The Ocean Film Festival returned to the Festival Theatre Edinburgh tonight in a new one-off date slot just after its sister Banff Mountain Film Festival had been screening for the previous two evenings. As usual, a selection of films with running times ranging from 3 to 51 minutes gave the audience a window on the world that few of us experience in person, and it gave us both messages of hope and warnings of dire despair.
As usual for any of my reviews for this film festival, this is more of an overview of the themes and topics introduced in the films rather than a direct review of them as the official website at www.oceanfilmfestival.co.uk gives so much information and many people will have read it already.
The Ocean Film Festival is a reminder to us all that this planet that we all live on, this planet that we and every other living organism on it depends upon for every need, our very existence, is essentially a planet of water. Planet Earth has a surface area that is more than 70% water and over 97% of that water is found in our oceans. In a strange twist of fate though, only around 3% of that water is suitable for us to use for drinking, irrigating crops, and many other uses, the rest is too salty for human (and most other land based mammal life). There are also vast amounts of water in the frozen polar regions of our world and unseen underground.
Clearly, there is an almost unimaginable variety of life that lives in the vast waters that we cannot live in directly, and one message that comes through every Ocean Film Festival is one of warning, that humans must take responsibility for what we do to our oceans as, apart from conservation of the bio-diversity in them, so much of our own food supply and other needs come from the ocean waters. We clearly are not listening to the warning bells ringing loudly in our ears as we continue to pollute the oceans with ever increasing plastic waste, the problem being so bad that estimates are that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than marine life. Some experts think the date is far closer to us than this. Add into the problem industrial pollution, ghost (discarded) fishing nets trapping marine life, our part in global warning, and many other eco-crimes, and we are at the razor edge of an ecological catastrophe on this planet and the “tipping point” of no return is very close; in fact in some parts of the world we are already past that point of no return.
The opening film perfectly illustrates this crisis as we follow a 90 year old Indonesian fisherman who has since the age of 10 years old seen the waters around his village as not only his source of food, but as a friend that he connects to in an almost mystical way. For nearly 20 years now this man’s main catch of the day has not been the once abundant and uncountable fish around the waters of his home village, but the now equally uncountable plastic waste which he now catches and sells to people for recycling.
Aptly, our closing film tonight was also a warning to us of the ecological damage that global-warming is causing in some of the remotest islands in the world, the Kuril Islands between Russia and Japan. Interestingly this film also gives us a glimpse of the enormous destructive power of a volcanic eruption, the unimaginable power to transform a once green and teeming with life island into one covered in volcanic ash and now almost lifeless. Of course in the never ending wonder of life, that volcanic ash will itself plant the seeds for new life some time in the future. The brochure for the Festival does, however, in my view, do great disservice to Russian marine biologist Vladimir by calling him “eccentric”. This is a man who clearly loves these islands, and understands both them and the life upon them in a way that most of us will never do. We need this “eccentric” man’s wisdom and many others like him if we are to have a chance of not falling off the ecological precipice that we are all on at this point in time.
In between these two film “bookends”, we have stories of connecting special marine inhabitants with humans around the coast of Ireland, an epic kayaking adventure, an almost insane non engine powered boat race to the arctic, and more, with all of it presented with outstanding film photography.
A few thoughts to end this review not covered in the films, but still relevant to them. As humans we may not be able to live in the salt waters of this planet’s oceans, but we are still with over 60% of our bodies made up of water, very much evolutionary products of the life-giving waters of this planet. All of these films also share one common theme, and that is the connectivity that the people who made them feel with not only the ocean waters, but something unseen and far larger out there when they are alone with nature. I do believe that planet earth is connected as one living organism in ways that we will never truly comprehend and perhaps is even sentient in a way that is just impossible for us to understand. Somehow though, at some special moments, we can for a very short time be part of that larger picture.
One parting thought. We live on a planet that has enclosed all life here in a protective atmosphere for billions of years as we speed through space. No new water has been created inside this protective sphere since it was formed, yet the human population has grown from estimates of less than 400 million people in the year 1100 to almost 8 billion a thousand years later (almost no time in the life-cycle of a planet). Somehow this world has managed to support us and all other life here for all this time, but without our help now, without our intervention, without humanity changing not only its ways but how it inter-acts with the oceans of this world, that is all in danger of coming to an end in far too many parts of this world.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH