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Alessandro D’Emilia intervista

by Denis Piccolo

Alessandro realizes documentaries following many expeditions and extreme sports projects, as well as environmental and social issues. His “Dusk Chorus Documentary”, an award winning film about the theme of biodiversity in the most remote parts of the rainforest on earth, won in both scientific, environmental and social fields categories at prestigious international film festivals.
In May 2018, while filming and following Arjun Vajpai, the youngest mountaineer ever to climb some of the world’s eight thousanders, he reached the summit of the third highest mountain of the planet, the Kangchenjunga (8680m).
le categorie scientifiche, ambientali e sociali di prestigiosi film festival internazionali. Nel maggio del 2018, ha seguito e filmato il viaggio di Arjun Vajpai, il più giovane alpinista al mondo a scalare alcuni degli ottomila della terra, e raggiunto la cima della terza montagna più alta del pianeta, il Kangchenjunga (8680 m).

Tell me something about you.
I was born in Rome in 1988, but luckily I’ve spent my whole life in the Dolomites.
There I learned to live, to have fun and to practice outdoor sports such as skiing, climbing, slack lining and paragliding. Year after year I’ve developed an increasingly strong interest in the audiovisual sector, remaining fascinated by the mysteries of nature and unexplored places, as well as the contact with local populations. After graduating in Photography at Zelig Documentary School, I really focused all my energy on what I loved doing the most. Now I work all over the world as a director of photography and freelance drone pilot for documentaries that mainly follow expeditions and extreme sports projects, as well as environmental and social issues.
The first real moment I realized that the light, the mountain and our planet are truly unique was after walking on the first highlines in the Dolomites, back in 2010. Nothing until then excited me so much. Sleeping on top of the mountains and then walking on a line wide a little more than my toe into the void gave me indelible emotions and made me understand how lucky we are. Being suspended up there made me think a lot and it gave me sunsets and sunrises that will always remain in my heart. And it helped me to turn fear into respect.

Tell me about the most important outdoor projects you’ve done so far.
In recent years I have been to the extremes: from 40° with 99% humidity in the Amazon, to -35° at 8600 meters high in the Himalayas. I have just begun to learn about those little less crowded places on the planet.
It is hard to say which were the most important projects. All of them are unique and have their own history. I will certainly never forget the thrills of flying with Aaron Durogati at 6300m in tandem, paragliding, in India in the wild Spiti valley.
But if I have to also talk about projects with an ethical and social value and not just sports performance, there is no doubt that the “outdoor” project that fascinates me the most is “Fragments of Extinction” by the artist and eco-composer David Monacchi. I stayed with him in the Amazon in 2016 for a month and a half trying to record 24-hour circadian cycles with high definition 3D microphones. And honestly, I couldn’t think of a work where I had to put my courage and my skills to the test more. If in the dark night, still and motionless to listen and record the sounds of the most remote and pristine ecosystems, that was sometimes terrifying as we were trying not to run into some close encounter with snakes or creatures unknown to me or climbing Mount Kanchejunga.
Besides the fact that “Dusk Chorus documentary”, which partly takes up the project of Monacchi on the subject of acoustic biodiversity of ecosystems in danger of extinction, has become an award-winning film, both in scientific, environmental and social fields in prestigious international film festivals, and therefore also a great job satisfaction.

Have you ever felt an emotion so strong in front of something that you could not frame it?
Oh yes, and I’m very happy when it happens. Especially when I wish that and let it happen, when I’m alone, when I go to the mountains without having a specific reason. Just to train. To fly. Just to enjoy it. Often, there are situations where I would like to have a camera with me but at the same time I realize that those moments are so beautiful precisely because they will remain impressed only in my memory and lived in the present.
Taking photos and filming has taught me to shoot with my heart. To think that I have been waiting all my life for that precise moment that can last 1/4000 of a second and that cannot escape me because it is unrepeatable. I try to always carry with me all those past and not immortalized emotions and situations, that makes them maybe even more special.

Why did you decide to follow and film Arjun Vajpai’s expedition?
In 2017 I followed Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger’s expedition, once again on the Kanchenjunga, there I had the pleasure to meet Arjun at the base camp. A boy even younger than me who was there but that, unlike me that I had never been above 4000 m before, had already climbed other mountains like Everest, Manaslu, Choyu. He knew all the high altitude mountaineers as a child knows the names of the soccer players.
He had a contagious enthusiasm.
We slowly got to know each others, and we immediately understood that we would do something together. It was truly an incredible fortune to understand each others so fast, we were so young among the giants of the earth.
He is a mentor in India and the youngest boy today to have climbed 6 of the 14 eight thousanders at the age of 24, so he hired me for the shootings that would have served to complete the Vice documentary supported by Mountain Dew about his life up to date. I obviously accepted immediately.

What were the highs and lows that you experienced?
If I have to remember the most difficult moment, it was when my camera stopped working right in front of the most beautiful sunrise at 8500 meters high, just 280m before the summit. My hands were almost frozen, but it was one of the most amazing moments of my life, I felt smaller than a mosquito. Completely vulnerable. Helpless. Slowly, I thought about finding a solution no matter what, and luckily I did. I put my camera in my suit, in contact with the skin, and that helped to warm it up a bit. But that also created a lot of condensation which went directly onto the sensor.
I did not have much left to do, I removed the lens, using my frozen fingers and nails, and scratched away the thin layer of ice that had formed on the sensor, finally I tried to put it back on. I was about to cry when the camera turned on again in REC.

What is the relationship between the filmer (or photographer) and the mountaineer you are following?
Each time it’s different. But one thing remains unchanged. It is not about just going to film or take pictures. When you’re up there, attached to the same rope or climbing together for the same peak it’s not just work of course. There is trust, which is the first step to reach together. First you reach it and first you start to get good results in terms of images. For me it is fundamental, even more than taking good shots. I must be able to trust, and the same is even more true for the athlete. This is not obvious. Then there is the greatest satisfaction that allows you to think together about future projects, believe in those projects, to be able to tell them in the best way possible.

As an environmentalist, what message do you want to give to climbers and photographers who visit the mountains?
Being in the Amazon to film and record the sounds of endangered ecosystems for the “Fragments of Extinction” project made me more conscious about how lucky I am to do what I like most as a professional job. But that is also a great responsibility.
The art of photography and filming is able to change society and people lifestyles. Never forget how lucky you are to visit and climb on those sacred places. They are unique, and of a fairytale beauty. Even a small simple action like cleaning up the base camp from the cigarettes thrown away by others, or any other small gesture, can be a very important example and a way of helping those places to go back being cleaner as they were before men came. This is a great paradox, which made me suffer so much. There are many “mountain enthusiasts” hunting for eight thousanders that do not have the least bit of respect for those places. This hurts first ourselves but then also other people who will go after. But above all, it is a real harm to our planet and to those giant mountains that we like to imagine as always shining and immaculate, clean as when a snowfall erases all traces. Always there, still and imposing to observe what happens to our beloved planet.
We should think about it more often, every single moment.

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