Interview with Salto is the King Director, Pavol Barabas
Pavol Barabáš (Slovakia, 1959) is the author/filmmaker behind over 60 mountain and adventure documentaries. His films were shot in inaccessible wilderness, on wild rivers and glacial peaks, in deep caves far away from civilization. Pavol likes to look for stories with the main characters going beyond their limits; he is fascinated by encounters with different cultures, be it in the territories of Tibetan Buddhism or in the lands of natural tribes, hidden deep in the jungle. He took part in a few ground-breaking expeditions: from the discovery of Stone-Age tribes in the rainforests of New Guinea, through the co-discovery of a mega-cave on the Chimantá plateau, to the first crossing of the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica. Pavol’s films have been awarded with more than 300 festival prizes world-wide. With VIMFF showing his latest film SALTO IS THE KING online from May 5th, we caught with Pavol for a short q&a.
VIMFF: How did you get into making mountain films, what was your main motivator?
Pavol Barabáš: My journey was similar to that of many young filmmakers. In 1993 I was attending a film festival in Poprad, Slovakia and I remained awestruck with the mountain film world. These great films completely got me! I knew right away I wanted to make my own film with my view of the mountain world. From that year onwards, I’ve been making basically two mountain films every year, non-stop.
VIMFF: What do you want to give the world through your films?
Pavol Barabáš: My life has always been closely connected with mountains and nature. I have crossed most of the great mountains on our planet, traversed many forests, navigated large rivers, descended waterfalls, stood on the two Poles of the Earth, discovered huge caves, and by doing so I learned to open all my senses to this environment. And then, when you are overwhelmed with so many perceptions and experiences, you need to process them in your soul and get them out of somehow. So for me, I want to first fill myself with these amazing experiences so that I can then translate them into films. If I had to summarize in one sentence the main idea behind my work – it is a fascination with nature, the natural elements of our Earth and our relationship to it. Our planet is truly miraculous. We are only here for a short visit and we should treat our Planet Earth with utmost respect and humbleness.
VIMFF: Which of your films do you value the most and why?
Pavol Barabáš: During the three decades of my adventurous filmmaking I have been attracted to making the documentaries in which I have captured “natural” people who live a clean, original way of life and are not affected by our civilization. Films like PURURAMBO, OMO – A JOURNEY TO THE PRIMEVAL AGE, PYGMIES – THE CHILDREN OF THE JUNGLE, SURI, SPIRIT OF JAGUAR from the rainforests of New Guinea, Congo and the Amazon are the ones I value the most. Making them was a kind of time travel, where I managed to capture tribes living as they did millennia ago – the natural way of life, in tribal communities. I realized that even today we can be happy only if we have our “tribe” around us, a community with which we can share our thoughts and emotions.
VIMFF: You have surely witnessed many changes in your professional life. How has mountain filmmaking changed since you started shooting?
Pavol Barabáš: A lot has changed in that short period of time. Topics and stories for sure, but above all the diverse technology that has become incredibly accessible. In the older times it was a huge problem for me to get hold of a high quality film or digital camera, they just weren’t easily available. In the early years I would record a lot on film tapes – recharging the batteries was a problem, it was all very limiting, and the film gear itself took up half a backpack. Today, perhaps everyone can express themselves through film and a lot of high quality mountain films are made every year. Mountain filmmaking is getting more commercial, for good and bad, with the major outdoor brands getting involved and using the films for promo purposes. However, one element remains unchanged – every good film needs to have a powerful story that touches the viewer, evokes strong emotions, and you can say that this is independent of the technology you are using.
VIMFF: At our Adventure show in May, we will screen one of your latest films SALTO IS THE KING. What was the biggest challenge in filming it?
Pavol Barabáš: Of all the outdoor sports, canyoning is the one that bewitched me the most. Wild canyons, huge waterfalls, a world of rocks and high walls, all this is so emotionally powerful for me and my friends that we were looking for ever higher and more challenging targets. Our ultimate goals were to abseil through the South African Tugela waterfalls and find a new beautiful way down the highest waterfall of Salto Angel in Venezuela. We did everything without helicopters, just on your own. Paradoxically, the most difficult thing was to carry a drone through Venezuela. It was almost impossible to bring it to the country to begin with, because of an alleged drone assassination attempt on the president Maduro in 2018. We were checked many times along the way by soldiers and police, but in the end we somehow managed to shoot what we needed!
VIMFF: How do you survive the Covid times, how does this pandemic affect your plans?
Pavol Barabáš: The pandemic is affecting the whole world for sure. It’s fascinating for me to see how such a small virus alerted the most advanced species on Planet Earth. During the pandemic I moved to the High Tatras, the highest mountains of Slovakia. Unfortunately, I had to cancel a few interesting expeditions just before leaving, for instance a trip to the high waterfalls on the Reunion Island. On the other hand, I had more time to finish two of my feature documentaries – EVEREST: THE HARD WAY and SALTO IS THE KING.
VIMFF: Thank you for the interview! Best of luck with your upcoming film projects!