Between Earth & Sky

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Andrew Nadkarni

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Minding the Gap by Bing Liu and Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley both were major influences in how I approached family storytelling in my film.

What motivated you to make this film?

In 2020, I set out to make a film about Nalini’s miraculous recovery after her fall from a tree. I intended to capture her inspirational recovery back to her “original state,” fearless, resolved, and perfect, like a superhero. As we deepened our relationship, I began to understand Nalini more deeply; she opened up new conversations within my family, and we embarked on a challenging but rewarding journey to examine the ripple effects of trauma. I was inspired to make a film that shows Nalini’s strength not only in her achievements, but in her vulnerability. We ended up making a film about “what grows back” after a disturbance in the rainforest, and in a person’s life.

Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it: 

Sony FX6 & A7SIII

I especially used the A7SIII in Monteverde, Costa Rica as it was small and light enough that I could carry it up 200 feet into the rainforest canopy to film Nalini in her element.

Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story: 

Nalini’s energetic love for trees is infectious. Anyone she speaks with comes away with a newfound appreciation for the nature around them, whether in an urban park or a remote forest. Spending time with her has made me more attuned, for example, to how a tree’s body language shows the scars of injuries weathered in its life.

I found it interesting to consider how her relationship to trees changes over time. Trees were safety and refuge to her as a child, a place of exploration and achievement as she climbed high in her career, and a source of danger when she fell. That fall, however, allowed for a new sort of relationship, integrating all that came before into something new.

It was important to capture that dynamic “three-dimensional volume” as we moved up into the canopy, as well as the tactile “feel” of being amongst the trees. I love the way Nalini interacts with mosses. Circling to trace the surfaces, peeling them back to expose the soil underneath, and placing everything back gently with a pat. 

We also used 8mm family home movies, to represent Nalini’s intruding memories of the past, these were chosen deliberately to show the contrast between the shiny happy version the family that they wanted to present to the outside world, vs the inside world that had buried trauma built into the fabric of the family.

How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be? 

I thought I was making a story about a woman who fell from a tree and made a miraculous full recovery. As Nalini and I got to know each other, and difficult truths about childhood trauma came to light, I realized this was a different film. It was instead a film about how, after a disturbance, we are forever changed, there are ripple effects, and we return, not to the same state, but to a different state than the one before. The question of “what grows back” after a disturbance became central to the film.

Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film: 

Coming to know and understand my Aunt Nalini in a completely.

What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Try to access the emotional connection to the issue in your filmmaking, the more people make a connection with the issue, or see a protagonist who is truly passionate, the more they will be moved to get involved in things themselves. It empowers them to make their own emotional connections, rather than informing them didactically what they should be doing which can sometimes cause them to disengage.

What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Filmmaking is an act of exploration and discovery, especially in documentary. You don’t know where you’re going to end up, who you’ll be by the end of it. You go in trying to say one thing and along the way you learn new things about the world, about yourself. It’s scary, but that’s what makes it exciting.

What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

I’m very superstitious about being prepared for medical emergencies, so I always bring a small homemade first aid kit, which includes things like band-aids and Advil, as well as things like Narcan and an Epipen. I haven’t had to use them. My feeling is, if I don’t have them, I might need them, but if I bring them, I likely won’t need to use them.

Please share a personal story about your experience making this film:

One of the true joys during production was spending 10 days in Monteverde, living and filming with Nalini and her husband Jack (an entomologist who studies ants!). When we trekked into the rainforest to check Nalini’s research plots, the trails had almost completely disappeared; covered over by plants that had grown in the years since the trails had last been walked. Each step made an impression on the land. I had to rely on Nalini and Keylor (her climbing assistant) to navigate in and out, and hoped the waterproof cover on my backpack would protect the camera from periodic downpours.

As we arrived at our first tree (“Keylor”), we saw it was completely uprooted, and had fallen. Stepping onto its wide trunk was the first time I truly understood the scale of an old-growth, two-hundred foot tall tree.

When it was finally time to climb “Figuerola” (Nalini’s favorite tree, a strangler fig), I was unexpectedly terrified. I accidentally got off the rope on the wrong branch, thinking I surely must have made it far enough by that point. Nalini’s destination was about 15 feet above me. I was balancing in the crotch of the tree, tied off to a branch that would maybe (hopefully) hold my weight if I fell. Serendipitously, this was the vantage point where I captured some of my favorite shots in the film: peering up, through the leaves, at Nalini taking a peaceful moment in the canopy. The footage is a bit shaky. I like it. Getting down was a whole other adventure.

Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

The first time I went up, I accidentally got off on the wrong branch, too early, and had to perch precariously until Nalini made it to the proper branch. A big challenge was quite simply balancing, and getting “the shot.” I had my A7S on me, and a GoPro on one of our helmets. Even though I was strapped in for safety, I could still fall off the branch, so each moment, I had to weigh whether I could lean or balance out to get a better angle. But safety always came first. I like that the footage is shaky and imperfect, it’s authentic and matches the intended tone of this portion of the film as Nalini finds peace and comfort in the Monteverde canopy.

What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

I hope this film will inspire people to look around and recognize the trees and nature surrounding them, especially in urban areas. I want them to tap into that childhood energy and love that Nalini has for nature, the way she holds onto that love of climbing trees as a child. Everyone has that with something in nature, and I want them to carry that into adulthood, myself included. I also hope that people watching the film will feel less alone in dealing with whatever disturbances they face. Inspired by my aunt’s radical vulnerability, I hope to communicate that regardless of our productivity or achievement, we are inherently worthy of love, safety, curiosity, and joy.

Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion: 

– What inspired you to make this film? How did that change through the process?

– Nalini is your aunt, what was your experience like working with family?

– The trees play such a significant role in Nalini’s life. What was it like being among them? What is it like to climb them? To film them?

– The film captures Nalini’s deep emotional bond and wonder in her work with trees. Can you talk about the thematic importance of trees and Nalini’s research in the film? How did you try to capture that?

– Can you talk about how you wove family archival into the film?

– As a filmmaker, how did you approach the complex and at times, sensitive themes of disturbance, loss, and recovery that play a significant role in both Nalini’s life and her research?

– How did the concept of “what grows back” after a disturbance, and the “Third State” shape the arc and storytelling approach of your film? 

– What do you hope people take away from the film? What impact do you want it to have?

Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?

Moved by her experience attending screenings of Between Earth & Sky, and witnessing the power of documentary to inform and inspire… Nalini has just created the first annual Monteverde Conservation Film Festival in the Costa Rican town where she does her field research. She will be bringing geographically diverse conservation films to Monteverde, screening alongside local filmmakers and community programs.

What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Reach out to set up an educational or community screening, this can be paired with a workshop or “walkshop” amongst the trees.

Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.): 



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