40,000 BCE
RISING FIRE, an early human, flees with her young daughter KONA pursued by a violent warband -- the LION MENWhen she is inadvertently saved by one of the last NEANDERTHALS, the two struggle to communicate and find trust. But when the Lion Men return, that communication becomes the key to their survival – and the future of humanity.
The Lion and the Firebird is a radical new vision of the ancient past, inspired by recent breakthroughs in the understanding of Neanderthal anatomy, language, and culture. It's a story about survival, trust, and overcoming the differences between people to find our shared humanity.
Popularized by shows like The Mandalorian, Virtual Production presents an incredible future for filmmaking - but cost and technical hurdles have kept most independent creators out - so far. We decided to challenge that, partnering with Worldstage in Times Square, New York. As the first low budget independent film to be shot entirely on an LED volume, we're breaking ground for filmmakers to take their stories to incredible new worlds.
The Lion and the Firebird was awarded the prestigious Sloan Science Grant in Anthropology, designed to support exceptional Science in Filmmaking
For the first time on screen, recent discoveries in archaeology will be represented, from flower-strewn Neanderthal burial mounds to ancient bodily adornments in the form of manganese glitter-paint and bone jewelry. The script was advised by Dr. Anna Goldfield, paleo-archaeologist and Neanderthal expert at UC Davis, and the film is performed in a fictionalized proto-afro-asiatic language.

VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS belched smoke into the sky - the beginnings of an ice age that would last for tens of thousands of years, and may have been a factor -- along with conflict and inter-breeding with our own ancestors -- that led to the end of the Neanderthals. Our story is set on that precipice - a world of spewing fire and raining ash, as ancient humans encountered one another for the first time - a dangerous balance of conflict and cooperation that would forever shape the future of the species. 
Ancient peoples were not a monolith - they were culturally vibrant, and more genetically diverse than humans are even today. Our imagined cultures draw inspiration from living indigenous cultures to create a world of belief and expression.
Rising Fire and her daughter Spark come from a matriarchal tribe with religious beliefs connected to a mythic bird and a cycle of rebirth in volcanic fire. When a violent usurper kills her true love and takes control, she flees rather than be forced into marriage. Encountering the Neanderthal, Tul, she at first sees yet another potential threat. But she discovers something else in him as well - a kindness and a sadness in what he has lost that she understands all too well. Achieving communication will be key to survival.
Tul’s people are on the verge of extinction at the hands of invading Early Modern Humans. It’s not a matter of technology or intelligence - with fire, knapped stone blades, and perfect adaptation to his landscape, Tul is a formidable hunter and warrior. But the Lion Men seem numberless, and now Tul is the last of his tribe, a lone bogeyman to the encroaching sapiens.
But fleeing the Lion Men comes something unexpected - a human woman and her child. For the first time, Tul must question whether there is more to these invaders than their killing spears.
Informed by the fascinating new evidence for the cultural complexity of Neanderthals, Tul will rewrite the stereotypes. Capable of both great tenderness and great violence, adorned with eagle talons, sea shells, and glittering micah-specked bodypaint, Tul may not look like us, but he is just as human.
Red Lion, a violent usurper, has overthrown his tribes' Matriarchal order. To legitimize his new rule, he leads his warband to capture Rising Fire. 
As growing tribes of ancient humans began to press north out of Africa, they introduced warrior classes, hierarchy, and increased patriarchy. The Lion Men represent these first forces of organized murder and replacement - the first War. The warriors are distinguished by their signature lion masks, inspired by pre-historic art and African Janus masks.
The Lion and the Firebird is a journey into a vast alien landscape - dizzying natural beauty, elaborate costumes of feather, hide, bone, and talon, bodies painted in black manganese and red ochre, weapons of gleaming flint and knapped stone. It’s a harsh world of intense physicality, the ruddy glow of erupting volcanoes casting sanguine shadows over the silent skeletons of Mammoth graveyards. 
 But this is also a story of overcoming the differences between people to find our shared humanity, and in the violent beauty of the ancient world - a reason to hope for the future of all mankind. 


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