Jeffrey Morris’s Oceanus: Act One

Sometimes you stumble across a gem of a short film randomly, one that has big name actors, a well told story, atmosphere and great production value that just happens to be only 20 minutes or so long instead of a feature. Oceanus: Act One is something I’ve seen hovering on IMDb for awhile and I’ve always been curious, and finally a quick google search led me to a Vimeo link.. I’m glad it did. This is the story of a futuristic deep sea exploration crew with a gigantic research base near the bottom of the ocean, their purpose to study potential communication and interaction with different species of whales. When a cataclysmic seismic event disrupts the day to day mission of one scientist (Megan Dodds) alone in a small vessel, she’s thrown vastly off course and must locate her colleague and husband (Sharif Atkins) in another craft, while their commander (Bruce Davison) back down at base tries to bring them in and they are all guided by the AI computer system running their equipment, voiced coolly and evenly by the great Malcolm McDowell. Not only do they find themselves off course of the mission, but when they attempt to breach the surface to get their bearings, they discover something so alarming and terrible it raises the stakes just about as high as they can go, and they find themselves faced with only one option: return back to their base on the depths of the ocean floor with busted navigation equipment and patchy radio communications. With courage, ingenuity and a little surprise miraculous help from some aquatic friends they must journey downwards to the only home they have left. This is all edited together with beautiful CGI, vividly colourful visuals and detailed design of the ships and underwater base, a wonderfully atmospheric electronic score by Jeff Rona that echoes the best work of Cliff Martinez and a sense of urgency, suspense, immediacy and most importantly, genuine wonder, as any film about the depths of the ocean should have. This is titled ‘act one’ and I see on IMDb that a follow up film has been in development for sometime, here’s hoping it finds the money and talent to become a reality because this first act is a blessing in the marine SciFi sub-genre. Available to stream on Vimeo.

-Nate Hill

Craig Foster’s My Octopus Teacher

I tent to avoid documentaries for the most part; real life is enough of a hurdle for me and I thrive off of fiction as escapism. Once in a while though I’ll dabble, usually something based in the natural world and animal kingdom, something that has to be cathartic, emotionally challenging and life affirming. My Octopus Teacher is all of these things and so much more, not only one of the most stunning, important and compassionate documentaries I’ve ever seen but an overall illuminating treatise on humanity’s somewhat dimmed but so, so essential relationship with the natural world and the creatures dwelling in it, an aspect of our experience that technology, infrastructure and rampant neglect have unfortunately dimmed. Wildlife photographer Craig Foster takes us through a defining chapter of his life as his underwater diving explorations along the lush, breathtaking Cape Town coastal waters gives him an incredible discovery: a curious female octopus living in a beautiful old growth kelp forest who he interacts with, befriends and learns to care deeply for. As we follow them down into her wondrous deep sea realm we see an intricate, wonderfully symbiotic ballet of motion, purpose, symmetry and beauty as the two become fast friends against the otherworldly backdrop of this SciFi-esque marine dreamscape. She provides him with previously unearthed knowledge regarding her species, staggers him with her considerable intelligence and innovative tactical maneuvers and the two bond over the majority of her life as he makes a private pact with himself to visit her every day over the course of a year or so. At one point he admits to the camera that before this experience he had never been particularly sentimental towards animals and that she not only changed that forever, but affected his empathy towards others in life including his own family. Animals are incredibly important, they are so much more than just pets, part of the scenery, food sources or safari wonders, they are companions and peers that share the planet alongside us and have just as much knowledge, empathy, playfulness, dignity and ability to change the world around them for the better as any given human being does. At our *best* we can only hope to be what they are, and this oceanic creature brings out the very best in one curious human who cares for her deeply and does everything he can for her. One of the most important films I’ve seen in a long time.

-Nate Hill

JC Chandor’s All Is Lost

Somewhere out there in the endless ocean, a lone man sails a small schooner across the great blue, cut off from his life before, isolated out there and eventually tested to the limits of both physical endurance and internal turmoil. The film is JC Chandor’s All Is Lost, and the man is Robert Redford. Using a hypnotic, minimalist and very ‘need to know’ approach as far as the audience is concerned, the story unfolds in what feels like real time, patiently and dutifully showing us a man who is lost, both literally and metaphorically, in the loneliest environment a human could find themselves in. Redford weathers storms, breaches in his boat’s hull, pesky birds, the baking sun, dehydration, desperation and the ever present threat of his death out there. Worse still is the prospect that no one would know if he did die, his story would never be told save to us who are a dimension away through the tv screen, and that’s a haunting atmosphere for any film. Very little, if anything, is revealed about Redford’s character or why he’s out there, except a few vague passages read from a journal in which we get the sense that he very much meant to be alone, and blames himself for a life that must seem eons away to him by now. What is real for him, and for us, is the fact that his boat is damaged, no help is coming and the elements are hammering him at every turn. It’s a survival story, but a very immersive one, which is why I keep mentioning us as the audience. The best way to watch this is with as few people as possible, perhaps even alone, lights out and on a quiet, deeply still night that allows one to absorb, process and reflect on this man’s journey. Then it’s allowed to affect the viewer at full capacity. Powerful stuff.

-Nate Hill