L’Artigiano Glaciale, directed by Alberto Meroni, is a Swiss film about the greatest ice sculptor: the glacier. Accordingly, the translation of the title to English is: The Ice Sculptor. The film chronicles the picturesque journey of Ely Riva, a photographer who sets about exploring the natural-made miracle. Interspersed with the footage of the journey are beautifully composed shots of nature that ultimately give the film a natural and peaceful mood. The following questions are answered by Meroni and provide depth into the film’s creation, purpose, and meaning.
What inspired you to make The Ice Sculptor?
I grew up in a beautiful area in the south side of Switzerland. During my childhood I spent all [my] time playing in the forest, in the caves, [and] on the rivers and lakes. During the winter the snow was my “best friend.” I was always playing with it all the time. Now I’m thirty-two years old and I don’t have the same time to play [with] this friend. When it snows I remember my childhood and I would like to play with him [as] I used to. Unluckily, year after year the snow [becomes more] rare, so the moment that [it snows] I’m happy.
When I see a glacier despairing so quickly, it’s like [seeing] your “best friend” dying before the natural course.
One day I saw an old picture of the Basodino glacier, and I discovered it has [diminished] thirty percent in seventy years. In this way, in less than thirty years, it will be just a memory. Like [this one] others all around the world are dying. [These] friends are the craftsmen that have built the Alps and the other valleys that are the scenography of our beautiful world and of my childhood.
Was the creation and completion of the film difficult?
The most difficult part of the production [was] the shooting. We tried to plan each part of it, but [on many] days we had to change it due [to] the weather. Even if the forecasts were very precise, on the glacier the weather changes all the time. If it’s hot it creates clouds. If it’s cold there is fog. If there is wind it is very freezing or you cannot fly on. For the fly-shooting we tested ten times hoping for the good weather and the good light. At the end we did it, but we have lost a lot of time and money.
For this reason the planning changed hour after hour. Sometimes we [shot] what we planned, other times we improvised [finding] a great scene for the film… the thunderstorm is a great example. We [toughed] about a storm, but not with so powerful light-storms.
Having directed, filmed, and edited the film yourself, were you able to manipulate the outcome exactly how you wanted it to be?
Usually you work with a crew, and everybody participates [for] the result of the film. There are films where the photography is better than the story [and there are] the opposite. In other cases [it] is the editing that saves the film. My career began as [an] operator, after as [an] editor and than as [a] director. With this experience I’ve [learned] each part and I’ve [had] enough experience to understand the limit you can have in the situation, with the budget and the aim of the film. In this case, [it] is an intimate story, [to] be able to direct, shoot and edit alone has been the key to reach the result that the audience can see on the screen and [that] I would like to show.
Was it easy to work with your cast?
During the shooting I was alone with an assistant, so we were very discrete. Before the shooting [I spent a] lot of time [with] the photographer to understand his feelings, how he moves and so on. The difficulty was walking on the mountain following a man with seventy years of experience… we were often tired.
Are you satisfied with the outcome or would you go back and change anything if you could?
The film [was] born as a “no-word” film. A story told only with pictures, sound and music. The [little] information we had to say [was] given through the thoughts of the photographer. I would have done more fly pictures of the photographer walking on the paths, [but] we didn’t enough money.
Your shots of nature and wildlife in the film are beautiful. Were these shots hard to come by? Do you feel like you captured the breathtaking quality of this journey in your film?
The scenography is all. There are many places to put the camera, and [choosing] the best one is not always easy. You have to calculate the action, the light and the meaning of it. Mix all these elements and [you’ve] found the right place. Sometimes the good place was one hour walking and you have to walk, even if you are tired.
Are you working on any new projects/have any planned?
Before The Ice Sculptor I [made] a fiction short in a world where plastic, in the future, [becomes as] precious as gold. An eco-message as I have told in this documentary. I’m writing a new story for a fiction movie, but this time I’ve changed the theme… it’s always shot in the nature, but the theme is the exclusion of the “others.”
Do you have any final words/advice for upcoming filmmakers?
The filmmaker uses the film to tell a story, and all the stories are interesting. [To] be able to tell one story is not easy, you must observe as the people normally [don’t]. Look, listen to the people, how they think, what they write, how they move and what they do. The films are fed from the real life and the real life is inspired by the films. We are the people that make this circle of life and we have a great power that we must understand, otherwise the audience doesn’t believe us.
Interview conducted for a documentary film course in 2010, originally published on glaciale.ch. Responses edited slightly for grammatical consistency.