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Review: Ocean Film Festival at Nottingham Playhouse

30 November 21 words: Yasmin Turner

Ocean Film Festival makes a splash in Nottingham this autumn with a collection of short films straight from the sea...

Returning as a live theatre tour, after a year off due to the pandemic, Ocean Film Festival added the Nottingham Playhouse to its list for the first time, showcasing a selection of short films starring marine conservation, wild voyages and extreme watersports from the least explored depths of the planet. 

The Ocean Film Festival originated in Australia with the aim of inspiring people to enjoy, explore and protect our oceans, and now tours Australia, New Zealand, China, Belgium, the UK and more. As well as promoting the individuals and their work in the short films, the Ocean Film Festival also supports two marine charities: Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society. 

First, transporting us to the shores of the remote island of South Georgia was London-based monochrome photographer David Yarrow in his short film, Yarrow. Mind-blowing wildlife images flocked the 5-minute sensory overload, with hundreds of thousands of penguins and seals on screen, foregrounding a fair few cathedrals of mountain peaks and hanging glaciers. The remote and inhospitable island is only reachable by an 80-hour boat journey, adding to the romantic style of the scenes. 

12,539km Northeast of David Yarrow’s filming location is Wayan, a 90-year-old Balinese fisherman who can no longer fish due to the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean. Wayan instead uses his small fishing boat and net to pull rubbish from the water, few pieces at a time, in the hope that he can fish again in the future. Throughout this eleven minute emotionally moving and equally uplifting creation, deeply shocking figures encouraged the audience to rethink their lifestyles as we were informed at the start that “by 2050, if nothing changes there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish”. 

Wayan’s own words from first-hand experience were most tragic; in particular, as he told us of fishing trips that left him frustrated: “When I thought I caught a fish, it turned out to be plastic.” 

The entire duration of Voice Above Water served as a reminder that, just as Wayan uses his resources to make a difference, we can all accomplish something much greater than ourselves. The lasting image of Wayan in a tiny boat amidst the vast mouth of the ocean emphasised just this and how important it is for people to make individual contributions and unite on this matter in order to cure a far larger issue such as plastic pollution.

A powerful testimony from Wayan proved the seriousness: “I will stop worrying about the ocean when I die.” Since 2000, Wayan has removed approximately 62,400 pieces of plastic from the ocean. That’s his contribution to the issue, what’s yours?

This year’s Ocean Film Festival was an awe-inspiring return after the challenges of the previous virtual event

Following a shared interest in the need for change in plastic pollution, Changing Tides uncovered the ambitious dream of university friends Lucy and Mathilde, to kayak along the Inside Passage, down the 2,042km coast of Alaska and Canada, dodging giant icebergs and using zero single-use plastic. From the get-go, the main theme to the audience was clear: plastic consumption is a huge issue around the world, with the statement “every person consumes approximately 100kg of plastic each year”. This is appalling and heightens the need for the awareness Lucy and Mathilde are bringing. 

With all 500 of their meals dehydrated and stored in paper at checkpoints along the way, Lucy and Mathilde’s three-month journey encourages us all to reduce our plastic usage; how “imperfectly” we do this, it all counts.

One of the festival highlights was the film From Kurils with Love which depicted an eccentric and wonderfully entertaining Russian marine biologist called Vladimir who, by chance, became the focus of an expedition to the unknown paradise of the volcanic Kuril Islands, between Russia and Japan, after asking for a lift. Travelling through the dramatically stunning chain of inaccessible islands - and many, many sea lions - we formed a delicate intimacy with Vladimir, a true advocate for the planet. 

Joining the film line up was the less emotive, but seriously humorous and inspirational to watch, Race to Alaska. Incorporating the spirit of adventure, Race to Alaska featured contestants of all abilities and ages tackling dangerous waters in a boating race of 750 miles, from Washington to Alaska, with no motors or outside support. The fifty-minute film was full of shocking delights, such as an impressive single paddleboarder taking just over two weeks to complete the competition and a man deciding to take part for his seventieth birthday.

Two more short, three-minute films were chosen for this year’s programme, Metador and The Sea To Me | Kate Hamsikova. Metador starred professional skim-boarder Austin Keen in action among the crystalline blue waters and white sand beaches of Mexico. With aerial and underwater shots, as well as moments where we are with Austin in a tunnel between a break of wave, this definitely has the wow factor! 

The Sea To Me | Kate Hamsikova encompasses a different wow factor, after sharing her growing connection with the sea all thanks to her intimate friendship with a solitary dolphin named Dusty. Kate is an experienced freediver who has travelled to many great oceans around the world, but this story was closer to home - on her treasured west coast of Ireland.

This year’s Ocean Film Festival was an awe-inspiring return after the challenges of the previous virtual event, intensifying the community feel of a shared experience with the joint “oos” and gasps amongst the audience. If you can’t wait for 2022 Autumn programme, check out the Banff Mountain Film Festival coming to the Nottingham Playhouse on 2 March 2022 for an adrenaline-fuelled night.

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