Here’s our interview with Guillaume Maidatchevsky, director of Ailo’s Journey, a wildlife tale of a young reindeer traversing the beautiful and challenging Arctic in Finnish Lapland.
Ailo’s Journey tells the tale of a young wild reindeer in Lapland, his encounters with other curious and captivating denizens of the forest, his adventures with predators and the journey he completes over the course of his first year of life. Written and directed by Guillaume Maidatchevsky, the film hits theaters across the globe in 2019.
Guillaume has a scientific background in biology, and a string of successful documentaries in his repertoire, including Wild Farming (2015) and Baboons: the Fate of a King (2015). But once he started thinking about filming wild reindeer, a different film began to build itself in his mind. Not content simply to film another wildlife documentary, he began to craft a wildlife narrative, a story that could capture the heart of a wider audience, the way only stories can.
“I wanted to touch more people, and for me, making a fiction tale is a way to reach a wider audience. And as long as everything is credible, the same way it would be without the camera, that was my main concern. We are telling a tale, but everything has to be credible.”
With his experience as a wildlife documentarian, he came to Finnish Lapland to work with other experienced nature filmmakers like producer Marko Röhr and award-winning cinematographer Teemo Liakka. But even with their experience, the wild personalities of the animals filmed in Ailo’s Journey still surprised and delighted them.
“When I saw the wolverine and stoat in action, I realized how great their characters were. The wolverine, for example, really played in the snow the way he does in the film. I didn’t have to ‘direct’ or train him to do that. After we captured that moment, I grabbed the card from the camera and put it in my pocket. That was a keeper—a real treasure. And I loved the stoat. When we tried filming him, of course, we wanted to follow him. But he moved around so fast and crazy, we were constantly out of focus. Finally, I just told Teemu to just fix the camera to the ground and let the little guy go wild.”
Fall in Love
As much as Guillaume enjoyed the fearsome wolverine and the wacky stoat, his heart still belongs to the titular star of the film and his wild brothers and sisters.
“I still think about Ailo all the time, because he was really special compared to the other reindeer we worked with. He always wanted to play, for example. Other directors, they have to cast their movies. But Ailo cast himself! He came up to me and began smelling me. He was so curious, we knew he was Ailo immediately.”
There was a moment of hesitation about reindeer early in the production of Ailo’s Journey when Guillaume first came to Lapland.
“I was in a taxi, and we talked. I explained why I was in Finland, and the taxi driver said to me, ‘Oh, no. Why? Reindeer are stupid animals.’ And I started to wonder if I’d made a horrible mistake. But this film is like my answer to that taxi driver. Reindeer are not stupid animals at all. You cannot generalize like that.”
Guillaume’s love for animals began with his studies of biology and for the last decade have filtered through his portrayals of wildlife and their situations around the world. With Ailo, he hopes to bring the wonder and the frailty of the wild reindeer like Ailo to the widest possible audience.
“Even though Ailo is semi-wild, this film is about real wild mountain reindeer—and how to protect the few that remain. I was not interested in moralizing—that’s not the best way to protect wildlife. My way is to amaze the audience first, if you see the film and fall in love with the wild animals then you start to think about how you can protect them.”