A woman is bedridden by a mysterious pathogen, and a snail takes up residence on her nightstand. A journey of survival and resilience, with captivating and graceful explorations.
Hi Elisabeth thank you for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?
I am not sure there has ever been another situation historically that has been as globally a shared experienced. We are trying to survive the situation together, even if our individual challenges and adaptations to the circumstances are unique for each of us.
Your debut film The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating has been selected for the 15th ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what has it meant to you to be part of this unique film festival for independent filmmakers?
It was lovely to have the film accepted at ECU. One of the film’s editors is from Paris, Alizee David, and she frequently notes how very “French” the film seems to her because its pace is slower than a typical American film. Since snails are eaten in France and other European countries, I wasn’t entirely sure how it would be received so having it screen with ECU is terrific!
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is based on your award-winning memoir, when you wrote this book did you ever image you would turn it into a short film?
Never would I have guessed that I’d write any kind of memoir, particularly involving a snail. Though I love film, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be involved with filmmaking.
What was the experience like for you adapting your own book into a short film?
The film adaptation was challenging because my background was only in writing. The story structure seemed impossible—how to create a plot-packed film with two characters that didn’t speak aloud, one hardly moves and the other moves very slowly. How do you create depth and a sense of relationship between a human in a macro world and a snail in a micro world? From the start these were complex challenges even for a nontraditional film.
What do you think it is about The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating that has connected with readers so much?
The story is about a human/animal connection, which always intrigues people. It is also about isolation and aloneness, which everyone has experienced on some level at some point in their lives. The story’s backdrop is illness and everyone has experienced at least the flu and now we are experiencing the pandemic. At its heart, the book is about the life of a snail and thus about the importance of every species, no matter how small, and the critical connection humans have to the natural world.
Did you have any apprehensions about writing a book that is based on such a personal experience?
It can be difficult to use one’s own story. However, this story is only one tiny piece of only one year in my life. Mostly, the story is about the snail, and my situation is a backdrop to the snail’s fascinating life, as its micro world becomes my world too.
Can you tell me a little bit about how the film adaptation came about?
At one point, I had some footage shot of a snail gliding over moss. It was amazing how beautifully the snail’s extraordinary movements and curiosity could be visually conveyed. That lead to the intriguing idea of trying to adapt a distilled version of the story for film.
How different was your approach to the film than the approach you took for your book?
The book involved five years of research and very slow writing as I built up the story on my own time at my own pace. The film was a completely different process. It was a nonprofit project to get the environmental and medical humanities messages of the story to new audiences. Rather than building up the story, the process for film was more of a distillation of the memoir to a very spare script. Filmmaking is a bit like a relay race, as a film moves from step to step, the technical knowledge, language, and experts change with each new stage. Schedules can be unpredictable and there are often delays, so just the logistics alone are complicated.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
There is a limit to how much direction a snail will take, so every snail scene was challenging. The snail sometimes cooperated (luckily!), but sometimes it followed its own interests and just wanted to explore, and sometimes that was terrific and better than hoped for, and sometimes not so.
Looking back what would you say has been the biggest lesson you've taken from making the film adaptation of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating?
Filmmaking is one of the most complex arts. A film is created layer by layer. It is hard to know how it will turn out or if it will ever even get finished, you never know for sure until that very last layer is in place. I think the process made me acutely aware of how visuals, voice, and sound all come together to create story.
"We all need to be environmentalists."
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
My passion is more for film watching than filmmaking. Though I was intrigued with the challenge of how to capture a snail’s adventures cinematically. I like challenges that seem impossible and this one very nearly was.
Now that you have your debut film completed will you continue to make films?
Not sure yet where I’ll head creatively in the future.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer filmmakers about how to make their first film or book?
If you have a truly original idea and you think it will help the world somehow, follow your heart and bring it into being in whatever form that takes. Often, the more impossible it seems, the more original it is, and that means that you are the only one who can do it.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment, just trying to keep up with the Wild Snail film’s journeys.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating?
My hope is that viewers will be as smitten with the life of a snail as I was. That they realize that every species on earth is unique and important and each individual animal has its own personality. Connecting with the natural world is a very important part of our lives and can be critical especially for people with illness, who may be more isolated, or in this pandemic time period when even healthy people are feeling the impact of physical distancing. The natural world is out there and it can be very stabilizing. We all need to be environmentalists. Our species evolved here on earth, it is our home, but it is home, too, to all the other species as well. We must give it better care and stop climate change.