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The great white north

Manitoba winter wilderness beckons Italian filmmakers

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Parks Canada was hit hard with cutbacks last year, putting fiscal reality and fragile environment on a collision course.

It sounds like a ready script for a pair of visiting Italian filmmakers, Eugenio Manghi and his wife Annalisa.

After all, their last project, The Boiling Sea, was a feature-length documentary on the clash between climate change and human culture around the Mediterranean.

So did they head straight to Riding Mountain National Park with their cameras rolling?

Not quite, but our province and its signature park have always been draws for Eugenio. The opportunity to reconnect with the land -- and for his wife, a chance to see Manitoba's breathtaking wilderness for the first time -- is what recently brought them to Winnipeg and Riding Mountain.

"I come back virtually every year since 1994 to 2003," he said.


"Dances with Wolves," he replied with a short guffaw.

His wife glanced over to judge the response. "It's true," he protested playfully.

OK. Got it.

Europeans' love for wildlife and our stereotypes about their strident stances on animal welfare were just too good to pass up. Hence his poke.

In the 1990 movie Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner plays a U.S. calvary officer who goes native after the end of the Civil War. It's romantic fluff that plays to stereotypes.

They may not be household names in Canada, but the Manghis are well-known in Europe for their stunning wildlife photography and politically edgy films, which get wide play on university campuses.

Her speciality is African wildlife, with a focus on South African elephants. She once was eyeball to eyeball with a no-nonsense elephant matriarch that she recalled as "very emotional. We were just gazing at each other."

The elephant is nicknamed Wonky Tusk for its distinctive asymmetrical tusks: They flared out in opposite directions.

Every year Wonky leads her family to the same mango tree in Zambia for a fruit feast, passing through the lobby of the Mfwue Lodge to get to the tree, said Annalisa, who filmed the mango pilgrimage.

"The lodge was built on their migration route. Every year, they know when the tree is fruiting and they go directly to their mango tree. It belongs to that family," she said. Lodge staff just get out of the herd's way.

Eugenio is perhaps best known in Switzerland and Italy for a well-loved story/photo spread he did on polar bears in Churchill.

The story is 15 years old but every Christmas one magazine or another runs it for its stunning shots of a very sleep-deprived momma and her cuddly little baby bear.

The same Arctic madonna bruin and child made it into a well loved Canadian IMAX film, captured the same time Manghi's crew was on the tundra.

The couple shares an emphatic bond with wild animals that comes through in their work, said longtime Canadian friend Rob Bruce Barron.

"I call their work lyrical. And part of that is the integrity and principle they bring to it. That's what I see from the outside, looking in."

Others might call it "soul."

The closest comparison here is the CBC's Nature of Things icon David Suzuki, Barron said.

Barron teamed up with Eugenio on a re-creation of a summer Inuit camp for a film in 1997. Shot in Baker Lake, it depicted life during the Viking era, with Canadian Inuit re-enacting traditional life, "like it was 900 years ago," Barron said.

So how was the trip to Riding Mountain?

A chance encounter with a moose cow and yearling on the road entranced Annalisa. A pair of playful bison caught Eugenio's eye.

But the highlight was a lynx.

The couple was in a car speeding along a winding road to the east gate when Eugenio hailed the driver to stop -- and back up slowly.

He'd spotted a black bump in a grey bramble. It turned out to be the bob tail of a lynx in a willow thicket. They waited for the lynx to show its face for a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

It was the twelfth trip to Riding Mountain for Eugenio and the first time he'd seen a lynx there.

He said he knows European scientists who study the animal and have never laid eyes on one in the wild. "It's very rare to see in Europe."

"I ask myself how could I have seen it, in a glimpse, going 60 kilometres down a road? You have to respond instinctively."


For that extra something: If you're looking for environmentally friendly products, from skin care to cleaning products or cutting-edge gluten-free grains, check out Generation Green at The Forks in the main Market.

It opened three months ago and is catching on, retailer Sherry Sobey said.

"It's taken me three years of research," Sobey said about market studies before she set up the kiosk that stretches through the south wing of the market.

"It's one thing to be eco-friendly. It's another for it to perform, and these ones do," she said gesturing to some of her hottest sellers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 J16

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