At a recent college class reunion I was asked to screen a program of film selections from the San Francisco Int’l Ocean Film Festival, which my wife and I founded in 2003. The program that evolved, a sampler on ocean-related subjects, was well received and is encouraging me to give additional visibility to ocean films which I’ve seen and like.
After the screening a classmate’s wife expressed an interest in birds and rowing, so I promised her a list of some of the films the Festival has screened with such subject matter. In creating a list for her, it occurred to me that the films, at least in my opinion, deserve a wider audience, so I’m publishing it below fyi.
Please note: the descriptions provided are generally courtesy of SFIOFF. Where initials are present, the descriptions are by the talented and committed SFIOFF volunteers MaryJane Schramm and Sid Hollister.
Arctic Cliffhangers, (Canada), Julia Szucs, 60 mins, In this dazzlingly photographed and adeptly scored film, biologists cling to vertiginous, wind-whipped cliffs on remote islands in the Canadian Arctic to study breeding seabirds. Over 300,000 murres, fulmars, and kittiwakes encrust every ledge on these 800-foot precipices. The scientists are conducting long-term studies to see how changes in ice conditions affect the birds, which may foretell more widespread changes. —MJS
Project Puffin: Restoring Puffins to the Coast of Maine (USA) Daniel Breton, 20 mins. Atlantic puffins can live to 30, have a call like a creaky hinge, and sport an outrageously large and colorful bill. They are also considered good eating by people and gulls—hence their near demise on Maine’s coastal islands. It took eight years to lure them back to their former nesting sites in a project that has since been a model for other efforts around the world. — SH
Returning Home: Bringing the Common Murre back to Devil’s Slide Rock (USA) Kevin White, 24 mins. In 1986, an oil spill devastated the colony of Common Murres at Devil’s Slide Rock near San Francisco. With a biologist’s version of “smoke and mirror” technology and the help of local schools and government agencies, these birds are once again breeding on their ancestral home. — MJS
Tracking Alaska’s Godwits, (USA), Eric Liner, 20 mins, For seven months she gorged, doubling her weight. Then the Bar-tailed Gotwit, E7, set off on a non-stop, 7145 mile flight from Alaska’s Yukon River Delta to New Zealand’s North Island. Her ocean journey astonished the world. Scientists now track other Godwits on that route, and on their return, to help protect a bird that in Maori legend accompanies the departed to the next world. –SH
Rowing & kayaking films:
Another World (Le Troisième Monde) (Prize winner, FIFMEE 2005, Toulon, France) 52 min, France, 2005. Steve Moreau. Holed up with even a best friend can get on your nerves, often sooner than later. Rowing across the Atlantic with someone who doesn’t speak your language, two hours at the oars and two hours off, day and night, for months, is impossible. This indomitable Frenchman and Englishman prove otherwise. —SH
Birthplace of the Winds* Quoting filmmaker Jon Bowermaster: “A three-week long journey – from California, through British Columbia and Alaska – delivered us to one of the loneliest and least known spots on Earth (halfway between Russia and Alaska), where the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea collide at what the Aleuts called ‘the birthplace of the winds.’ Our goal was to kayak among five volcanic islands rising straight out of the seas, and climb their snowcapped peaks.”
Dubside* (Canada) Bryan Smith, 11 mins Into a bag and onto a bus—that’s how car-free Dubside gets his folding kayak to his paddling put-ins. Deftly handling that kayak is no mean feat, but it’s nothing compared to how Dubside folds and unfolds himself when he’s roping and rolling. — SH
The Men Who Would be Viking. 60 min, (US) 2003. New England explorers attempt to retrace Leif Eriksson’s voyage in their own Viking ship. Screened at Festival #1, filmmaker Doug Cabot traveled from the East coast and was in attendance.
Row Hard No Excuses 10 min, (US) 2004 . Documentary-in-progress about two middle-aged Americans who participate in the Atlantic Rowing Challenge.
Rowing the Atlantic* (USA), J.B. Benna, 25 mins, Ocean adventurer Roz Savage undertakes a 3,000-mile trans-Atlantic row—solo—that becomes a trial by sea and the challenge of a lifetime. Towering waves, heaving swells, and a pestilence of blisters are capped only by a cascade of equipment failure, including all satellite communications. Meanwhile, a camera records those harrowing and inspiring moments. —MJS
Scottish Tidal Races* (UK) Justine Curgenven, 15 mins Fools rush in, they say, and when you see what these sea kayakers paddle into, you have to wonder. Among Great Britain’s best at their sport, they meet their match on Scotland’s west coast where tides rush out of deep firths, or inlets, to create inviting waves and treacherous boils and whirlpools. — SH
I fondly recall the films listed and recommend all.
P.S. Since the first annual Festival in 2004, the San Francisco Int’l Ocean Film Festival (SFIOFF) has screened approximately 500 ocean-themed films. A database of films and their details such as subject matter is a work in process and the above isn’t warranted to be a comprehensive accounting of all the bird and rowing films screened at SFIOFF.