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My Neighbour is a Bear – A new film from Mattia Cialoni

The European Nature Trust has supported the aspiring Italian documentary filmmaker, Mattia Cialoni. 'My Neighbour is a Bear', Mattia's debut documentary, brings an artful new perspective
on human–wildlife coexistence.

Tucked in the valleys of Abruzzo National Park is a fragile population of Marsican brown bears. With just 50–60 individuals left, the species is one of the most vulnerable, yet charismatic carnivores in Europe. But a new film from debut filmmaker Mattia Cialoni sets out not to document the frailty of the species, but the sense of pride, purpose and strength the bear brings to local communities. My Neighbour is a Bear is an alternate take on the traditional wildlife film – a heartfelt ode to the joys of coexisting with wild nature.

The film follows the arrival of a mother bear – Amarena – with her four cubs, as she journeys down from the mountains of Abruzzo to the sun-strewn and cobbled streets of Villalago, a nearby village. ‘Have you seen the bear?’ the locals ask. ‘Yes, she had four little cubs with her,’ one replies, chuckling in the golden Mediterranean sunlight.

Where folklore has entrenched beliefs that bears are to be feared, many locals here live in harmony with the species, embracing the bear as a part of the region’s heritage. For some, the bear is a fascinating character; a benign and natural presence that brings joy to daily life. Mattia introduces us to his central character: Sabrina, a local woman who ventures out morning and evening to observe and watch over the bears. As we journey with her, hurrying to ready the camera when four tiny faces emerge from the cherry trees, a tender and cinematic portrait unfurls.

Watch the film

‘I noticed that the village itself was a character. Everyone spoke of the bear as their neighbour’,’ says Mattia. ‘It was a special relationship that I had never seen before, and I wanted to tell this story of coexistence’. He discovered an ancient, but ever-present kinship between the bears of Abruzzo and the local villages – one that has been forgotten in many parts of the world. ‘The bear here is actually not just an ambassador for the region, but for Italy itself.’

Throughout, Sabrina’s care for the bears is palpable. It is a feeling that Mattia could empathise with: for the past few years, he has worked as a nurse in Bristol Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. In the run up to making the film, Mattia had daily exposure to the frontlines of Covid-19; the deaths, and the trauma to the lives of families that were unable to see the people who had contracted the virus. Mattia had already been balancing work with full time study for his Wildlife Filmmaking course at University of the West of England, studying five days a week and working two to three 12-hour shifts on the ward.

‘Looking back, what got me through was the passion I had to make this film, to tell this story. I think the immersion in nature and the storyline actually helped me to not break down.’ In Sabrina, Mattia found a character who experienced daily the similar, organic pull to nature that Mattia describes. ‘There is so much curiosity, so much beauty to be found in nature. I hope that the positive message comes across in my film; that nature can provide a space to re-connect, and to heal.’

Mattia Cialoni is a wildlife filmmaker and a nurse at Bristol Hospital's Intensive Care Unit. He is currently planning to shoot his second film, on the wolves of Italy.

"There is so much curiosity, so much beauty to be found in nature. I hope that the positive message comes across in my film; that nature can provide a space to re-connect, and to heal"
– Mattia Cialoni

My Neighbour is a Bear has been selected for the following international film festivals:

Florida Environmental Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
International Wildlife Film Festival

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