Documentary The Botanist has been extremely popular on this year’s Lift-Off festival circuit. We spoke to directors Maude Plante-Husaruk and Maxime Lacoste-Lebui to ask them some of our questions, and some of the questions we’ve heard people wondering after its screenings!
Interview by Claire Richardson
What first got you both into filmmaking?
Before we really started thinking about filmmaking, Maxime was passionate about music composition and I about photography. At 22 years old, eager to discover the world, we started to embrace life of travels, alternating between life discovery abroad and work back home (in Montréal).
At some point, something shifted and suddenly, this wasn’t enough anymore. We started getting more interested and involved in the communities we encountered abroad, documenting it in photography, music and film. As a team of two, we work together quite well, Max taking care of the sound effect/music and I, the camera and the editing process.
How did you find the subject of your film, Raïmberdi, with such an interesting story? How did you approach him?
We first heard about Raïmberdi’s story through a short French TV program about Central Asia, in which Raïmberdi had been interviewed for. He was only very briefly on screen but we immediately thought he was a very interesting man and that there was definitely more to his story. We were planning a trip to Central Asia and Iran that year anyway, so as soon as we arrived in Tajikistan, we started inquiring about the old Kyrgyz man who had built his own hydroelectric power station. Eventually, we got lucky and met a German researcher who knew him and he pointed us in the right direction. His village was 2 full days of driving away from us at that moment and we didn’t know if we would have enough time left on our visa, if he was going to be home at that time or even how to reach him, but we decided to do the trip anyways. We felt it was worth trying!
Some locals were able to get in touch with Raïmberdi and let him know that we were interested in doing a documentary about him (all this through a translator that was based in Kyrgyzstan). He seemed enthusiastic and even offered us to stay at his home, which we did the whole time we were filming. Raïmberdi has a wisdom that seems to go beyond the boundaries of his own education, age and culture. He is one of a kind and that’s what inspired us to make the film in the first place!
Were there any obstacles to overcome when filming The Botanist?
Obviously transport is an issue when trying to get to such an isolated location. There are very few means to get around in the Pamir and hiring a private driver can be expensive. Moving from one place to the next takes time because roads are not developed and the terrain is difficult. The language barrier was definitely also a challenge. Our interpreter only had a very basic understanding of English. Knowing this, we had made sure to write our questions in advance and had them translated by an English teacher in Murghab before going to Shaymak. Of course, there are other ways than words you can communicate. We’re all human beings and share other ways of understanding each other, such as sign language, laughs, smiles, voice intonations. However, since our translator had not been able to translate Raïmberdi’s answers very well on the spot, we definitely had a few interesting surprises when we had the interview translated afterwards – more than 6 months later… Thankfully, they were mostly very good surprises!
Has Raïmberdi seen the film?
We went back to Tajikistan last summer to show him the film. Two years had passed since we had first met him and he had inspired us with his ingenuity, sense of humour, curiosity and sensibility, and so it was truly touching to see him again after all this time. When we noticed the tears in his eyes as he was watching the story of his life unfold before him, we knew our mission was accomplished!
The Botanist has been so popular with many of our audiences, and has screened at several of our festivals. How have you personally found your experience with Lift-Off?
So, we were unfortunately never able to attend the Lift-Off screenings, but what we can say is that we were absolutely impressed by the organisers determination and will to be at the filmmakers’ service and help us, with many infos and tips, to broaden our career perspectives in the film industry. They are truly devoted to bringing the indie filmmaker’s projects to broader audiences. Our film has been running in 4 festivals now and we still can’t believe it!
What’s in your future as a filmmaker? Are you currently working on anything?
We are definitely pursuing this path as filmmakers and more projects are to come. Let’s see what the future has in store for us!
The Botanist is screening with Lift-Off again in Vancouver, on Monday 7th August, 6:15pm at Vancity Theatre.
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