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BERLINALE 2024 Forum

Anna Cornudella • Director of The Human Hibernation

"I wanted to strip human beings of their control over nature and tie them to biological cycles"


- BERLINALE 2024: The Catalan director talks to us about her first feature film, in which she suggests we reflect on the relationship between human beings and nature

Anna Cornudella  • Director of The Human Hibernation

In her first feature film, The Human Hibernation [+see also:
film review
interview: Anna Cornudella
film profile
, Catalan filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist Anna Cornudella presents a dystopian universe where humans hibernate during the coldest months of the year, imagining a different relationship with nature that challenges anthropocentrism. The film had its world premiere in the Forum section of the 74th Berlinale, where it received the FIPRESCI award. We talked to the director about what inspired the film and working with the human and animal protagonists.

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Cineuropa: Did the film come out of a specific image or reading?
Anna Cornudella: I’d been curious about hibernation for a while, but the turning point came when I read an article about an animal that managed to survive a fire by hibernation. This made me think about what would happen if, as a result of climate change, all environments were no longer habitable. Would humans be able to develop a survival method? So, I submitted a project and received a research grant. At that point I contacted the European Space Agency and NASA, who were studying hibernation to send humans to Mars. In fact, Matteo Cerri, the head of research at the European Space Agency, presented the project with me at MACBA. It was originally a short 20-minute piece, but I was prompted to expand it into a film.

What were your references to create the tone and visual concept of the film?
I've been working on the project for five years and I think I've read absolutely everything there is about hibernation [laughs]. There are books that have really excited me, that reflect on how we inhabit the planet and how we relate to other species. I could cite Vinciane Despret's Autobiography of an Octopus, cinematic references such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and a very specific piece Kempinski by Neil Beloufa.

Why did you decide to use mechanisms or resources traditionally associated with genre cinema for this kind of social reflection?
I’m interested in exploring human behaviour, social structures, the environment, biology, etc. All these issues are at the heart of my work. It's true that when you set up a different universe, it quickly falls into the science fiction genre. We have a very specific imaginary of this genre, but more and more films are being made that move away from the traditional science fiction aesthetic. Here I show a very recognisable nature and universe. The difference is in the behaviour of these human beings and not so much in the visual aspect.

The rules of this universe have an impact how the characters express themselves and relate to each other. How did you work with the actors in this regard?
All the characters are real. We spent a month and a half visiting farms in the United States to find the right characters. They had to be people who had a very different relationship with other animals and their environment. I tried to make these characters share something in common, to create a kind of strangeness: this neutrality and this slow way of speaking. It was also important to maintain this interview format where you don't quite know if it's fiction or a real conversation.

What about the other half of the cast? How did you work with the animals? There is a clear desire to avoid anthropocentrism, even in the camera work.
That was the most complicated part. I knew that I didn’t want to work with animals that were trained. I thought it went against everything we were proposing in the film. We waited for hours in the snow to shoot wild animals. It required a lot of patience and luck. The other animals came from rehabilitation centres that reincorporate wildlife into the environment. I wanted to portray all the animals in the same shot. I wanted to strip human beings of this control over nature and tie them to biological cycles. Through the cinematography and camera work, we tried to film both humans and other animals in a similar way.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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