By Joyce Eng
If one purpose of documentaries is to expose viewers to untold stories, then “The Truffle Hunters” does just that. Co-directed by Gregory Kershaw and Michael Dweck, the film follows a group of elderly Italian men hunting for truffles with their dogs in the woods, revealing a charming top-secret world untouched by modern times that the filmmakers themselves had trouble infiltrating.
The duo first heard of these mythical-sounding truffle hunters when they each stayed in the same Italian town separately as they were wrapping their previous film “The Last Race” (2018). “We were talking about this place and we were drawn to it because it felt different from a lot of places … like a fairy tale. It felt like we had stepped back in time,” Kershaw shares during Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts: Documentary panel (watch above). “And then we had heard these rumors of these truffle hunters that went out in the middle of the night. We were there in the summer and it wasn’t truffle season, but people said, ‘You should come back in the fall. That’s when the truffles come.’ No one knew anything about this culture. Everything about it was a secret, but that was enough for us to say, ‘We have to go back.'”
They spent the next three years working on the doc, the first of which was spent slowly entering “this secret society,” trying to make any connections they could to get to the truffle hunters, which often felt like a wild goose chase. “[We’d say] ‘Can you introduce us to the truffle hunter who you get truffles from every day?” He said, ‘I’ve never met the guy. I just leave some money in the box and the next morning the truffle appears.’ I said, ‘OK.’ He’d say, ‘Talk to the priest.’ We’d talk to the priest and he’d say, ‘Talk to my cousin,'” Kershaw recalls. “It was a long process.”
Eventually, they did meet the famed truffle hunters and spent more time befriending them and earning their trust. Bonding occurred over long dinners and wine. “They became our friends. We became their extended family. I think they slowly realized we were serious about this film and why we were making this film,” he says. “I think they realized they have something very special and it’s very rare in the world, and I think they wanted to share it with people so they invited us in.”
That trust is evident in the truffle hunters allowing Kershaw and Dweck to film their hunting treks in the middle of the night, as truffle locations are tightly protected, especially with climate change threatening their efforts and breeding more competition from wannabe hunters looking to make some quick (and lots of) cash. There, the pair captured these men and their dogs in their element — and they even had trouble keeping up with them.
“We’d spend evenings chasing them through the woods with our cameras. We could never keep up with them. They really put us through it!” Kershaw laughs. “Carlo, who’s 88, in the middle of the night, we’d be struggling to keep up with him in the middle of the woods. He says in the film, ‘I’m faster than the deer,’ and he really is.”