“This is one film at Sundance that won’t make you cry,” Alex Wolf Lewis promised us while informing our virtual chat group in the New Frontier Film Party room that there were three films involving turtles at the Sundance Film Festival 2021. He kept his promise.
Wolf Lewis is a director and cinematographer based in New York City and Portland, Maine. He has traveled the world shooting for Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Well Groomed, Netflix, CNN, and A&E, among others. He collaborated with co-director, Kaitlyn Schwalje, to tell the story about his family’s pet turtle of 25 years, Snowy.
Schwalje is a science journalist and documentary director also based in Portland, Maine. She studied physics before pivoting to storytelling. Her work about her disaster-obsessed father, tsunamis, city squirrels, and how archaeology saved the cat appear in Atlas Obscura and National Geographic, to name a few. She explained the premise behind the decision to make the film, “this idea that there is room for better understanding other people’s life experiences, whether that is your neighbor or your mother or your pet turtle…”
The two set out to seek answers about the life of Snowy, a four-inch-long pet turtle. With help from a team of experts and his caretaker, Uncle Larry, they ask: Can Snowy be happy, and what would it take? Despite being a good sport, Uncle Larry asked during the film, ‘I just don’t understand why you’re making a movie about me and my turtle…I don’t know who’s going to want to watch this.”
Notwithstanding the scene where Snowy regurgitates a worm, there is a sweetness to this specific subject. Snowy has been a constant in the family. He has been there year after year and at every holiday. Wolf Lewis explained, “There is something about the lonely turtle in the basement that stuck with me…I think I just felt bad about.”
In one scene, Snowy is at his “well turtle” appointment. The veterinarian is inspecting Snowy and turns him over to a nice “surprise.” Let’s just say that the worm, coming out the other end, did not take kindly to Snowy either. Cut to a close up shot of the family’s Thanksgiving turkey with turkey juice running down the back end. Turkey anyone? That might just be a little too “toxic.” That is either the most disgusting piece of cinematography or the most brilliant jump cut.
Nevertheless, Snowy captivated the team at Sundance with its intimate message.
In all seriousness, the film is incredibly endearing…and yes Uncle Larry. We are definitely going to watch.
For more information, visit Snowy.