One of the most unique documentaries of the year

By Morten Andreas Steingrimsen

We've talked to the people behind The Truffle Hunters, who have captivated festival goers around the world.

(Zurich) The film festival has devoted a large section to documentaries. The big talk is Gregory Kershaw's and Michael Dweck's unique film about a tradition many have heard of, but few have seen. For three years, the directors have followed men and women closely in the years hunting for the rare white truffle in the deep forests of Piedmont.

Following its world premiere in Sundance, it has triumphed around the world and been featured in some of the biggest festivals, including the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.

- We were in no way prepared for the reception. The film was finished the day before the world premiere, and I had to bring the film copy on the plane to Sundance! It was therefore impossible for us to know whether the film would be well received or not, Dweck laughs.

Kershaw, who lives in Stockholm, says that it was a painstaking job to make the film.

- One of the first things we had to do was create trust with the truffle hunters since this is a very secret and closed environment. It took a long time to find out who the truffle hunters really were. These people are so private. But after much searching, we found the hunters, and we spent a year building trust with them. They trusted that we would not reveal the secret places where the rare white truffle grows, he says.

Why a documentary about truffle hunting?

- It's a very mythical, secret world. Everything they do is super-secret. They do not reveal where they find the truffles, who they really are, where they sell, who buys and how the whole market works. This is what makes the truffle world so deeply fascinating, Kershaw answers.

How did you manage to stay motivated throughout the three-year recording period?

- It took a long time for us to find the truffle hunter community in Piedmont. But when we finally found the hunters, we immediately fell in love with them. They live such a rich and fascinating life. It made us very interested and motivated to follow them throughout the recording period.

Although the film is primarily about truffle hunting, The Truffle Hunters is also a film about the hunt for the good life.

- I am very fascinated by the lives of these older people. The hunters have devoted their entire lives to this. For them, this is a lifestyle. They live a good but simple life deep in the Italian forests. Their best friend is the truffle dog. They live in harmony with nature. And they have tremendous professional pride and integrity. The first hunter duo we met - Aldo and Renato, aged 86 and 90, respectively - are very close friends. They have eaten breakfast and lunch together for 80 years, but they have never revealed their secret truffle places to each other, Kershaw smiles and continues:

- Many of the truffle hunters are well into their eighties, but they are so full of spark of life and commitment. The people are happy with what they have and have an enormous respect for nature. I think many, myself included, have a lot to learn from this way of living.

The film has almost an adventurous style.

- What they do in the forests is almost like an adventure. The hunters are very in touch with nature. We worked closely with sound designer Stephen Urata from Skywalker Sound. We spent hundreds of hours in the woods. It was important to us that the audience could really feel and almost smell the atmosphere in the forest. We recorded all possible sounds, he says and gives some examples:

- It could, for example, be a branch that breaks or raindrops that fall to the ground. We placed small cameras and microphones on the truffle dogs so that we could experience the world from their perspective, which is incredibly fascinating, Dweck believes.

The Truffle Hunters is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 

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