• GNCR Award  
  • International Competition


After Hunters since the beginning of time (FID 2008), Carlos Casas confirms his attraction to the edges of the world, and his distaste for contemporary crowds and their bustle. He prefers to film the eye of an elephant, or its skin, with its shades of grey and green matching the bark of the huge rainforest trees, or
the gestures of its mahout preparing for the last trip that will take them, along with the audience, to the most secret and fantasized-about place: the elephant graveyard. The secret of his access is simple: he becomes an elephant, and gives the film the same slowness and impassibility. A miracle of slowness: that
 of the elephant shaking off the poachers in its pursuit, that of the camera moves watching them die, one by one, in the thickness of a nature that is too big for them. Casas invents the slow-motion adventure film by carrying out a fascinating ecological conversion: nature is not the background of human action any more, but rather a sensitive and thinking entity, whose perceptions and affects cinema tries to convey, through the invention of an original visual and sound matter. The radio announces that an earthquake is laying waste to Asia, killing millions of people? The film, just like the monkey, the trees or the stones, pays no attention to it. Cemetery (FIDLab 2013) deploys its four movements like stages in an initiatory trip towards a non-human, cosmological understanding of space and time. The experience of the end of the world, of the extinction of species, becomes a ride up towards the light, towards a possible rebirth. Finding the elephant cemetery, plunging into darkness, to the limits of perception, means finding back the crib, the whiteness of beginnings. (C.N.)

Developed over a span of 6 years, Cemetery has the dimension of a timeless epic. Can you tell us about the journey that took you to the final version of the film?
Cemetery is a long research project that encompasses a wider research, on different fronts, the myth of the elephant graveyard, that took me to different locations around the world trying to understand and decipher the myth; the amazing sound and infrasound world of the elephant, and off course questioning the cinematic experience. The project has seen different reincarnations in work in progress presentations and installation modes with complex sound settings that would be unimaginable in cinema rooms or festival spaces. The version that premieres at FID is the theatrical release format and is adapted to the experience in the black room and festival context. For me, the humble destination of this journey was to invoke the powers of cinema to amaze and to propel our imagination and on its way foster new relations to nature and other species.

The narration is masterfully lead on by landscapes and lights. What was the importance of the locations and how did they influence the development of the script?
The location was a very complex decision for me and it took a long process of research until finding the actual origin of the myth. Once I undertood that Sri lanka was the origin of the myth in our western imaginary, it was a logical decision to go there and try to find the proper locations and also cast the elephant and mahout. Some of the actual locations carry a long tradition of early spirituality in the crossover of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. But there is also something very futuristic and an idea of the jungle and mountain as gates to unknown thresholds.

Nga and Sanra are filmed almost as monuments, with the camera patiently following their rituals. Can you tell us more about your approach to your main heroes?
I wanted to create the first part as a very observational and simple narration, to allow the spectator to lucubrate. After receiving the basic clues in the intro, the spectator was more of an observer, a part of the viewing luggage. He connects to the elephant through observation. I wanted also to present the elephant in a new way, nearly as an epidermic gaze, as we have never seen it in classic documentary films. For me it was important that the main heroes would be seen only in the first part, and then become subjective view, in the third part. In a way the spectator becomes the sudden hero of the film as he carries its burden, he becomes the Mahout, or the guardian of its own imagination of the place.

The film hosts a long scene by night shot with minimal light condition, can you tell us how you worked on this sequence?
I wanted the spectator to arrive at the graveyard in full darkness, guided only through sound, nearly in pitch black. I tried to work a kind of shadow theatre composed of images from the past and from the imagination and memory of the spectator. Those images are a mix of the subjective travelling visions of the elephant and the mahout as they merge until arriving at the graveyard, and later crossing the waterfall that symbolizes the perceptual gateway to darkness, to a new beginning, to a new earth back in the past or way off into the future.

The film pays tribute to adventures movies. What has been their importance during the writing stage?
The seed for the film, its inception, was watching Tarzan , the ape man when I was 7 years old. Watching that film and esspecially the moment where they get to the graveyard, must have left an incredible imprint in me, a seed that took nearly 35 years to grow. That is the power of great cinema, and I wanted to pay tribute to that. Cemetery is the tree that grew from that seed. While writing the script I devoured most of Lost world literature, classics like Tarzan, Lost world, King Kong, Jungle Book, Elephant boy, etc. Those books and films set the path to understand and find the grammar of the elephant graveyard myth, and also of second part with the poachers and the persecution, that pays homage to those films and their narratives, while also subverting them.

Cemetery arrives in your work after the END trilogy. Yet here, as in your previous film, an overwhelming and unknown nature is central. Can you comment on this aspect?
This film follows Avalanche and End Trilogy in my filmography yet if the backgrounds are as majestic as in my previous films, Cemetery is about myth and cinema at its core, discovering a nearly mythological dimension of landscape that I hadn’t previously explored. Cemetery is as fiction as myths can be.


Download the FID newspaper including the interview with the director

  • GNCR Award  
  • International Competition

Technical sheet

France, United-Kingdom, Poland, Uzbekistan / 2019 / Colour and B&W / 85'

Original version : sinhala, english. Subtitles : english. Script : Carlos Casas. Photography : Benjamin Echazarreta. Editor : Felipe Guerrero. Sound : Chris Watson, Tony Myatt, Marc Parazon.

Production : Spectre (Olivier Marboeuf), AMI (Elena Hill), ETNOGRAF (Krzysztof Dabrowsky), Map Productions (Saodat Ismailova).

Distribution : Map Productions.

Filmography : Cemetery, 2019. Avalanche, 2009-19 (on going project). End Trilogy, 2002-2009. Hunters since the Beginning of Time, 2008. Aral. Fishing in an Invisible Sea, 2004. Solitude at the End of the World, 2002-05. Rocinha, 2003. Afterwords, 2000