The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival returns as a full in-person event for 2021 with 47 feature films, more than 100 shorts, and a Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented to Oliver Stone.
Two Tibetans sit outside an earthen building high on the Tibetan plateau. They’re discussing what’s become of wildlife photographer Vincent Munier and writer and adventurer Sylvain Tesson who’ve disappeared over a nearby ridge.
It’s late. Soon it will be dark. The two men, who were tracking Munier and Tesson through a telescope, are worried. There are wolves about.
This brief exchange sets the tone for director Marie Amiguet’s stunning documentary, filmed in one of the world’s most unforgiving landscapes. It’s about search for the elusive snow leopard, a creature so rare its existence was once thought to be a myth.
Munier and Tesson’s venture leads them into unexplored territory.
The Velvet Queen is a gorgeously filmed visual experience. Long passages without dialogue only emphasize the awesome vastness of the mountainous terrain. Figures trekking through a treeless, windswept vista are full of magnificence. But for all its majesty, The Velvet Queen is a story of two friends who share a remarkable journey and a celebration of a world beyond man’s influence. Throughout their encounters with the wildlife, they keep a respectful distance, observing through cameras and binoculars.
“Not everything was created for the human eye,” Tesson narrates, aware of the singular nature of the experience.
The search for the snow leopard becomes a kind of pretext. Whether or not they actually encounter one doesn’t really matter. What matters is the privilege of seeing sights that no one’s ever seen before. That the audience can share in that experience is nothing short of humbling.
Documentary, not rated, 92 minutes, in French with English subtitles; 2:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, Jean Cocteau Cinema