Last night, we went on a maritime adventure to the furthest reaches of the ocean through the eyes of surfers, sailors, swimmers, and oceanographers – all without even getting our feet wet. The whole team was lucky enough to catch the Ocean Film Festival as it passed through London on its world tour. We watched nine captivating, ocean-themed social impact films in the incredible Grade I listed Union Chapel.
The festival, which is produced by the team behind the Banff Film Festival, features films from charity film production teams. The aim is to encourage viewers to “explore, respect, enjoy and protect our oceans.” That’s a goal we can get behind at TopLine, where we take sustainability very seriously. The movies highlight the incredible beauty of the natural world – from the quiet beauty inside waves to the vibrant cenotes of Mexico, and from South African penguins to polar bears – and how it’s our responsibility to protect it.
These films perfectly illustrated the potential of social impact films to champion a cause. Ranging from over 40 minutes to under five, each demonstrated different ways that visual storytelling can transport the viewer, stir emotion, and compel action.
So, what movies did we see, and what did the team think of them?
A Place for Penguins
While popular perception points to penguins preferring the poles, penguins can in fact be found living off the coast of South Africa (perhaps our team in the Cape Town office can pay them a visit some time). However, overfishing means that their food supply is limited, and the colony needs to be relocated. This isn’t as easy as simply moving them, as penguins are reluctant to start new colonies, so conservationists and artists teamed up to make an ingenious plan. Using concrete decoys and recordings of penguins, they tried to trick penguins into believing there was a colony at the new site. Their work falls at the intersection “between science and art,” to quote one of the conservationists. Their passion is inspirational.
Without wanting to anthropomorphise the penguins too much, it’s hard not to relate when you see them carefully inspecting a sculpture and then waddling off, shaking their heads disapprovingly. If you want to enjoy a penguin playing sculpture critic, make sure you check out the movie below.
I Am Fragile
Despite patchy satellite access for drones and interference from the northern lights, Florian Ledoux filmed an incredible short about how the seasons affect the Arctic. As the spring and summer arrive, polar bears, seals, walruses, and narwhal take advantage of the warmer temperatures and ice-melt to eat for the tough winter season ahead. The images and drone-work are incredible. You can watch the full film below.
Manry at Sea
The longest movie of the evening was Manry at Sea, a documentary about a fairly average man, who stepped away from his wife, two children and his job as a copyeditor to set sail across the Atlantic. His ship, Tinkerbelle, is a jaunty red 13½ foot sailboat, closer in size to a toy than a real oceangoing vessel. Why? According to Manry, there comes a point where one must “risk everything to fulfil one’s dreams or sit for the rest of one’s life in the backyard.”
Despite hallucinations, storms, broken rudders, and “moments of depression”, Manry’s relentlessly positive attitude served him well on his journey. There’s much more to the story, but we don’t want to give it away, as the whole movie is well worth watching. Check out the trailer below.
In this movie, French photographer Ben Thouard reveals his technique for capturing dramatic and beautiful waves in Tahiti. Featuring slow motion underwater photo montages, we see waves from the inside, revealing incredible texture and shimmer which is a world apart from what we picture when we imagine waves. Ben explains that the compression of a wave as it passes over the reef means you can see the landscape through the wave. He’s only been able to capture this rare lensing effect a few times each year. We fully recommend watching this film – the images must be seen to be believed.
This 24-minute long documentary covers the intergenerational story of a 1974 journey from Washington to Alaska by homemade canoe. The heart-warming tale covers how two brothers, and their now grown-up children, retrace the adventure. The director deftly uses close ups and Polaroid photo montages to give a real sense of intimacy. And the title is particularly apt – the story feels like a rite of passage for the two brothers as they make the same journey their parents did 40 years before. You can enjoy the full movie below.
The shortest film of the night was a wordless feature about man and nature. From a clifftop vantage point, we see artist Tony Plant try in vain to rake patterns into the sand. Every time he seemed to be making progress, the tide promptly erases his work. It’s a fun short, with a powerful message: nature can’t be tamed.
Emocean tells the tales of several families growing up around the ocean, through surf and dive footage. It serves as a reminder that nature can be dangerous and wild – with many of the subjects in recovery from injuries they got during their oceanic adventures. However, this hasn’t dampened their love of the ocean, which the film reinforces with wide landscape pans and beautiful footage of diverse marine life. It’s a fascinating story of loss, and the triumph of love, as injured former surfers return to the waves to be in the heart of the action once more. Check out the trailer below.
A Peace Within
Painting is already an impressive skill, but extreme artist Philip Gray is always looking for new ways to push the boundaries of his artform. In the short film A Peace Within, we follow Philip’s endeavours to capture Mexican cenotes – flooded inland caves – on canvas. It’s clear from the film’s stunning visuals why he feels compelled to paint the otherworldly landscapes, and the shots of the artist painting underwater have a magical feeling. Philip leaves us with this: “It felt like I had entered my own soul, surely this is a peace within.”
When thinking of surfing, most people picture tropical locales. Not Dan, who surfs on Lake Superior, contending with icebergs, sub-zero temperatures, and strong currents. Throughout the movie, shots of a surfer among ice floes are surreal, particularly the shot of Dan standing on a small lone berg, holding his green board and looking off into the distance. Clad head-to-toe in black wetsuit, he poses for the camera but almost falls off as the berg tips. It’s a fun short about how to find happiness, even if that means something very different to you than to everyone else.
What we’ll be taking home
Ocean is a place of calm and serenity for many people: it’s the source of stories that are passed down through generations and moments of transcendental beauty that reveal themselves only to a dedicated few. The ocean is wild and can be dangerous, and there is still a lot we have yet to discover. While the ocean can hurt us, we can also hurt it if we don’t consider our environmental impact. However, the ultimate takeaway is positive: that art and science can be used to build a better future.