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“Nocturnes” Invites Us to the Vibrant Dark of Nature’s Night

PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 22: Anirban Dutta and Anupama Srinivasan attend the 2024 Sundance Film Festival “Nocturnes” premiere. (Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Patty Consolazio

Not so much a film as an experience, Nocturnes drops us off in the deepest, remotest parts of Earth to witness nature and biodiversity at work. Specifically, moths — thousands of them — fly to the light, where researchers examine them, marveling at their colors, shapes, sizes, and variations. 

We watch alongside the scientists, to bear witness to how they emerge under different conditions. Some nights, they battle the rain to get there; other nights, they don’t come at all. But the moths are just one detail within a much greater picture; a microcosm of the vast Eastern Himalayas.

Nocturnes premiered in the World Cinema Documentary Competition on January 22 at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, followed by a Q&A with its directors, Anirban Dutta and Anupama Srinivasan. They shed some light on the thinking behind their immersive, visually provocative film.

“This [film] is about temporality,” explains director Anupama Srinivasan. “When you hold onto the shots long and you keep wondering, why are they going on, and then you start listening; OK, something is happening. Sometimes the voice-over comes; sometimes it doesn’t come. So it’s a sense of experiencing that time within that space that we constantly wanted the audience to go through.” 

Though the obvious story was the researchers’ work with the moths, the overarching theme remained the multisensory beauty of nature. “Of course we are following the scientists’ work and we want to respect that, but we didn’t want to, at any point, get didactic about it, and for us, the visual and the cinematic potential of it was what was really charming. But at the same time, the science had to be woven in very gently because nobody wants to be preached to about any issue or about science… We wanted to keep the science just enough.” 

As we marvel at the valleys and ridges of this great expanse of forest land that is the Himalayas, then zero in on a rain-dappled moth sitting on a leaf, Dutta acknowledges the mystery of it all, both the great and small. “We know little about things of the world,” he says. “There is this idea that we humans know it all, and [that we] have the capacity to destroy it is true, but we know very little about this world.”

What Dutta does know for certain, and wants us to know as well, is that the nature we see in Nocturnes is a gift. That people can hurt the world, and people can help. “This forest is very precious because the Indigenous community there… has given up their own land to create a buffer zone for the sanctuary,” he explains. “This is very special in India. All this diversity that we had the privilege to film is because of this immense work that the Indigenous community has done.”

To see more of the magic from the 2024 Festival, click here.