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Sep 27, 2018

Aqua Negra Film Review: An Introspective Spearfishing Adventure

Two filmmakers embark on a rugged island adventure to pursue the unknown

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

Spearfishing is a necessary way of life to many people around the planet, including the locals on Cape Verde island. To a few dedicated individuals, like the ones in this film, they’ve committed to travel, explore and hunt in the midst of the food chain as a lifestyle. In Aqua Negra, spearfishing is not portrayed as a sport. There is no competition for the biggest catch, no first place medal. A small crew tests their patience, skill and grit in the waters off Cape Verde island, in a way, to examine destiny itself.

To view the film, CLICK HERE.

It exposes the rare perspective of humans as a vulnerable part of the food chain.

The film opens with the following bold, yet oxymoronic disclaimer: “The following film contains awesome spearfishing material that could be offensive to some.” If you’re sensitive to hunting or fishing footage, then you should probably watch something else. However, this film is not just for fishing enthusiasts. It transcends spearfishing. It exposes the rare perspective of humans as a vulnerable part of the food chain and the nitty-gritty of what it takes when we forgo grocery stores and go straight to the source for our food.

The cinematic introduction to the film subverted my expectations. Instead of a spearfishing documentary, this is an artistic film about searching. With monochrome color grading, faded silhouettes and somber music reminiscent of the score from American Beauty, the serious tone surprised me.

After a brief explanation about what motivates David Ochoa to pursue his passion, the film shifts its tone from melancholy to wondrous. The score sweeps with awe, on par with the soundtrack for Planet Earth. After a quick chapter marker, the switch to color makes the establishing shot of Cape Verde look utterly unreal.

Their auteur approach is exemplified in the film’s non-linear structure.

If your only exposure to spearfishing is through Instagram, you might think it’s something you do on vacation, glamorous even. However, throughout the film, as David pursues the unknown, we can see the struggles of a spearfisher – the miles he must walk back to camp due to the currents, the frustrations of trying to find support from locals, the sheer danger of shark encounters and the loss when “the taxman” takes a huge bite out of his catch.

Filmmakers Ricardo Nascimento and David Ochoa have taken this project very seriously. Their auteur approach is exemplified in the film’s non-linear structure. Taking inspiration from Tarantino, the film is divided into non-sequential chapters that keep the audience engaged, unable to predict the story arch. David’s narration is introspective and unguarded.

Shot Selection

There are several brilliant montages of colorful biodiversity and marine life.

The variety of shots in this film is impressive. There are several brilliant montages of colorful biodiversity and marine life. The wide shots introducing each new chapter are stunning, especially Chapter 3. In contrast, there are plenty of close-up spearfishing action shots and seamless switches from third person to POV underwater footage. During one scene where David wrestles a massive, six foot long fish to the surface, I had the strange thought that when I scratched an itch on my nose, my hands would smell like fish.

The sound design is top notch as well. As David narrates his story, you can faintly pick out subtle seagull noises and just the right amount of wind in the background. Also, that familiar “tang” sound of the spear hitting the rock triggered me to load up my spear and get in the water.

Coloring the Abyss

The professional quality color grading establishes deep saturations, with rich reds and vivid blues. However, the grading overall is too dark for my taste. The strong contrast and stylized grading may take away from the rugged realness of Cape Verde. Can it truly look that beautiful?

The Dividing Line

The film presents a solid profile and background for its central focus, David Ochoa’s search for challenging, yet rewarding spearfishing spots around Cape Verde. However, if I could impose myself in the editing room, I’d suggest a more balanced inclusion of Valentine Thomas, a world record holding spearfisher in her own right, who also has an inspirational background.

Moreover, because each spearfisher is covered head to toe in their wetsuit, mask and large fins, you can’t identify who is who underwater.

Read Next on The Outdoor Journal: Dive into the Deep Unknown with Kimi Werner, a 37-year-old Hawaiian professional free diver and a decorated spear fisher.

Going Deep

Dock6 Films impressively shows that a small crew and budget can result in high-end production.

Agua Negra is an absorbing, artistic film about spearfishing and chasing the unknown. Dock6 Films impressively shows that a small crew and budget can result in high-end production. For those with an adventurous spirit, Agua Negra’s story will draw you in. Although at some points I was confused whether the filming was taking place in realtime or whether the filmmakers went back to film a reshoot based on earlier experiences. Overall, even those who are completely new to spearfishing will appreciate the film’s sense of exploration and wonder.

To view the film Agua Negra, CLICK HERE.

For general information about the movie, check out the Dock6 Films website.

You can see more photos and footage on Instagram @aguanegrathemovie

Images: Dock6 Films

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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