It’s hard to complain about lockdown when an enchanted forest is close enough to home to remain in the legal 10 km radius we’re allowed to explore. The place is gorgeous and it’s where my first video attempts could take place. Here’s a quick escape into the hills, as a good way to restart the week 🙂
As many of you know, filmmaking has been at the back of my mind for the past few months. And it makes more sense to me to start with local subjects, particularly those as interesting and beautiful as this location. So, my long week-end walk in the Sainte-Baume allowed me to grab the photographs you see on this page, but was also dedicated to note-taking about places to return to with a video camera.
Of course, with a strong history in photogtaphy, this visit led to me testing various looks and renderings for the photographs, on top of my usual monochrome conversions (and no, the painful irony that most of my pics use a vertical format has not escaped me 😉 ) The light was bright during mid day but we started early in the morning, before shadows came up and so we encountered a large variety of lighting situations and looks.
This is one of the aspects that worry me about filming. How do you keep the feeling of light consistent throughout, if you can’t carry a Hollywood studio on your back and if the lighting conditions change dramatically from one moment to the next?
This is not a consideration that would worry my in photography as it’s natural to understand why two adjacent photographs are lit differently. But, in a movie, you need some sort of causal relationship between shots. And we all know that we don’t always want to edit in a linear fashion, and that some shots made earlier in the day can end up after others made later, in the cut. Hmmm … any ideas are welcome.
Then, there’s the matter of organizing the whole visit into a story.
Here the luxury of choice is the only obstacle. There are so many actual stories in those hills that the problem is one of selection and editing, not of subject matter. A nice choice to have to make, really 🙂
The forest on this page sits below a North-facing escarpment and is home to more folklore and history than most other places I know. The escarpment itself is dotted with caves, one of which is reputed to have been the final home of Mary Magdalen, Who is said to have spend the last 17 years of her life in prayer there. The cave has been turned into a church that was visited by every new French king for a period of time, and still is an important regional pilgrimage to this day. As you can imagine, there’s no way I was going to photograph it at Easter and trouble the numerous visitors.
Christmas is also an interesting time of year for the cave and people walk up (for hours) from nearby villages for a celebratory mass. I’ve always wanted to do that myself and it would obviously make a very interesting story for a short film.
The main way up to the Mary Magdalen cave is a Way of the Cross dotted with the usual stations, but the local religious fervor is such that many other non official crosses and signs of worship regularly appear here and there.
And another advantage of the area being so steeped in religious pilgrimage history is that stone stairs and walls abound, adding to the wonderland feeling of the whole area. Add to this a vast quantity of remarkable trees with the oddest of shapes, a few over 500 years old, and you could imagine Frodo and Friends hosting a 10-years-after reunion in those woods.
The ridge, of course, reveals a very different scenery and story.
Battered by rain, snow, extreme sun and near constant wind, it feels very barren and desolate after the dense cover and Entish vibe of the forest just a few meters below.
Here, the story takes a turn to wildlife (wild goats, wild boar, the occasional wolf, wall creepers, Bonelli’s eagle, short toed eagle, rare adders, …) and landscapes. The area is one of the few protected against the innumerable noisy disturbances man inflicts on nature (and on other humans interesting in less noisy adventures) for his own distraction. Although the Castellet F1 circuit is a stone-throw away and acts as a constant reminder that the fun of a tiny minority can legally pester the rest of the world, so long as there’s money in it, this place is as peaceful and wild as it gets in the immediate vicinity of a city called home by millions of people (Marseilles, in this case).
On the ridge as well, religious signs abound. Sadly, many of them are unrelated to the above facts, and more to the surprisingly numerous deaths of climbers and walkers who suffered fatal accidents here.
But, unlike the deeply spiritual vibe of the forest below, the dominant feeling on the ridge is one of exposure to the elements. This is a barren, mineral playground, windswept most of the year. From the top, the view extends to the calanques and sea to the South and to Cezanne’s Sainte Victoire, the Alps and Mont Ventoux to the North.
In between those two starkly contrasting universes lies a middle path called Sentier du Paradis (Paradise Trail). And my story is that all of Earth was created like that but then God found it too gorgeous and took it all away to build Paradise and just left this trail as a reminder that being good is worth it. True Story.
Colour photographs might do it more justice, but I can’t help myself in those lighting conditions, sorry 😉
Still, the path, just above the forest, and just below the ridge, inherits a bit from both environments, with the gnarliest of old trees mysteriously finding sustenance in the cracks of rocky pile ups. As you can tell from the photographs, all of this happens really close to civilization and at no point are you further than 4 miles from a small town. But it feels otherworldly, bracing and nurturing, all the same.
As a hiker, you experience a kind of layer cake of all those facets. The trees, the history, the folklore, the wildlife, the vistas, the fresh air, the sore legs …
It’s a wonderful experience, but we hikers typically focus on the trail, treating the other elements of the walk as a set that passes us by, much like the houses and people seen from a bus. It’s all a wonderful setting, but not the story itself.
So how do you tell that story in a way that’s neither boring and documentary nor focused on GPS coordinates and forks on the path?
This is both my challenge and my key. Until I figure out a compelling story and a way to tell it, I won’t buy that video camera.
My past and experience are in photography. I can see how to create an exhibition around this enchanted place, and I want the movie to reflect this, rather than follow the usual codes of action nature videos. Can you help? How would you like to hear about this in more depth? Are there any short films that come to your mind about similar areas of the world that you could share to guide me? Help 🙂
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