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Vancouver International Film Festival 2010 Interview – “Mammalian” director Frank Wolf

Mammalian - At VIFF 2010
by Jason Whyte

“Departing the arctic capital of Yellowknife with 40 days of food loaded into their canoe, Frank Wolf and Taku Hokoyama strike out on a 2,000 km journey through the largest wilderness area in North America. The region contains one of the highest concentrations of land mammals on earth and the pair encounter arctic wolves, the caribou migration, musk ox and- most importantly- make the first ever recording of a rare and elusive creature not previously thought to exist in northern Canada. With a sense of humour and purpose, they track down politicians, First Nation chiefs, elders and others living in the few communities that frame the wilderness in order to present a clear picture of the area and the issues that face the land and its people. Shot in 1080 HD with an innovative, fast paced shot mix, 'Mammalian' is a unique and engaging entry into outdoor documentary film.” Director Frank Wolf on “Mammalian” which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the VIFF? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend Vancouver for the screenings?

My film 'Borealis' premiered at VIFF in 2008.

Could you give me a little look into your background and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I've been shooting outdoor documentary film since 2003. I love exploring remote areas of the planet under my own power. For this project, I wanted to create a film that takes a ground-level look at the largest wilderness in North America and address the environmental issues affecting this “Serengetti of the North” from the perspective of its people. I wanted to immerse myself in this harsh environment to intimately bring the audience into this vast land of large mammals and spectacular wilderness, with a good dash of humour thrown in for entertainment.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”

“…scuba diver”. I think I was three when I came up with that one.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.

I saw this big blank space on my world map that I'd never been to and decided I needed to explore it. I researched the background and history, realized the excellent potential for a film and BOOM, I was off and running. It turned from concept into production reality in about 5 months.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production? What was your favourite moment of the process?

The biggest challenge was definitely shooting in the harsh northern environment while still undertaking a 2,000 km canoe trip. The logistics involved in moving forward, surviving and navigating while at the same time shaping an engaging documentary is a fully immersed process. There were so many moments but the best was paddling into Rankin Inlet on the NW corner of Hudson Bay with all the material I needed to put together a great film.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I am the cinematographer/director/producer/host of Mammalian so I wear a bunch of hats at once. I used lightweight HD camera equipment with a few lens choices, a tripod and magic arm to shoot in and out of the canoe. I shoot to tape because of its simplicity- no need to manage the media while I'm in the field. All the shots are first take as you can't for example run a rapid twice or corral a thousand caribou to trot by you again; you have to be reactive and aware of the moment in order to tick off the shot list required to make the film.

Talk a bit about the experiences that you have had with the film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

I've only screened it once to a test audience and people kept asking about the mysterious creature we discovered out there. I don't want to say what it is as it will spoil the surprise for the VIFF audience. Also a lot of questions about how I shoot all the third-person perspective stuff when I'm the only cinematographer.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

I'd say Werner Herzog- he likes to shoot simply in rough conditions- a very reactive filmmaker who utilizes happy accidents that happen in the course of a shoot to their maximum advantage.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

Anything in the outdoors that involves adventure.

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

Werner Herzog would be amazing- I'd be a gopher to be on set with him. Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd fame would be a fantastic film subject as well.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Very important. It's what gets the audience and broadcasters interested in checking out you film.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

Any theatre, anywhere.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

It's a real film, shot in the moment with lots of adventure, humour, and message. You will be entertained and educated about a part of the world few people get a glimpse into.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start, and especially for those with films in the festival circuit?

If you have a vision for a film, just get a camera and do it. A lot can be done with very little funding using today's modern filmmaking tools. As is said in the film "Field of Dreams", “If you build it, they will come.”

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

I think "Grizzly Man" by Werner Herzog- such a fascinating look into the mind of a man living the wildest life imaginable.

This is one of the official selections in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this year’s fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF ’10 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #viff10 is the official hashtag.

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 10/15/10 09:30:40
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