‘Not all who wander are lost’ J. R. R. Tolkien
Searching for the unicorn with magical powers and trekking up the highest mountains to see flying dragons may seem like something from Norse mythology or the Game of Thrones; but these are the journeys beautifully depicted in Kire Godal’s new film that has won its first award.
“Why do we travel?” Kire’s elegant frame is animated, the light glinting off her sunglasses.
She waits a moment for our thoughts and emotions to rush in, before continuing.
Later, I’m glued to Kire Godal’s footage in which Natasha Illum Berg is reflected on a lake in Sweden’s Eriksberg Nature reserve that her grandfather, Bengt Berg created.
In the summer, the cranes mate here and with their young they make their way south on a long, arduous and dangerous journey to East Africa. The camera follows Natasha out under the equatorial sun, now wearing khakis and speaking Swahili, to Ethiopia and then Tanzania, this time following gigantic shoebill storks to their winter home; in the footsteps of Bengt Berg.
When Bengt followed the cranes’ treacherous skypath a hundred years ago, on donkey, canoe and foot, he went to Sudan. And the reason they have moved to Ethiopia maybe because of us. Natasha demonstrates that by following a small herd of cows getting much closer to the birds than her grandfather would have, because they are now so used to herdsmen and cattle. All meeting at the same, diminishing waterholes. Kire’s question begins to be answered by Bengt’s words from his book With the Cranes to Africa written in 1922
‘..We do have it in our chests, a spark from this yearning that ushers these birds of passage across continents.’
Experiments using the dopamine neuron response in monkeys, have shown that curiosity is like the enjoyment of food and reproduction, necessary for our success. Greater knowledge of the environment leads to resources, which is why you can get lost for hours, surfing the net.
Kire Godal and Natasha Illum Berg are two unapologetically beautiful blondes, softly spoken with a gentle approach that has got them into places where no man has been. Both are artistic explorers, who bring not only their brave exploits but their knowledge of nature and its spirituality to the screen. Kire has been filming African culture, conservation and wildlife for 20 years. Her film Skypaths featuring Natasha Illum Berg, travels from Africa’s cranes to the jungles of India in the hunt for the one horned rhino. Bengt Berg believed that the belief in the mystical powers of the unicorn horn came from this armoured creature that can win a fight with an elephant.
The trail then leads to Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal in the hunt for the flying dragon – The majestic bearded vulture. Here, where the Buddhists still practice sky burials. On hearing the drumming of the Lamas (Buddhist Gurus), the vultures oblige by arriving to eat the body of good people who are then carried away on wings, closer to heaven. This is similar to the followers of the Persian mystic Zarathustra who in their towers of silence, believe the last act of charity is to offer your body to the birds. The birds rub red soil on their feathers making them look like fiery dragons.
‘I must humbly confess that the beauty that lies in a perfect set of wings across the sky is to me a much clearer apparition of a god than all the world’s golden pagodas and human prayer wheels put together’ Bengt Berg.
“Why is something missing despite all you have?” Is Kire’s next question We spend a little time musing on suicide. And in particular Anthony Bordain, who had aggressively championed the lifestyle and food cultures of remote regions of the world and ended up killing himself whilst supposedly doing what he loved best. The fun had gone out of it, it seems.
She continues to talk about her work. Suicide is rare in traditional societies. The desperation of the modern wealthy and privileged is not felt. We don’t want to age. Yet graduating to elderhood, is revered in ancient societies. When you could fight, hunt, dance and bear children, wisdom was lacking. An old body may not be strong but within it, is the knowledge to lead people.
Ceremony moves you from one stage to another, often accompanying something like scarification, a permanent physical change that denotes that there is no going back.
There is a yearning for graduation, responsibility and respect. And at any stage in your life, there is a strong sense of belonging.
And that I feel, is emphatic. A study conducted by Lambert et al, some five years ago, claimed that a sense of belonging gives meaning to our lives. People who feel life is meaningless are more likely to be depressed, require therapy and experience suicidal thoughts. Often, in the case of deep thinkers, the superficiality of society, and therefore also their friends and family, means they remain misunderstood and rejected for their non-conformist ideas. I’m still thinking of Bordain, but also of the musician Avicii or Tim Bergling, Amercian designer Kate Spade and actor Robin Williams.
At the end of the film’s masterful shots and powerful words, comes a sense of Bengt Berg’s helplessness in the face of the rapidly growing and hugely destructive human machine.
‘..Sadly he died unhappy, he gave his life to nature, trying to show its greatness and importance but he never understood man and neither did he feel understood’
Natasha Illum Berg on her grandfather Bengt Berg.