorse arrived at the Hortobágy 22 years ago, and today they amount to 300 and there’s 1900 of them all over the world. Autonomous and freedom-loving animals, they don’t need anyone. Their human-like behaviour makes them very interesting, that is why Zoltán and his team shoot a film about them. The film follows the life of a wild foal, called Csepke, from birth to growing up. Dramas in the herd, surrounding wildlife, and the changes of the Puszta from season to season are made visible through his eyes. The crew has been shooting for 240 days, of course not continuously. The total shooting lasts 3 years and will soon be reaching its end, so I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek and spend 4 days with them in the Hortobágy. The wild horses live in an enclosed area called Pentezug. Man does not interfere in their lives, they are not even fed. In the afternoon we visited the place they go drinking and bathing. Zoltán told that they had been waiting for weeks to capture young foals carefree playing and swimming in the water. The Finnish cinematographer, Jan Henriksson is a real expert in identifying animal traces. Apart from the cranes, otters, foxes, reconstructed aurochs who live in the largest numbers in the world here, also turn up at the drinking area, which is fed by the waters of Hortobágy River. Janne concluded that we have nothing to look for today, so we set off for another location. We went to the Elep-pond, where there is a camera stake out to film cranes and predatory mammals. It is Janne’s job to spend days for a good shot. We installed a chimney on the mobile stake out, not for heating, but for driving human odor away. Sometimes the animals are pretty close. A bit of a DIY solution, as you said, but it works. I was watching from the stake out how the director and the cinematographer chose the right angle. They have been waiting for a long time for a fox to emerge. Maybe this will be the very place. Jan said he loved waiting for good shots in this little box. As he closes the door, times slows down, the rushing world stops, focus is placed on nature only. Seriously, he won’t come out until the morning? There was a time when we collected him after a week. No kidding. Except, that it was minus 20 degrees Celsius then. Jan was left behind and we headed to the other side of the lake to find the camera trap. It is an automatic device that starts recording with the help of a motion sensor. This way it is possible to record such a careful animal as an otter. Placing a natural bait in front of the camera has a better chance of success, so the guys collected some shells that otters love. After landscaping and setting up, the camera is ready to shoot, only to find the sun going down. We started off in the dark and finished in the dark with absolutely no valuable footage made for the film. In the morning we are travelling again in Beatle, the minibus, the 20-year-old reliable companion of the crew. We went to a rosehip bush in the middle of nowhere. That single one in the middle of the prarie? That single one, yeeeess. Looks good. As Csepke grows, the seasons change. The rosehip bush illustrates the passing of time. A lot of small details have to work out to make it look nice in the film. The clouds have to move in the same direction and the shadows have to fall in that direction, too. And then how would you know that the clouds are going in the same direction as last year? I come out in the morning and start the day looking up. And if it doesn’t go in the same direction, is there no shooting? Then, there is not. Well, once we happened to wait 2 weeks for the clouds to go in right direction. Jan was already waiting for us; we were waiting to find out if he managed to film the fox. I was curious about what he had seen, but unfortunately he didn’t have good news: the fox did not appear today either, but at least he could enjoy a few thousand cranes. The crew discussed what they would change next time, and then we set off for Pentezug again. We were just heading to the wild horse reserve, when we took a halt because of an unusual sight. Zoltán and the crew have been trying to film a fox from the stake out for many days now, when all of a sudden another one appeared in front us. The little fox did not bother itself, was hunting for a vole in the middle of the prairie. We have been waiting for a very long time to catch a fox on camera The whole lot of organisation was just for this, you know. Now we come out and….that’s the craze in this business. A film crew must be able to respond to such spontaneous situations immediately. We have to take out the cameras and wait patiently. We were about to got to the horses, but there’s a suddent change of plans. Sorry Dimitry! After the hunt the little fox took a nap in the grass at the foot of the bush to take cover, so I asked Zoltán if it could somehow be lured out of there. Zoltán said it could, but that’s not their style. We will wait. We’ve been here for an hour and the fox seems to be busy hunting, ignoring us, so we’re trying to get closer to it. Keeping low profile, if you can go unnoticed in a minibus in the prairie at all. The little fox came out and went hunting again. This time it was so brave that it slipped past us. So, after more than two hours of waiting the crew made great footage of it, which only means a few seconds of appearance in the final movie. So much sweat for a few frames. A little late, but just in time we arrived at Pentezug, the wild horse reserve. We were not alone in the otherwised separated and closed territory. Viola Kerekes and Katalin Ozogány conservation engineers were observing the wild horses. Viola has been researching and documenting Przewalski horses for 15 years. The herd grows every year, and foals are named starting with the same letter every year, so it reveals their age immediately. How can you recognize them? I heard you mention their names. One was called Sour Cream, wasn’t it? No, it was Yoghurt, Yoghurt? (laughter). Both dairy products. There are three identification methods. There is an individual identification through a photo catalogue. We have a list, where all horses are grouped and we have a genetic database. If we are still not sure, we can take the sample again and the lab can confirm if what we think is right or not. In fact, we recognize the horses with a combination of the three methods. I’ll try to find Menta. She is part of the group we are shooting. We picked a pretty intact group with the help of Viola and followed them along and now we are trying to find them and check what the team and our protagonist look like now. And will we find them? Well, it did happen that we could not (laughter). As the sun went down, the moon came up. The time stopped a bit, the scenery was so calm. Nature filmmaking means getting up early. There’s no time for a morning coffee, you have to get to the field in time. Good morning!, Hello-hello. Golden hour is the name of the period when the sun is low above the horizon and paints the sky reddish. This is the favourite time of filmmakers and photographers Access to drones gives filmmakers a new perspective. They are environmental and animal friendly compared to helicopters, and due to their small sizes they do not disturb most of the animals. After sunrise we ventured closer to the wild stud where I could test the crew’s parabola microphone. Nature and wildlife sound bring life to the film, and this is the required device. Well, that’s brilliant! Zoltán suggested sitting down in the grass, because the curious horses would come closer. I could not wait to ask why he was shooting a film about wild horses. I have been planning a nature film for a long time that is not traditional, but has a recognizable character or even a few. A hairy animal, that’s very important. Their behaviour and social relationships can be considered that of a human. Wild horses know friendship, hatred, revenge, care, loyalty, love and even jealousy. A newborn foal’s mother is assisted by a confidante, an aunt in rearing. The stallion has a harem with more females. And the stallions left without mares are a group of bachelors who are always fighting to get the mare. Do you actually say that they live like people? Polygamous people, let’s put it that way (laughter) because a stallion has more mares…. Everything revolves around women here too. (laughter). The film is not only about the wild horses, but also about the animals that live around the them in the Hortobágy. It shows this wonderful world through the eyes of these horses where man is not present to interfere wildlife. The horses rarely come this close. It seems Dimitry lured them here, we’ll bring him to the next shooting as well to get them closer again. I thought I would take out my phone from my pocket to see how close they were in selfie mode…… so much attention….. You failed this selfie… After getting up early, this day was about relaxation. Not only for us, but for the horses as well. Late in the afternoon, Zoltan said with a smile on his face, that he would have a surprise for me. They took me to the edge of the lake and said: Try what you want so much. Go and experience true freedom. So I was dropped off… Jan is off tonight, so I can try the stake out, sleep in it and find out what it is like to spend the night with 30-40 thousand cranes. It’s like I was on another planet…. in the surreal sunset 40 000 cranes were taking their position…. I’m gonna spend the night here. I had to block out the lights, if it is not darkened, the cranes would notice the light and it would disturb them. It’s an extremely narrow stake out, about 130 cm wide, 160 cm tall, 220 cm long, just enough to fit in a bed. This is my dinner. There’s no fridge, no TV, no internet, nothing. There’s no one around. I have a phone for emergency and I can call Zoltan and they would come to rescue me. I brought a litre of water, not much, but I’m not gonna drink a lot from it anyway, as I don’t want to go out and I can’t really go out. I have a glass jar, just in case… There is not much to do hiding in a stake out. One just listens, immersing in thoughts, and because of the infiltrating crane sounds, it feels like being in a relaxation box. I was locked in, still I felt great freedom. Good Night! I managed to get up in time, the cranes have just started to fly off the lake, thousands of cranes, all at once. Amazing… The cranes travel nearly 5000 kilometres during their migration. Each year, more than 100 000 cranes rest in the Hortobágy and continue to fly to North Africa at the end of November. Wild horses spend the winter in the prairie under the open sky. Their winter coat protects them from the cold, and their winter hooves make it easier to scrape food out of the snow, as people do not feed them in the winter either. During my four-day visit I really got to like these special ungulates. In the wild horse reserve I felt a bit like being in a different world, in a fairy tale. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Zoltán’s forthcoming film is titled – Wild Horses – A Tale of Hortobágy. The film will hit the cinemas at the end of 2020; can’t wait to see it. Making a nature film is full of challenges, spontaneous situations and a lot of being on stand-by. I have learned a lot of things from Zoltán and the crew during these few days, but most importantly humbleness before nature. And I picked up a few words in Finnish. So thank you very much for the opportunity. We are happy, were happy. Thanks that I could learn. It was nice meeting you. Thank you and goodbye (Finnish language) Film by Ljasuk Dimitry. Participants: Director of the Wild Horses nature film: Zoltán Török Cinematographer: Jann Henrikson Conservation Engineers: Viola Kerekes Research fellow: Katalin Ozogány Wild horse foal: Csepke Wild horse mother: Menta (Mint) Wild horse father: Leander Fox: Vuk (pronounciation: Vook) Cranes: 70% finnish, the rest was russian, lithuanian, estonian and polish. Thanks to the Hortobágy National Park for the shooting permission on these protected areas. Zoltán Török’s film Wild Horses – A Tale of the Hortobágy is sponsored by the Hungarian National Film Fund and is produced in international co-operation.

Michael Martin

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