This weekend, the Ocean Film Festival stopped off in Brighton as part of their world tour.
The festival aims to bring ocean lovers together to celebrate the seas, the remarkable marine creatures that live in them and the incredible people who devote their lives to them.
It began in Australia in 2014 and now visits almost 30 locations in the UK.
So when I saw it was coming to Brighton, I may have shared the link pleadingly with my boyfriend.
There was no need – just the website trailers were enough to show us that it was right up our street.
The Ocean Film Festival was held at the beautiful Brighton Dome; an arts venue originally built for the Prince Regent (later George IV).
Before the films began, we took some time milling around the bar and perusing the stalls set up by Surfers against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society. We got chatting to some of the volunteers, happily recognising the SAS rep from a talk we attended at Paddle Round the Pier.
Within just ten minutes, we were buzzing. There really is no better feeling than knowing you’re in a room with a bunch of like-minded people; people who love the ocean for their own reasons, and want to protect and look after it.
A line in the Film Festival programme said: ‘we’re not just inspired by the spectacular stories on the big screen. We’re also inspired by the passion that our audiences have for both the UK’s coastline and the wider world’s oceans, and this passion shines through in the festive atmosphere and sense of community you bring to each of our screenings.’
It may sound a bit cliché but it’s so true. Everyone was so friendly, there was a huge age range and the overall feeling in the venue was exceptionally welcoming (as well as super chilled – I reckon there were a lot of surfers there…)
We had seven films of various lengths to watch that evening.
Because each of them was so brilliant in their own way, here’s a brief description of each.
- Stay With Us – produced by Dustin Adamson
This short 5 minute film took a look at life deep in the ocean and at the ‘alien creatures’ that share our universe; many of which we have never seen before. There were some fascinating species and the film really showed how little we know about life in one of our greatest ecosystems.
- The Legacy – produced by Erick Higuera
The description of this film in the programme was perfect – ‘a mouthful of oxygen when so much of today’s environmental reality tells us we are drowning.’ ‘The Legacy’ is set in a remote archipelago in Mexico; a marine sanctuary declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2016. Thanks to it’s status, the area is now home to healthy populations of Giant Pacific Manta Rays (among other species) which are seriously threatened elsewhere in our seas. This sanctuary is proof that conservation efforts do work and that our ocean’s biodiversity isn’t lost – yet.
- Whale Chasers – produced by Tess Brosnan
An emotional story about a group of ‘citizen scientists’ who spend their days in a cold shed on a hilltop, watching out for migrating humpback whales in New Zealand’s Cook Strait. But this group of scientists were once whalers. I felt incredibly conflicted watching this – generations of whalers were shown on screen and it was distressing to see an image of men and women sitting triumphantly on top of a dead humpback whale. But the film went on to explain how the whale population in Cook Strait suddenly plummeted due to a sinister ecological cover-up. Whaling was banned in NZ as regulations were ignored by foreign vessel. Shocked at the sudden drop in numbers, this group of whalers knew they had to do something. Rather than hunting whales, they now work to protect them, using their years of expertise to help conservationists and marine biologists bring the whale population back to a healthy level.
- Sea Gypsies – produced by Nicholas Edwards
This truly was an incredible story and one of my favourites. The 48 minute film followed the 120ft nomadic sailing boat Infinity, and her extremely likable crew of free-spirited wanderers – headed up by Captain Clemens, and containing Terry (a one-armed pirate from Tasmania) and David Bowie (yup – an amusingly named electrician and puppeteer from Canada). The film is a story about sailing, camaraderie and the awe-inspiring power of the natural world. It follows the crew’s journey travelling 8,000 miles from New Zealand to Patagonia via Antarctica. They battle a hurricane, dodge icebergs (in a boat not designed for ice), meet seals and penguins, and take on a surprise stealth mission with Sea Shepherd. This film was funny, inspiring, entertaining and adventurous. The crew always seemed to be in high spirits with jokes aplenty, even when trapped in a hurricane, and the filmmaker managed to capture the true essence of adventure alongside the beauty of the untouched areas of our planet.
- Haven – produced by Guillame Néry
In contrast, this film made me feel a tiny bit tense… It was a 5 minute film but it felt like longer, as we watched free-divers battle extreme depths, poor visibility and dangerous currents to dive to the resting place of the Haven – a crude oil carrier which exploded in the Mediterranean Sea in 1991. The wreck is about 50 metres deep and the divers explored the ship’s deck – all on ONE breath. Absolutely incredible.
- Fish People – produced by Monika McClure. Another incredible 48 minute film telling the stories of six fascinating people who each have a connection with the ocean. We heard from Lynne Cox, a long distance open-water swimmer from California; Dave Rastovich, an Australian surfer who stopped competing as he felt the sport should be about fun and freedom over rules; and Kimi Werner, a spear fisher from Hawaii who spends many minutes at the bottom of the ocean (alongside sharks) on just one breath. We also heard from Ray Collins, who became a surf photographer after a workplace mining injury kept him from surfing and caused him to rethink his life’s path; and 19-year-old Matahi Drollet, a surfer and fisherman in Teahupo’o who shares his respect for the ocean – before surfing one of the biggest waves going… But the story that really captured my heart was that of Eddie Donnellan – a youth worker from California, who wanted to share his joy of the ocean and surfing with others. He works with at-risk kids and aims to give them the same opportunity he had as a child – enjoying the escape and exhilaration of the ocean. He gets the kids out surfing, puts smiles on their faces and is often the only reliable male figure in their lives. It was inspiring and incredibly emotional to watch kids who need support the most, find freedom and joy among the waves.
- Ocean Rubbish – produced by ABC/David Day
Finally, we watched a short 3 minute film from Australia which showed incredible art structures placed on a beach. But these marine creatures were made from plastic picked up on the beaches of Queensland by artist David and his son. Not content with just picking up rubbish, David decided he needed to do something meaningful with the pieces he found, making models of marine life to raise awareness of the ever-growing problem of plastic in our oceans. The best part? Hearing David say that ‘thongs ‘ are the most common items he finds. ‘Easily lost’, he says, ‘but I always seem to find them…’
Don’t panic guys.
It’s an Australian term for ‘flip flop’!
The film festival was, to put it simply, fantastic. No matter what you love about the ocean, they covered it; from adventure, to conservation, from swimming to surfing, from people to nature.
If you want to catch it this year, the next stops are listed on the website – check it out for trailers, more information and those all important tickets!