Guardians of the Ghost
In November 2018 we set out to meet Gruppa Bars, an environmental task force assigned to protect the remaining snow leopards of Kyrgyzstan. We arrived in Central Asia roughly two months after contacting the project manager of the NGO for the first time. He helped greatly in connecting us to the group of environmentalists who patrol the mountains of Kyrgyzstan in order to protect the most elusive of animals, the snow leopard. I had structural ideas about the film, but I was willing to be open to the events that would unfold along the way. I brought five rolls of Kodak 16mm film to Kyrgyzstan. Besides the freezing temperatures and travelling on icy dirt roads with a non-insured car, the biggest challenge for me was to try to find the story on the fly. Being accustomed to a more controlled environment I had to evaluate every situation in order to know when to roll camera and when not to. Often times I made the wrong call but looking back on it, I can see some improvement over time.
“Guardians of the Ghost” ended up beeing a film not only about Gruppa Bars and their important work but about us, the filmmakers, as well. I tried to capture both the camaraderie and the disorientation we felt during our eight days with the group. We experienced excitement and joy next to danger and discomfort as the group caught a poacher literally red-handed. The film has no direct comment on those events because this is how we experienced them. The language barrier did not allow for the group to share every detail and we learned by observation. Fortunately I was accompanied by Petr, who was a fellow student of mine. He speaks Russian fluently and therefore, I had the chance to have the emerging central question of the film asked to the members of Gruppa Bars. “Guardians of the Ghost” tries to make sense of their commitment to protect such an elusive creature. How are all those sacrifices worth it? There is a good chance you‘ll know the answer after looking into the leopard‘s uncompromising yellow eyes. At least that did it for me.
About the Artist
Walter Stoehr is a director and cinematographer based in Germany. He is always in favour of things that allow for the combination of captivating imagery and solid storytelling. Every time he designs or finds such a project, he will give it his all.