Sitting atop a saddled horse in Mongolia close to the border between the Tuva region in Siberia, Nicola (Nick) De Stefani watched the Tuvan Turkic nomads, known as the Tsaatan or Reindeer people, bid him farewell, and he turned away to hide the tears in his eyes. After more than three weeks of living, eating, and traveling with the Tsaatan nomads, De Stefani found it too hard to see their time together come to a close. The Tsaatan prepared a special parting ceremony for De Stefani and his crew, offering them sweet Reindeer’s milk, and wishing them well on their travels.
“They knew we were probably gone forever, but not forever forgotten. I was on a horse saddle, the last one standing there, I couldn’t leave for a while, I only left when tears filled my eyes and I didn’t want them to see me like that,” remembers Nick De Stefani.
Nick De Stefani and his crew had become a part of the nomadic group, even helping them move their camp to a lower altitude once the winter grew harsh. According to De Stefani, the whole experience felt somewhat like a dream, a powerful encounter with a nomadic people from a disappearing world. De Stefani catalogued this tribe’s day-to-day life through the eyes of their chief for his eye-opening documentary, Tsaatan, Gli Uomini Renna, or Tsaatan, the Reindeer Men, which he produced for Mediaset, Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster.
Nick De Stefani produced the documentary through World Watching Film, an Italian production company that he began in 1990. He took on and mastered a huge variety of roles for the company, working as a cameraman, producer, sound recorder, writer, art director, grip, and other crew roles. De Stefani was able to mold his plethora of talents to fit any challenge that arose during production, and as an indie production company that mainly shot documentaries in locales thousands of feet above sea level, extraordinary problems were the norm.
World Watching Film produced nearly twenty pieces for television between 1990 and 1995, most of which were nature documentaries that specialized in educating viewers on habitat diversity and conservation. For all of these documentaries, De Stefani passionately worked a myriad of roles, drawing on his lifelong experience in the wild.
Of his outdoors experience, De Stefani remembers “Being a mountaineer since I was a kid, a free climber in my teens and early twenties, and an avid lover of the outdoors, I was mostly involves in projects that were shot in the mountains or in the cold. Because of my great interest in natural life and biology, I was the one who suggested which animals or plants we were going to portrait and which became the subjects of our documentaries.” It was this passion that pushed De Stefani to the limit of his ability to survive, to take on formidable challenges in the hopes of producing work that could enlighten viewers about the diversity and beauty of life on our planet.
“To be able to pass their culture and their way of life to those who saw our documentary,” De Stefani remembers, “to be able to show how those people were living once, and will probably not be able to survive for long, I believe that was a precious portrait of a common past, and a lesson for our common future.”
Nick De Stefani’s undeniable passion for his art has taken him across the globe and will continue to enthrall and educate audiences worldwide. His bravery and composure under immense pressures is a testament to his dedication to his work as a producer and all around film artist who will never compromise or cut corners.