JThis summer, many families spent their first vacation abroad since the start of the pandemic. But as fall sets in and the cost of living crisis deepens, that week or two by the sea may soon seem like a distant memory. The perfect timing, therefore, for the Ocean Film Festival UK Tour. Nell Teasdale, the tour director, says audiences can “dive into a night of wild sea voyages and amazing marine life, without getting their feet wet.”
Derived from the Banff Mountain Film Festival, the Ocean Film Festival started in Australia in 2012 with the hope of inspiring people to enjoy, explore and respect the sea. This is the ninth year that the festival has toured the UK. United. over the next two and a half months, screenings will take place in locations ranging from Inverness in the Highlands to Truro in Cornwall. The tour will raise funds for two charities that help protect the oceans: the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers against sewage.
There is a program of seven short films. Headlining, Circumnavigate (39′) by director Will Reddaway. The film follows Brendon Prince, 48, from Devon, as he attempts to become the first person to stand up paddleboard nearly 2,500 miles around mainland Britain. It’s a grueling 141-day journey, navigating tidal currents, offshore wind farms, busy shipping lanes and ports. Prince has close encounters with sharks, killer whales and dolphins as he tries to break five world records.
But it’s not just about entering the record books. Prince’s main goal is to raise awareness of water safety. After watching three people drown off Mawgan Porth beach in Cornwall in 2014, he gave up his job as a physical education teacher and started the charity Above water. “In this country, 600 to 700 people drown every year,” he says. “If my paddle strokes mean a child is listening and learning, then I can paddle for six hours. I can paddle for six days. I can paddle for 60 days.
Next up is Mar (25 minutes), an exhilarating – or terrifying – tale of a big-wave surfing competition on Portugal’s exposed northwest coast. We watch surfer Alex Botelho face a life-or-death moment as he tackles “some of the strongest and largest ocean swells in the world”. Expect triumph and tragedy amid stunning big-wave surfing footage.
Rebirth (6 min) is also surfing. Benoit, a surfer from the Basque country, lost an arm in an abnormal walking accident. He must relearn how to ride the waves and regain freedom on the water, in an inspiring portrait of the adaptive surfing community. “For me, it’s like a video game,” he says. “You lose one life and you start another.”
Meanwhile, Tiger Shark King (7 minutes) is the amazing story of conservationist and diver Jim Abernethy, who spent 20 years removing thousands of hooks from the jaws of tiger sharks in the Bahamas. His favorite is Emma, a 15ft shark who stays close to his boat and likes to have his head rubbed – perhaps because he’s pulled four hooks out of it over the years.
According to Abernethy, sharks are intelligent and have a “loving side”. “The tiger shark is really playful and also very curious, much like dogs,” he says. He takes divers to meet the sharks safely and hopes to de-stigmatize them as indiscriminate killers and preserve their future.
Another dive film, I Am Ocean (9 min), tells the story of Australian diver, oceanographer and underwater photographer PT Hirschfield, who is on a mission to save the persecuted wildlife at her local dive sites, especially stingrays. She was first diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago and finds that being in the ocean makes her feel “happier, stronger, healthier, more alive…it has absolutely improved my quality of life”.
Also set in Australia, Eyre & Sea (10 minutes) follows the entertaining Alan, who lives in Baird’s Bay, a town of three (“almost crowded”, he says), on the remote Eyre Peninsula. Alan takes visitors swimming with endangered Australian sea lions – and if the animals kiss the swimmers or bite their toes, “that’s cool. Don’t panic, they won’t hurt you. The blue-ringed octopus, however, is another matter: “They bite you, you die.”
“My goal with these tours is for people to appreciate the animals, appreciate them, respect them and hopefully come away with a better understanding of them,” says Alan. “And I’m sure most people do.”
The last film, If You Give a Beach a Bottle (5 min), is by Max Romey, filmmaker and painter who mixes watercolor and videography. Romey heads to “the most remote and beautiful coast” of his home state of Alaska in search of marine debris. He doesn’t expect to find much in such a sparsely populated place, but is shocked by the litter washed up on beaches around the world and the complex issue of microplastics in the food chain.
“It really doesn’t paint the happiest picture, but hopefully it’s just one piece of the larger story,” he says. “If we can do something now, then maybe the next generation will grow up with a different image.”
Tickets from £11.50 at venues in England and Scotland, selected dates until December 2, oceanfilmfestival.co.uk. An online pass to watch last year’s festival films or the best films of the past five years costs £10 from banff-uk.com