Sundance Festival documentary ‘Genesis 2.0’ is full of dichotomies
“Genesis 2.0,” one of the world documentary competition entries for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is full of dichotomies.
It’s a documentary, but also an adventure story. It looks at the past in prehistoric times and looks toward the future of genetics. It takes place mostly in two different areas – the wild New Siberian Islands in the Arctic and the sterile China National GeneBank, operated by the Beijing Genomics Institute.
Adding to the two-part theme, “Genesis 2.0,” which will make its Sundance Film Festival debut at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Park Avenue Theatre in Park City. The film was shot by two different filmmakers, three-time Sundance alumni Christian Frei and newcomer Maxim Arbugaev.
The documentary is about the Yakut mammoth hunters who search for mammoth tusks in the melting glaciers in the New Siberian Islands.
These hunters sell the tusks for their livelihoods, and sometimes they come across preserved mammoth carcasses complete with blood, muscle tissue and fur.
These findings are important to Russian and South Korean geneticists who would research the animal’s cells with the idea of using the DNA to possibly clone a mammoth.
The seeds of “Genesis 2.0” sprouted in two separate scenarios, said Frei.
“Every four years I have an epiphany in my life to start a new project, and with this case, I was reading a book ‘Regenesis’ by George M. Church, who is one of the big shots of geneticists, Frei said.”While I was reading the book, I came across amazing photographs by Evgenia Arbugaeva, who is a great young photographer.”
Evgenia, who is Maxim Arbugaev’s sister, did work on mammoth tusk hunters in the New Siberian Islands for National Geographic.
“Seeing the incredible world of the mammoth tusk hunters, and realizing in the book ‘Regenesis’ Church dedicated an entire chapter to the resurrection of the wooly mammoth, was so connected that I knew this would be my next film,” Frei said.
The crux of the story lies with Maxim Arbugaev, who was with his sister on the National Geographic assignment. Maxim spells his last name without the final A.
“Evgenia asked me to go with her to be her assistant,” Arbugaev said. “While I helped her change batteries on her shooting camera, I was in charge of a second camera, and I began filming videos for fun.”
Arbugaev, who just finished his career as a hockey player, wasn’t a filmmaker at the time.
“I was just making terabytes of video,” he said. “I had no idea about the basics of filmmaking – the interviews, the drama, the composition.”
After the trip to the islands, Arbugaev applied to film school at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow.
“One of the first assignments was to make a film, and since I had plenty of footage from the mammoth hunters, I did it and then released it as a short film, called ‘The Hunters,’ in 2014,” he said. “I sent the film to the Visions du Réel film festival here in Switzerland, and that’s where I met Christian.”
Frei watched “The Hunters” and knew he would work with Arbugaev on “Genesis 2.0.”
“He was part of this culture, having been born 350 kilometers from the New Siberian Islands,” Frei said. “He knows nature. He knows the Arctic, and I knew this would be a collaboration.”
Arbugaev reached out to the island family again, and Frei reached out to the geneticists.
“I was never on the islands,” Frei said. “Max spent the entire season with this family at the North Pole, which was very dangerous. It was harsh weather. There were polar bears.”
Frei spent his time in the labs.
“The difficult task was to combine the mammoth hunters and the labs in a way that it wouldn’t be boring,” Frei said. “I worked with my cinematographer Peter Indergand, and we helped each other find ways to make this a strong film.”
Arbugaev is so grateful for the opportunity to make the film with Frei.
“My goal and mission after 2012 was to make a big film about mammoth hunters, and I was waiting for the opportunity,” Arbugaev said. “Then I found Christian to be the one to help me.”
While the film does document mammoth hunters, it’s not just about them.
“In one direction it goes into the future with DNA and how the cells work together,” Frei said. “On the other direction, it tells about the human relationships with nature.”
There are a lot of taboos in the Yakut culture regarding nature, Frei said.
“They don’t touch too deeply into the earth, and they don’t touch the tusks,” he said. “These islands were also blind spot on the maps for a long time, so not a lot of people know about them.”
The filmmakers took a year to edit the documentary.
“Maxim was involved and our editor Thomas Bachmann was also involved,” Frei said. “We had to find the story and shape it.”
Frei looks forward to his return to Sundance.
“Even though it’s the third time for me to be at Sundance, it’s always exciting,” he said. “Sundance is considered one of the most important festivals for the kind of film we’re doing, and you can never expect to be chosen for Sundance because it’s all so competitive.”
Maxim Arbugaev on the other hand, is ready for his Sundance debut.
“I’m finishing up my film school, so at the end of my film school career, it is amazing to me to be in the world-famous film festival,” he said. “I could never imagine that.”
“Genesis 2.0” will screen as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s World Documentary program.
- Saturday, Jan. 20, at 8:45 p.m. Park Avenue Theatre
- Sunday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. at Redstone
- Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 3 p.m. at Broadway 6 in Salt Lake City
- Thursday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m. at Park Avenue Theatre
- Friday, Jan. 26, at 3:15 p.m. at the Holiday 2, in Park City.
For information, visit http://www.sundance.org/festivals.
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