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The Transylvania Documentary Project


Being enfolded and protected by the Carpathian Mountains, the peoples of south-eastern Transylvania live in one of the most important natural landscapes of Europe. It possesses a very special blend of ethnic diversity, deep-rooted tradition, and amazing bio-diversity. The everyday patterns of life are still closely connected to the seasons of the year. Rich meadow-grass is cut by hand with scythes, and oxen and horses still plough the fertile fields. Shepherds live for months away from home, milking their sheep for cheese, which is richly flavoured by the wild-flowers of the landscape. Succulent berries and delicate herb-flavoured honey are highly-prized. Most villages are stocked with a range of medicinal plants for the benefit of the entire community. This interdependence with the natural world was common throughout Europe 200 years ago, but is now limited to a handful of remoter areas like Transylvania.

Modern agricultural machinery is gradually appearing in this medieval landscape

A Region Under Threat

Western European marketing pressures and European Union regulations are beginning to cause irrevocable changes to the lives and lifestyles of the people who live here. In an age where genetic modification and intensive agriculture are dangerously increasing our dependence on a few artificial options, the bio-diversity of Transylvania and associated traditional agricultural techniques are extremely valuable. Dr Gordon Hillman, an archaeo-botanist at the University of London, says... "Traditional farming practices provide a window on successful agricultural solutions from the past. These are yielding important knowledge and experience for the future long-term survival of the human species on this planet." Filmed over an entire year, a SpurFilm cinema-feature and television series entitled "Transylvania - The Land Beyond the Forest" will document the seasonal activities and traditional cultures of farming communities in rural Transylvania before they disappear for ever.

Horse-power is used in most villages

From May 2008, SpurFilm will start filming the everyday life cycles of four village communities in Transylvania over a 12-month period. These villages will represent the four ethic groups of the region - Romanian, Szekeler-Hungarian, Saxon-German (Sass), and Gipsy. Through a representative family in each of these villages the film project will document the traditional lifestyles of these peoples. The four chosen villages, their layout, farming practices and landscapes will provide a unique opportunity for us to witness an ecology and way of life which disappeared centuries ago in most of Western Europe. The filming will particularly examine the ways that the local geography, climate, and natural seasons of the year determine the activities of the villagers, how the Transylvanian landscape influences their food crops and their livestock, and how these are reflected in the traditional culture and in the food and drink of the region. Villages festivals are often closely linked to the seasons and SpurFilm will explore their deep-rooted origins. The filming will demonstrate how this rural ecosystem is an unbroken chain which links nature, village society and the agricultural economy of the inhabitants. Importantly, the films will clearly show how the ancient landscape of Transylvania possesses a wide range of bio-diversity which has been lost elsewhere in Europe, and why this holds great cultural and scientific importance.

Traditional crafts survive throughout Transylvania

The Agricultural Year

Everyday life in Transylvania is still closely linked with the seasons of the year. The films will document the main agricultural activities of each of the four villages and compare any differences between the cultural groups. Most work is still done by hand or with simple tools. Shepherds will spend months away from home, tending their animals on the grassy uplands. For economic reasons, many shepherds are being forced to seek better-paid jobs in the nearby towns. This is causing a serious threat to upland sheep-grazing. Horses provide the main source of power, although oxen can still be seen ploughing the fields. Grass and hay are vital feedstuffs for animals, and these have always been the region's natural, renewable bio-fuel. The grass is usually cut with scythes, dried on fences, and stored in hay-stacks that vary from village to village in their artistic shape and size. Wood is a precious resource everywhere and represents another sustainable Transylvanian bio-fuel. Apart from its use in cooking and keeping warm, wood is a versatile construction material for houses, churches, fences and carts.

Bee-keeping and honey production are dependent on local wild flowers

To Protect the Culture & Bio-Diversity

The relentless influences of the outside world are starting to cause devastating change to the unique rural ecosystem of south-eastern Transylvania. The application of artificial fertilizers is destroying wildflower meadows. Medicinal herbs and other species of economic or cultural value are being neglected. Upland grazing is in decline since shepherds need jobs that attract higher wages. There is also an increase in unsustainable forestry practices with entire hillsides being felled without replanting. Another cause is the lack of public awareness of the rich ecological and cultural value of the area. The filmed documentary project will play an important role in educating global audiences about the importance of this precious European heritage. The objective is to encourage the organised protection of the special landscape and biodiversity of Transylvania, and consequently ensure the long-term survival of the traditional cultures of the people, the wild plants, the animals and their natural habitats, which have evolved over thousands of years within the protective sweep of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania.

Grass and hay are valuable bio-fuels for horsepower and create zero CO2 pollution

The audio-visual material acquired over the 12-month period, in high-definition video and digital still photographs, will become an important media archive of traditional life in Transylvania. From this resource SpurFilm will edit various multimedia presentations. These will include a 6-part television documentary series for global distribution, a 90-min cinema feature which will be screened at the Sibiu Astra Documentary Festival of 2009, and promotional materials to highlight the work of NGOs and eco-tourism specialists in Transylvania. The archive will also be available for any international media organisation wishing to obtain high-quality visuals of traditional life in Transylvania.

A Vanishing World

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Human population growth and the uncontrolled spread of modern culture are slowly destroying our planet. Rapidly multiplying people need ever-increasing amounts of land and resources - water, crops and animals to eat as food, wood for fuel, carbon fuels and minerals for industry. The modern culture is hungry for resources. This expansion is causing havoc to fragile ecosystems and traditional cultures. The world's cultural and biological diversity is under assault as never before in recorded history. Here in Transylvania, there's a unique environment with precious bio-diversity that's under threat.

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As everywhere on our planet, geography, climate, and the natural seasons of the year have all influenced the everyday patterns of life in rural communites - their local food crops and their livestock. In turn, these are reflected in the traditional culture, and the food and drink of any region - as here, in Transylvania. The church calendar is full of fasting and feasting days - Easter and Christmas being the most colourful and exuberant. Regardless of their ethnic grouping, most homes still slaughter their own animals, produce traditional cheeses, bake their own bread, bottle their own jam and honey, and press their own wine.

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Transylvanian village gardens contain the living elements of an authentic medieval landscape. These include fruit trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables. The villages also retain a rich heritage of ancient medicinal plants, and the traditional knowledge of their use. These are attracting attention from the pharmaceutical industry. Likewise, Transylvania provides an important genetic resource, which is especially rich in forage crops, and ancient crop relatives such as wild cabbages. Scientists recognise that these provide a vital element for plant-breeding and global agro-biodiversity.

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The cycles of nature provide inspiration for many traditions and customs. In the frozen months, when the ground is too hard to work, the men will be mending their houses and their carts, and women will be busy spinning and weaving woollen clothes and rugs. Their patterns and designs vary from village to village, and contain illustrations of folkloric tales. Colourful traditional costumes are still worn on Sundays and at festivals and celebrations. Weddings are a particularly important occasion, with the entire village community sitting down at the wedding feast.

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Our aim is to create a record what exists today and raise global consciousness of Transylvania's fast-disappearing cultural and biological diversity. We will provide first-hand, in-depth reporting from this last, relatively unspoilt region of Europe. We will identify why and how it is being threatened, and the organisations who are engaged in the heroic struggle to save this unique environmental eco-system.

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