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  • Brandon MacMurray

Wings of Dust Review and Q+A with Director Giorgio Ghiotto

Wings of Dust, dir. Giorgio Ghiotto, New York University

Wings of Dust, directed by Giorgio Ghiotto, sets the mood with stunning cinematography of Peru’s wilderness. A hike with the sun just peeking up over the horizon, the vastness of space in mountain landscapes, llamas and alpacas running free, rivers winding.

This initial picturesque view all comes crashing down with what is to come. “But I never imagined that one day, all that beauty and all that wilderness could be lost.” The short cuts to the harsh reality of that original wilderness today. In a clever set of shots pairing real-life imagery, golden hour views of winding rivers change to roads lined with trucks as far as the eye can see. Mountains suddenly disappear into a cloud of smoke, and craterous holes form in the ground as mining companies tear into them.

"Wings of Dust" takes place in the city of Espinar in Cuzco, Peru, a city of 70,000 inhabitants. It follows our subject, 38 year old Vidal Merma, an independent Indigenous Quechua journalist who champions the voice of the indigenous K’ana Nation. The city's stance on the mines that have taken over the lands is abundantly clear. A mural in the town states: "Yes to life, no to mines. Taking care of our environment is everyone’s responsibility." Vidal takes his responsibility as a journalist very seriously as defends human rights, spending 15 years fighting to show the negative effect of the exploitive mining activity in the area.

The once-fresh water flowing through the Indigenous lands is now opaque, burns their skin, and is full of dead fish. The effects of the water source poisoning by the mines are widespread. Children are born with neurological disorders. Blood tests of those in Espinar show the presence of lead, arsenic, cadmium, maganese and mercury, all of which lead to neurological disease, cancer and anemia.

Vidal’s battle to get the news out is grueling as he faces the powers at be shutting down his TV show and streaming platforms. His attempts to relay the harms done to his people and demand accountability are thwarted at every turn. The bias against honest journalism is on display as the government only allows the media to inform what they and international companies want the public to see.

Filmmaking like this can be risky, as environmental activists are criminalized by the state. Giorgio remains steadfast in his portrayal as follows Vidal not only through every step of his battle to get the truth out and protect to his community but also the touching moments of Vidal’s personal life.

The short ends with Vidal’s hopes and dreams for the future. After seeing him pour his whole heart into his community, the viewer longs for the same.

Born in Rome, Italy, Giorgio is doing his graduate studies at NYU. He aims to use his passion for video journalism to tell stories from across the globe, giving awareness to environmental and humanitarian issues.

Q+A with Director Giorgio Ghiotto

Congrats on being a finalist in the Student Academy Awards! Can you share the moment when you discovered you were among the top 3 finalists?

I never would have imagined winning something like this. Just a few years ago, I was struggling to find my footing and saw the possibility of making a documentary being something for a few privileged and lucky ones. For me, the greatest joy didn't stem from the prize itself, but from the realization that the Student Academy Award provides a genuine platform to amplify Vidal's message and serves as a powerful motivator to continue making a profound impact on human rights violations through documentaries.

When and how did you first become aware of the issues faced by those in Espinar due to mining? How did your initial encounter with Vidal unfold?

I was introduced to the theme of mining during a Director of Photography (DoP) job I undertook in South America. It was during the pre-production phase of this project that I first met Vidal. What immediately struck me was how others referred to Vidal as a "fixer," a term I personally dislike due to its tendency to diminish an individual's background and dignity. Vidal is a journalist, and I was eager to celebrate his work.

How long did you spend filming in Peru for this project?

I dedicated two months to filming this project, during which time I resided in an inexpensive hotel near Vidal's home. The conditions weren't ideal, lacking both heat and hot water, especially during the cold mountain winter. However, the internet connection wasn't too bad, which allowed me to live in close proximity to Vidal while maintaining my own little "office."

Can you share the most challenging moment you encountered during the making of this film?

Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of making this film was operating as a one-person crew. Coordinating audio, cinematography, and drone work while simultaneously managing the logistical production and storytelling proved to be extremely demanding. There were moments when things didn't go as planned, but these setbacks served as some of the most profound lessons in my life. Vidal was a constant source of encouragement, reminding me that "there is always a solution." One specific incident that comes to mind is when my drone crashed on the second day of filming. Vidal promptly pointed out the incredible panoramic shots we could have captured, and he was absolutely right.

Do you maintain regular contact with Vidal? Any updates on his efforts or a reliable source to stay informed about his progress?

Vidal and I are not just collaborators; we are close friends, like brothers. Recently, thanks to an invitation from the Academy, Vidal will have the opportunity to visit the United States for a screening and, hopefully, be present at the official Student Oscar ceremony. We are also in the process of developing an impact campaign to raise funds for Vidal, with the goal of acquiring a new camera and laptop for him, and potentially assisting his son, Erik, in his educational journey as he aspires to become a filmmaker.

I'm always curious about the work that inspires others. Are there any recent documentary shorts or films that have left a significant impression on you? Are there any documentary filmmakers whose work consistently inspires you?

For this project, my primary source of inspiration has been "Cartel Land" by Matthew Heineman. As a side note, after our shoot days filled with intense moments, Vidal and I used to listen to the film's soundtrack, mentally editing the various scenes. I first watched "Cartel Land" when I was not even 18, and I was captivated by Matthew's ability to capture intense moments while staying attuned to the emotional experiences of the people he was documenting and maintaining his focus behind the camera.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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