Norway, USA

Synopsis

Where his prior film, the acclaimed epic AQUARELA, was a reminder of the fragility of human tenure on earth, in GUNDA, master filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky reminds us that we share our planet with billions of other animals. Through encounters with a mother sow (the eponymous Gunda), two ingenious cows, and a scene-stealing, one-legged chicken, Kossakovsky movingly recalibrates our moral universe, reminding us of the inherent value of life and the mystery of all animal consciousness, including our own.

Directors Statement

Growing up I was very much a city kid, but at the age of four I spent a few months in a village in the countryside, where I met my best friend Vasya. He was much younger than me – just a few weeks old when we met – but over time he became my dearest friend and the times we spent together are some of the most cherished memories from my childhood.
One day, when we were still young, Vasya was killed and served as pork cutlets for a New Year’s Eve dinner. I was devastated and immediately became (probably) the first vegetarian kid in the Soviet Union.
As a consequence, since I became a filmmaker I have always wanted to make a film about the creatures with whom we share the earth, a film about animals as living, feeling beings in their own right. I wanted to make a film without patronising or humanising them, without any sentimentality, and without vegan propaganda. However, as the film I had in mind is not about dolphins, elephants, pandas or other cute animals we love to love, it was impossible to finance. I tried for almost three decades until I finally met Norwegian producer Anita Rehoff Larsen from Sant & Usant who took the risk on making it.
We were unbelievably lucky to meet Gunda in the Norwegian countryside on the very first day of our research trip. Gunda is on the screen for over half of the runtime of the final film and is an extraordinarily powerful character – you do not need an interpreter to understand her emotions and experiences. As such I decided to make this film without any captions, voice-over, or music, you just need to watch it and allow yourself to feel. For me, the essence of cinema is showing, not telling. I do not make films if I want to tell an audience something I have no interest in prescribing an opinion. I make films if there is something I want people to see and to allow them to find their own conclusion.
Documentary cinema is a great tool to show the realities of the world, to show things that we do not see by ourselves, that we do not want to see, or that we have collectively agreed that we do not see, and so we allow ourselves not to think about. With GUNDA I want people to see these animals as sentient beings and to encourage them to think about the possibility of their consciousness and selfhood. With that I feel that GUNDA is the most personal and important film I have made as a filmmaker and as a human being.

Director's Biography

Victor Kossakovsky was born in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad at the time) on 19 July 1961. An innovative documentary filmmaker, his films have been honored with more than 100 awards in national and international festivals. His distinctive filmography spans many different subjects but always explores the interplay of reality and poetic moments.
He began his career in motion pictures at the Leningrad Studio of Documentaries as assistant cameraman, assistant director and editor in 1978. He studied screenwriting and directing at Moscow HCSF from 1986-1988. In 1989 he directed his first feature LOSEV and then in 1992 made his name with international critics and audiences with his documentary THE BELOVS, which won both the VPRO Joris Ivens Award and the Audience Award at IDFA and dozens of other awards at international festivals around the world. In 2011, Kossakovsky’s ¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS! was selected as the opening film of the Venice Film Festival. AQUARELA, his technologically groundbreaking and globe-spanning documentary on the shapes of water also premiered in Venice in 2018 before being shortlisted for the Oscar for Best Documentary, among other honors.
In many of his films Kossakovsky has served simultaneously as director, editor, cinematographer and writer. Currently based in Berlin, he continues to serve as a teacher and mentor to aspiring filmmakers and documentarians globally.

FILMOGRAPHY:
2018 AQUARELA, doc.
2016 GRAINE DE CHAMPION, doc.
2014 DEMONSTRATION, doc.
2012 DISPLAIR, doc.
2011 ¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS!, doc.
2005 SVYATO, doc.
2003 RUSSIA FROM MY WINDOW, doc.
2003 HUSH!, doc.
2001 I LOVED YOU, doc.
1999 PAVEL I LYALYA, doc. short
1997 SREDA, doc.
1992 THE BELOVS, doc.
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Cast & Crew

Directed by: Victor Kossakovsky

Written by: Victor Kossakovsky

Produced by: Joslyn Barnes, Anita Rehoff Larsen

Cinematography: Egil Haskjold Larsen

Editing: Victor Kossakovsky

Sound: Alexandr Dudarev

Nominations and Awards

  • European Documentary 2020