We reached out to our festival filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
What inspired this story?
Producer and Director Tom Mustill: In 2015 while kayaking with a friend in California I was breached onto and almost killed by a humpback whale. I became fascinated by these animals, and by the stories I started to hear about the whale-obsessed human community of Monterey Bay. When I learnt the grave problems the whales here face I became determined to make a film to bring these to people's attention.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
TM: We make films because we believe that doing justice to the stories we have heard will make people care and act. From the start our plan was to to effect people. In this film there are three strands - to entrance people with the wonder of whales, to shock them with the problems that they face, and to inspire them with the stories of people of different backgrounds making a difference as a community - people the viewers will hopefully feel compelled to support or emulate. Above all we want people watching to feel connected to the ocean, the animals in it and the people who love it. The production team and the people featured in the film have been overwhelmed with messages from viewers writing to say that they would like to become whale rescuers, vets, anatomists, scientists and whale watchers, and saying that as a result of the film they have volunteered to join a team, done a beach clean, donated already or wanting to know how to help. We are also aiming to show the film to key decision makers and to galvanise particularly engaged existing communities around new legislation particularly aimed at reducing entanglement and ship-strike and are already working with organisations planning work in this area to use the film in concert with their recommendations. We are proud that the film also shows a variety of impressive and highly competent people who happen to be women, and we have had very positive responses from our audiences regarding this too.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film:
TM: Some of the filming was dangerous and sensitive - for example, being allowed along to film an active disentanglement required 6 months of careful negotiation with the US government and entanglement teams to get approval, which had never been granted before. Some of them were technical - to film the whale breaching at 1000fps (never achieved before) we worked with a camera inventor who'd managed to create a super high speed camera small enough that we could carry two with us at all times over months of filming, in case we got lucky with a breaching whale. But the greatest challenge was probably editorial.
Storywise we wanted to try something quite difficult to do - to portray a community of many different individuals, within a television documentary. this was a tremendous challenge - to weave the location, all the different people, survivors of whale encounters, scientific history and new discoveries along with the dramatic whale deaths and rescues that we witnessed together, without it being a mess or people becoming overwhelmed or lost watching!
We came up with narrative devices such as the stylised intros to contributors (and often their dogs) which would allow the audience to quickly get to know the characters and so remember them with a personal detail or two more easily than if they were just another scientist or whale watcher. We also used my personal near-death story to identify and find the whale that leapt onto me (which developed as a surprise during the filming - we didn't expect it to be such a success!) as first a hook to get as big an audience along for the ride as possible, and then interwove this through the film as a continuous strand linking the various contributors. Hopefully at the end this had the effect of starting with a small personal story and making you feel you'd got a handle on something much bigger and more profound.