Aussie writer, producer and director Karina Holden’s documentary Blue isn’t exactly a wonders-of-the-deep documentary a la David Attenborough, although it is, at times, dazzlingly beautiful.
Instead, this is a study of our systematic destruction of the world’s oceans. While Holden tries to imbue this one’s last third with a sense of hope, it’s still pretty damn depressing.
A two-year-long production that spanned some four countries (and the seas around them), this opens with a mention of an “illusion of abundance” within the waters and then focusses on a series of subjects as they describe our impact on the oceans and what, if anything, can be done to slow (if not stop) the damage. They initially include: activist Madison Stewart, who interviews Indonesian fishermen about decreasing shark numbers, as we’re treated to multiple images of the creatures being carved up; conservationist Tim Silverwood, who’s seen on a surfboard in Hawaii and notes that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish; and parks ranger Philip Mango in remote Cape York, who’s shown dealing with ‘ghost nets’ (fishing nets left to dangerously drift) on a shoreline that used to be too remote for such concerns.
The ghost net footage is distressing, with dead sea lions shown floating and trapped in the them, but the sequence with Dr. Jennifer Lavers, a sea bird specialist, is even more confronting, as she carefully catches some of the winged beasts and pumps their stomachs to release plastics that would otherwise have killed them (and Holden doesn’t skimp on offering shots of the dead animals that couldn’t be helped).
Despite the director’s attempts to make this an immersive experience with IMAX-like cinematography and soundscapes, all of this does rather wear the viewer down with its grimness. However, when Stewart teams up with Valerie Taylor (now 82 and famed for capturing footage used in Jaws and much more), this ‘ocean guardian’ discusses how the oceans are so much less alive than they were 50 years ago, but then finally starts to talk more optimistically, and Holden’s film becomes the call-to-environmental-arms it was intended to be.
A certainly challenging doco that encourages us to change our lives, this does perhaps very nearly fall into the trap of wallowing in the eco-horror of it all, but Holden knows that audiences don’t want to be told that it’s their fault, and pulls back just about in time.
Rated PG. Blue is in cinemas now.