Sanctuaries of Silence

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

What motivated you to make this film?

We were inspired by Gordon Hempton’s work as an acoustic ecologist documenting the impacts of man made noise on wild spaces.  The idea of telling a story that was focused on creating an experience of what it’s like to hear what Gordon hears intrigued us.  Silence is often undervalued, and the noise generated by our modern way of life is all pervasive.  Learning how to again listen and appreciate the sounds of nature seems imperative if we are to relearn how to live in relationship with the natural world.  VR seemed like the perfect medium to share Gordon’s story and explore this theme and issue.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

Go in the woods, stop talking and listen.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.


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

We can provide a lesson plan / discussion guide that will offer several key points.


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

No developments.


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

Check out Gordon’s One Square Inch of Silence project.  Ways to support his work and learn more about the impacts of both noise pollution and how preserving small areas from noise can have a huge impact.


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


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

Too numerous to list


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

A custom Go Pro rig with 6 cameras.


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

Just spending time with Gordon in the Hoh Rainforest was a special experience.  It was quiet, it was simple.  It rained a lot of the time we were there, which was beautiful, but cold and a bit challenging to shoot in.  But when it stopped and we experienced the sun making its way through the forest canopy and the sounds of the drips on the mossy forest floor it felt like we were in a cathedral with the most beautiful music playing – the subtle sounds of the forest coming to life and being lit up by the morning rays of sun.  Those moments are always precious.


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

Sound played a huge role in this project.  We used recordings from Gordon Hempton’s extensive library and worked with a great sound designer to create a sound driven narrative.


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

The goal of this film was always to create an immersive lyrical experience of Gordon’s world.  This being our first VR project we definitely struggled with the technology and our learning curve and some of our ideas and approaches changed.  But in the end the film is very close to our original vision of what we wanted it to be.


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

Spending time in the Hoh Rainforest with Gordon was a lovely experience.  A powerful and beautiful place.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Focus on story and creating an authentic experience.  Don’t let the issue be the only driving force in your narrative.  Character, place, emotion and universal themes that transcend issues should play key roles in crafting your film.  Make it accessible.


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

Although being on location is often the most exciting and alive part of the process it’s the edit is where everything comes together.  You get to take time, try different things, craft an experience.  That’s very rewarding.


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

Water bottle and snacks.  Being hungry and thirsty dramatically reduces creativity and focus.


What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

People are hungry for silence and space in their lives.  This film offers people a way to experience that and connect to nature and visit a place that many people can’t.  It doesn’t replace the experience of visiting beautiful wild and quiet places but it offers a taste of what’s possible and reminds people about what’s at risk.



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