The Snow Panther: behind the scenes of this spectacular documentary

Meeting with Vincent Munier and Marie Amiguet, co-directors of the documentary “La Panthère des neiges”, showing this Wednesday. The film looks back on the meeting between Sylvain Tesson and Vincent Munier, in Tibet, on the lookout for the snow leopard.

Synopsis: In the heart of the Tibetan highlands, the photographer Vincent Munier leads the writer Sylvain Tesson in his quest for the snow leopard. He introduces him to the delicate art of hiding, reading tracks and the patience necessary to catch a glimpse of the animals. While traveling the summits inhabited by invisible presences, the two men weave a dialogue about our place among living beings and celebrate the beauty of the world.

AlloCiné: How long did it take to complete this film, La Panthère des neiges?

Marie Amiguet, co-director: Vincent Munier, who is at the origin of this idea for a film, began his first images in Tibet in 2010. From 2010 to 2018, he had already accumulated six trips with a lot of animal and landscape images. But there was no story. Afterwards he contacted me to accompany him there. He proposed to Sylvain Tesson to come who said: “give me a good reason not to come!”. The four of us left. My real role was really to film their meeting, to film the meeting between literature and photography.

We made two trips to Tibet. The first in February 2018, lasting one month. There were four of us: Sylvain, Vincent, Léopold our assistant and me. We went back a year later, in 2019. It was quite a long time after that. There was a first version of the film that I edited in a very traditional way. A 1:15 version which then served as a bit of a springboard to say “ok, we’re trying to go to the movies”. So we put together a real cinema film. Not just a homecoming movie.

There have been two years of reassembly, not full time. There were 8 months of assembly alone. Then we called in a professional editor, Vincent Schmidt. The project spanned three years for me.

How did you manage to capture all these exchanges between Sylvain Tesson and Vincent Munier so that they are so spontaneous? Did you have to “cheat” a bit?

Marie Amiguet: No, not cheated at all. I hate directing. That’s why I like the documentary. It is to capture moments that are not planned.

I knew Vincent wanted to have a conversation with Sylvain, ask him questions. They chatted for an hour and a half, and so we did the same thing on another lookout. Sometimes I would throw out a question and it would start a dialogue. But there is nothing written. We are on the spot.

High and Short

There are very beautiful exchanges and a great complementarity between them …

Marie Amiguet: Vincent did not know how it could happen with Sylvain. They didn’t know each other that well, even though they had already crossed paths. We don’t know how it can go. But after two days, I was filming them and they were like two kids, like they had known each other for 10 years. It was very nice.

Immediately there was a very strong bond. I think Vincent was very happy to share what he likes to do, and Sylvain was extremely receptive. Basically, Sylvain had summoned Vincent to Tibet so that he could write him some little captions for his photo book, that was the pretext. In exchange, he made a bet to show him the snow leopard, an animal he dreams of seeing.

After a week in Tibet, Sylvain told Vincent that he was very inspired, that he would write a story. The book and the movie are really intertwined, but it’s not an adaptation of the book. It is really this same trip, from which Sylvain’s story is taken, and our film, knowing that we still did a three-week shoot the following year to complete. This is where we saw the bears, the visit of the cave with the footprints, the panther …

Vincent Munier: Sylvain and I had crossed paths in adventure festivals. We had discussed. He had told me his desire to discover a bit of the lookout.

To finish all the work I had done upstream in Tibet, I really wanted to have his lyrics, to extend that and then there was the idea for this film. I said to myself: “come on, let’s try to take her!” While using the images that I had shot before, try to mix this poetry of the savage, and then this dialogue between us.

I was a little anxious, it was not won. It went remarkably well. In the field, he was extremely discreet and patient. He had his eyes shining like a kid. Needy too. He works a lot.

I had enjoyed his previous books very much, but I found On Black Roads to be a little different and that there was a bit of an ecological discourse behind it. I told myself that it was great, that we needed a passer like him. We feed on this beauty, but we are also very affected, and that’s what I say in the film by the fact that we do not respect and that we destroy the living. We need to get messages even further. Sylvain Tesson’s talent comes in search of the exact words to describe what we think and fail to express. We told ourselves that this image-word complementarity was surely something that worked.


The team of La Panthère des neiges at the Cannes Film Festival last July: Sylvain Tesson, Marie Amiguet, Vincent Munier, and Warren Ellis.

Vincent Munier, we have the image of you as someone very lonely …

Yes it is, and for previous trips. I invited Marie and Sylvain to close off all the trips I had made before on my own, where I had filmed the panther, the yaks, all these incredible animals. I couldn’t just do an animal documentary. I really wanted to close with a talent like him.

But I got in good condition obviously. There were three or four of us in the field, and it’s not the same as when we’re alone, even if we go our separate ways. I conditioned myself and it went really well.

There are really some crazy sequences in this movie. What do you think is the strongest memory? Perhaps the most unexpected thing?

Marie Amiguet: A lot of things are unexpected when you observe animals. We saw wolves almost every day. It was great moments of wonder. To see wolves who were not afraid of man and who stopped to look at us.

I really loved this whole part of the trip where we met this nomadic family. I need these meetings when traveling. This is what makes us forge links and we have the impression of being a little more anchored on the spot, and not just passing through. I loved seeing Sylvain with these kids: a kid among the kids! It was after two weeks, and that’s when it all happened. The children the panther … Everything was crescendo, like in the film.

Vincent Munier: Even though I had already seen the panther before on previous trips, it’s still the end scene because we were sure of nothing. We really weren’t sure if we would see her. It’s crazy how she happened. All the stars were aligned for us as it was three days before the end of the trip. To live that with them, it was very strong.

Alone, of course, the emotions are very personal, very strong, very heightened. The purpose of this trip was sharing. As we can see at the end, I am extremely moved to be able to offer them a little in quotes. Because it is the panther who decided on the meeting, on this magical vision.

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