Film Music at TriBeCa Film Festival 2018

 "Film Music at TriBeCa Film Festival 2018" 

Here is what Kyle Renick says about The Serengeti Rules...


A heartening work on climate change came in Nicolas Brown’s The Serengeti Rules.

Five largely unknown heroes of modern ecology headed into international wildernesses decades ago, driven by curiosity about how nature functions. They discovered the concept of “keystone species” who hold the natural world together, if they are allowed freedom to do so: “sea otters help kelp forests flourish, supporting everything from salmon to eagles; wolves enable rivers to run clear and help forests thrive; and the humble wildebeest controls the number of trees, butterflies, elephants, and even giraffes on the savanna.” Tragically these connections can work in reverse, with ecosystems unraveling and collapsing. The fact that there is cause for hope in the midst of so much international climate despair provides a reason to reimagine the world as it could be and should be. Curious about the musical approach to such a vast canvas, I contacted composer Anne Nikitin immediately. It was no surprise to learn that she regards conservation as the most important issue of our time, feeling there is a mystical connection between the power and beauty of music with the profound beauty and significance of nature. I asked a few questions about her approach to different environments and characters, especially on the vividness of her scoring for underwater scenes.

“I aimed for a classic, sophisticated and dignified orchestral score to support the visual material and highlight the important messages of the film,” she offered. “I wanted the music to be sensitive, emotional, grand, playful, even destructive in places, to support the sentiments of the film without being over the top, or too ‘doom and gloom.’ The first step was to create bespoke themes for the scientists, which become intertwined when their lives and research cross paths. They all have touching and compelling stories about what guided them to their areas of expertise, and their compassion for the planet; I was eager to try and capture these through music. It’s funny that you mention underwater scenes, as I do feel a connection, which I realized last year scoring a film called Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Damien Hirst wanted a musical distinction between surface and underwater scenes, and I found I was drawn to the latter. The sensation of being underwater and seeing so many amazing things is something I tried to transfer to music. In The Serengeti Rules, Mary Power’s scene is particularly moving as she relays her childhood discovery that she is visually impaired but can see perfectly underwater.”

Regarding her instrumentation and collaboration with the beloved City of Prague Philharmonic, Nikitin “recorded a string orchestra with woodwinds and horns, and allowed an extra session for soloists. I enjoy writing for solo strings, especially the cello, which is such an expressive and versatile instrument. [KR: She composed a vivid cello cue for a scene with the Bachman’s Warbler, which is now probably extinct.] In the world of documentary filmmaking, music budgets are very tight, so I was fortunate to record an orchestra with understanding and support from the financiers. Documentaries are going through an exciting renaissance, and production companies are realizing not only how important a good score is, but also how much recordings actually cost. I worked with the City of Prague Philharmonic on Treasures and knew they would be perfect for The Serengeti Rules. They are masters at capturing that lush, swelling orchestral sound, and nailing each cue virtually immediately. The team is extremely professional and a joy to work with, and James Fitzpatrick, who runs the ship, is always accommodating.” 

Finally, I broached the issue of women film composers in a traditionally male-dominated business, and whether Nikitin thinks the industry is changing. “I’ve always seen myself as a composer rather than ‘female composer.’ That’s an important distinction to me because I think we should ultimately aim to transcend gender rather than draw attention to it. However, as far back as my composition studies, I’ve been acutely aware that as a woman I was in an extreme minority among composers. I’ve had many discussions with friends and colleagues over the years as to why this is, and it still baffles me. Why don’t more women want to do this for a living? Is it the deeply unsociable, painfully long hours? Is it the lack of role models? Do they feel they will not have the same chances as men? Whatever the reasons, things are starting to change, and it is all truly exciting. More and more young female composers are getting in touch with me for advice, which is fantastic.” 

“My gender has never held me back in the U. K.,” she continued. “But on a visit to L. A. some years back, I was shocked to feel for the first time that there was a problem being female in what felt to me like a bit of a Boys’ Club. There were few if any women on Agency books overflowing with male names. And certainly, no women scoring big studio movies. Women are now scoring more high-end television and independent features, but they’re completely absent in the top tier of big budget films. I’m sure many of us are more than capable of handling the pressure and writing an awesome score! When #MeToo kicked in last year and highlighted the dearth of women in key creative roles in the film industry, strange things started happening. For the first time in my life, I was asked to pitch for a U. K. film, because they needed a ‘female composer’ to satisfy the funding bodies. At first, I was insulted. That was a few months ago, and now that I’ve gotten over the shock, perhaps the sad reality is that a degree of positive favoritism is necessary to break down preconceptions. Hopefully, women will be propelled higher and higher until there are female and male composers working throughout the industry across all budgets.”

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