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Telling the Story of Nature with Sound

For a casual film viewer, it might seem easy to work on sound in nature documentaries. It looks like the movie subjects provide all the necessary sounds; the only thing required is to record them. But sound designers have to make creative and technical decisions to make or break the movie. Beso Kacharava and our team posted, in collaboration with EcoFilms, have worked on two nature documentaries that required two different approaches in sound design.

One of the unique projects in the Postred portfolio is Nika Tsiklauri’s 2019 documentary, The Other Neighbors. The film tells Tbilisi wildlife’s story, animals that live next to urban areas, alongside the city’s human residents. Unlike most nature documentaries that are shot entirely in the wilderness, The Other Neighbors includes views of construction sites and highways. Director aims to introduce animals not as intruders in the human habitat but as vital parts of it. As our equal neighbors. The sound design reflected that idea. Noises of crawling snakes and roadworks are equally audible; neither of them is given more importance than the other. Urban and animal noises exist on the same plane and don’t push each other in the background. This way, the film avoids exotification of nature in the inner-city settings.

Nika Tsiklauri’s second feature Jara is set in a mountainous region of Adjara. Featuring no industrial sounds shifts importance to the ambiance and more natural noises. The rhythm of nature and manual labor workers in the film┬ádictate the rhythm of the sound design. Director Nika Tsiklauri has described the process of filming in the wilderness and has said, “In no other type of documentary does an author have such a little control. Because of the distance between camera and object, unnatural perspectives, and other technical difficulties, capturing ‘live’ sound is impossible. To recreate a rich, resonant sound landscape, the sound designer must work closely with the director and contribute creativity. In every scene, the sound must be based on terrain, season, time of the day, proximity to water, and what types of animals and insects live in that habitat. Director or zoologist contribute that knowledge, but it is a different challenge to collect all these sounds and create a natural mix.”

We use the experience gained from these films in other projects too. With the help of EcoFilms and Nika Tsiklauri, we have gained access to recordings of bird sounds, which are used by bird-watchers for calling birds. Out of these recordings database was created, where sounds are categorized by types, locations, seasons, and parts of the day. In every exterior scene, we can use bird sounds that would be perceptible in that setting during that time. It is seemingly a little detail, but details like these create authentic, captivating sounds of cinema.