Luca Pittalis: ain’t no mountain high enough

By Madeleine Strom

is a second year Hatfield student who, over the Summer of 2019, created a film focusing on the melting ice fields of Mount Kilimanjaro. His film Kilimanjaro: The White Mountain is unique. It is not pure scientific jargon which may isolate the viewer. The viewer is able to get a sense of his character and his passion for both film-making and discovering more about what can be done to help climate change. As an audience, we are absorbed into the scenery of Tanzania and the people who climb the mountain. We hear their stories and experience Pittalis’ own story of climbing the mountain.The struggles of climbing the mountain are apparent, yet Pittalis still maintains and captures the attention of the audience. It is clear that Pittalis has succeeded in his goal of creating a film which is both educational and inspiring. Paired with beautiful cinematography and uplifting soundtracks, this documentary truly is an example of what is to come from his documentary career. A name to watch out for, is helping to revolutionise the way documentaries portray climate change and how anyone, no matter their age or experience, can get involved in making a difference.

I spoke to Pittalis about his inspiration for the film and the challenges he faced creating it.

What do documentaries mean to you?

“I watched documentaries when I was young and I realised that this is what I wanted to do. I focused on this realm because, as the borders between the human and natural world keep colliding, it is becoming such an important area to present. I have always wanted to create natural history documentaries. Documentaries are a way of putting people into action and of communicating; I want to make people change their ways. The target audience can be anyone, as long as it reaches people, I will be happy.”

How has your time at Durham helped you in pursuing a career in film and media?

“Durham have been really supportive – when I pitched my idea about making a film in Tanzania, Hatfield College were able to help me get a scholarship from the Rotary Club which enabled me to climb Kilimanjaro and show the changing climate there. My involvement in Durham communication is mainly through Purple Radio, I think the broadcasting abilities I learnt there really helped me. As long as I am interviewing people, it does not matter if it is about climate change or not, it really aids me in my learning.

What inspired you to create your documentary and how did you start the process?

“I got the inspiration for the film when my biology lecturer was discussing the impact climate change has had on the gradients of plant vegetation up in the mountains. That really gave me my first aspect of research and when I was reading literature about the subject, I realised nothing in film had really discussed it. There is all this scientific literature about different elements of global warming , but no one has communicated it to the wider population.”

The borders between the human and natural world keep colliding

“Documentary enables the combination of the arts and sciences. Even though I have made around fifty films before, in terms of investigative journalism, this was all new to me. I went to the front line to ask those people who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to see how they had seen the shift.

“Of course some things did not go to plan, I had many drafts and I had tried to get in touch with David Attenborough, but he replied after the film had been truly finished so I was not able to get a quote from him in the film. Some producers had promised to help and then cancelled, but I was still able to produce my film – that was my main goal.

“It has had recognition from newspapers such as The Archer and I have
been receiving feedback from other filmmakers which has been brilliant.”

To do something like create a film in Tanzania over summer is incredible – what was the experience like?

“Climbing that mountain range was brilliant, I asked 3 companions who had no knowledge of film to do it with me. We were struggling at times due to the air pressure so it was great to have people to help me carry the kit when filming at such an altitude and having the moral support.”

How do you think has technology helped the idea of film-making?

“It has been easier than ever to start film-making. You can make a film on your phone – there is nothing to restrict you. If you have a laptop or a phone, you can do anything you want with it.”

What is the role of the documentary in terms of education about the planet ?

“I think it is good, people like Greta Thunberg have given us dramatic examples of what climate change does to the Earth. It is difficult though, not everyone fully understands the implications of climate change. It is so much more than global warming, it is about our food and species distribution. The role that documentaries will have in future will be really critical in presenting these other ideas. We need to spread these ideas, we see people responding and changing their ways about how we treat the environment. Hopefully the next generation will be taking on board the ideas we are only coming up with now.”

So what is next on the agenda?

“It is difficult to say as natural history film-making is so competitive, but this film is a stepping stone for me to make more. I have no plans to stop, I want to continue with the radio and practising my skills.”

To watch the documentary, simply type ‘Kilimanjaro: The White Mountain’ into Youtube.

Image: Katie Gray

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