TThis summer, many families took their first vacation abroad since the pandemic began. But as autumn rolls in and the cost of living crisis deepens, that week or two by the sea may soon be forgotten. So perfect timing for them Ocean Film Festival UK tour. Nell Teasdale, the tour director, says audiences “can immerse themselves in a night of wild sea voyages and amazing marine life without getting their feet wet.”
The Ocean Film Festival, an offshoot of the Banff Mountain 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 the festival has toured the UK; Over the next two and a half months there will be screenings at locations from Inverness in the Highlands to Truro in Cornwall. The tour will raise money for two charities that help protect the oceans: the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers against sewage.
There is a program of seven short films. Topping the bill is Circumnavigate (39 mins) by director Will Reddaway. The film follows 48-year-old Brendon Prince from Devon as he attempts to become the first person to paddle nearly 2,500 miles around mainland Britain. It’s a grueling 141-day journey, navigating tidal currents, offshore wind farms, shipping lanes and busy ports. Prince has close encounters with sharks, orcas, and dolphins as he attempts to break five world records.
But it’s not just about getting in the record books. Prince’s primary goal is to raise awareness of water safety. After watching three people drown on Mawgan Porth beach in Cornwall in 2014, he left his job as a gym teacher and started the charity above water. “In this country, 600 to 700 people drown every year,” he says. “If my paddle strokes get a kid to listen and learn, then I can paddle for six hours. I can paddle six days. I can paddle 60 days.”
Next is Mar (25 mins), an exciting – or terrifying – account of a big wave surfing competition on Portugal’s exposed north-west coast. We watch as surfer Alex Botelho faces a life-or-death moment as he handles “some of the strongest and biggest ocean waves on earth.” Expect triumph and tragedy amid breathtaking big wave equestrian sequences.
Rebirth (6 mins) is also about surfing. Benoit, a surfer from the Basque Country, lost an arm in a freak running accident. He must relearn how to ride the waves and find freedom on the water in an inspirational portrait of the adaptive surfing community. “It’s like a video game to me,” he says. “You lose one life and start another.”
The playful Tiger Shark King (7 mins), on the other hand, is the amazing story of conservationist and diver Jim Abernethy, who spent 20 years removing thousands of fishing hooks from the jaws of tiger sharks in the Bahamas. His favorite is Emma, a 15-foot shark that stays close to his boat and likes to have his head rubbed — perhaps because he’s removed four hooks from him over the years.
According to Abernethy, sharks are smart and have a “loving side”. “The tiger shark is very playful and also very curious, much like dogs,” he says. He takes divers to encounter the sharks safely, hoping to destigmatize them as mindless killers and secure their future.
Another dive film, I Am Ocean (9 minutes), tells the story of Australian diver, oceanographer and underwater photographer PT Hirschfield as she embarks on a mission to save persecuted wildlife at her local dive sites, particularly stingrays. She was first diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago and says being in the sea makes her “feel happier, stronger, healthier, more alive…it has absolutely improved my quality of life”.
Also set in Australia, Eyre & Sea (10 mins) 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 with endangered Australian sea lions – and when the animals kiss the swimmers or bite their toes, “it’s cool. Don’t panic, they won’t hurt you.” The situation is different with the blue-ringed octopus: “They bite you, you die.”
“My goal with these tours is for people to appreciate, enjoy, respect, and hopefully go home with the animals with a better understanding of the animals,” says Alan. “And I’m sure most people do.”
The final film, If You Give a Beach a Bottle (5 min), is by Max Romey, a filmmaker and painter who mixes watercolor and videography. Romey goes in search of sea debris on “the most remote and beautiful coast” in his home state of Alaska. He doesn’t expect to find much in such a sparsely populated place, but is shocked by the trash washing up on beaches from around the world and the complex issues of microplastics in the food chain.
“It really doesn’t paint the happiest picture, but hopefully that’s just part of the bigger story,” he says. “If we can do something now, maybe the next generation will grow up with a different image.”
Tickets from £11.50 at venues across England and Scotland, selected dates until 2. December, oceanfilmfestival.co.uk. An online pass to see last year’s festival films or the best films from the last five years costs £10 banff-uk.com