Dedicated Men, “Incredibly Intelligent” Dogs Pursue Prized Delicacy In Oscar-Shortlisted ‘The Truffle Hunters’

For the uninitiated, a truffle is an edible fungus “of the genus tuber,” a gustatory delight that rivals gold in market value.
The bond between hunter and dog is something to behold, like the one between Aurelio and his devoted Birba.
The prices fetched by the fungi have led many more people to horn in on the activity, and some have gone so far as to poison other people’s dogs. The way of life captured in The Truffle Hunters is further imperiled by global warming and deforestation. Danger lurks in this bucolic world of the truffle hunters.
“Scientists talk about the possibility, if climate change and environmental change continues the way that it's going, that it could be gone forever.” As the climate changes, there are just fewer and fewer of them every year, because it depends on these very, very, very specific conditions,” Kershaw explains. “The white truffle…only grows in this thin strip of land that's mostly in Italy and in the neighboring countries.
Eventually the filmmakers were invited to join the men and their dogs on the hunt. Some sequences in the film were shot from the canines’ POV, courtesy of a “dog cam.”
Covid interrupted plans for a big screening at the 2020 Torino Film Festival, to which all the characters in the film had been invited. Sony Pictures Classics will release The Truffle Hunters in theaters in New York and LA on March 5, with a nationwide expansion to follow. It was named one of the top five documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review and earlier this month earned a Producers Guild Award nomination.
We had the old 1930s movie theater cranked up again to show them in the theater.” “The town prepared a whole street fair for them. Some of the dogs were coming,” Dweck says. “They had never been to a movie before, ever.
We got all these high-tech contraptions that we found on the internet, and blogs, and talking to other filmmakers. They fit them comfortably…It's so cool to be sprinting through the forest as a dog and see the world passing around.” “We finally worked with an Italian shoe cobbler…They custom-built little mounts, after numerous iterations, that went on the dog's heads. None of them worked,” Kershaw shares. "We experimented a lot.
“The first time we got invited into Aurelio's house, he said, ‘I'll make you some lunch,’” Dweck remembers. We knew at that point who was important in his life. It was really Birba.” “He gets the pot of soup and brings it to the table…He says, ‘Birba gets the chicken, the carrots, the celery.’ The broth is left, and he said, ‘Okay, now you guys can sit down,’ and he gave us a couple of spoonfuls of broth.
We don't know who they are. “They had all these stories they had invented about these people.” ‘Up in those hills, in the dark, there are these men. “They took us outside. We've never met them before. They're crazy,’” Dweck recalls them saying.
Aurelio, Angelo, Sergio, 89-year-old Carlo—it wasn’t easy convincing them to appear in the film. The truffle hunters Dweck and Kershaw met weren’t crazy; in fact they were more like the salt, and perhaps pepper, of the earth.
Italy’s Piedmont region is a country for old men, to judge from the new documentary The Truffle Hunters.
When a dog hones in on the scent, it’s an ecstatic moment. White truffles attach themselves to the roots of old oak and poplar trees, the filmmakers explain.
They have grown very fond of the truffle hunters and the land they call home. The filmmakers hope they can put on an event like that in the summer.
Locals described the secretive, old masters in almost mythic terms. Sniffing out the truffle hunters proved a challenge for the filmmakers.
Kershaw and Dweck spent several years in the Piedmont area, absorbing the culture that surrounds the tartufo.
“You can feel them smiling as they're digging in the ground…The whole time the truffle hunter and the dog are getting more and more excited.” “You see that absolute bliss that they have,” Kershaw observes.
“We ended up falling in love with this place and these people,” Dweck affirms. Adds Kershaw, “It felt to us like a fairytale. It felt like we were stepping into a storybook.”” />
I think that was part of the process that helped us quite a bit, was just spending time. It took a lot of time there before we could just take out a camera.” “In many ways, they became our extended family. “We'd just share a lot of wine and a lot of espresso, and be invited into their homes,” Dweck tells Deadline.
“This truffle, it can't be cultivated. That's the only way you can find a truffle.” That's another part of the reason that it's so desired,” Kershaw notes. “It can only be discovered by this ancient knowledge that's passed down through generations, and takes a lifetime to cultivate, and a dog trained for three years.
In the Oscar shortlisted film, a colorful group of aged characters, most in their 80s, traverse the hilly countryside often in the middle of the night, accompanied by their trusty canine companions. Man and dog, uomo e cane, scour the landscape for something buried in the soil—something that used to be more plentiful but now has become increasingly rare: the elusive truffle.
She knew exactly what you were going to do, what your intention was, before you did it.” Kershaw continues, “Birba seemed to have this incredible intelligence. When they were going out, she would pick up the clothes that Aurelio was going to need, his hat, his gloves, and give them to him…She could read your emotions very carefully.
This is something that if you don't eat it in three days, it's gone. It is intoxicating,” says Gregory Kershaw, who alongside Michael Dweck directed The Truffle Hunters. It's no longer good. It's really astonishing.” “There's an auction that we filmed, a truffle that's like a kilogram sold for $100,000. “The scent of it, it is really magical.

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