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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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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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Dec 06, 2018

Film Review: Ode to Muir. A Snowboarding Movie, and an Important Covert Education

Lost in amazing scenery, and one of outdoor's great personalities. Prepare to learn, even if you won’t realize it’s happening.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

Before we get to the movie itself, don’t be put off by the narration that you’ll hear in the trailer. It’s a tone that you might expect from the X-Factor announcer, or any movie trailer that starts off with, “In a world…” and it’s important to give you an incentive to push on, in case you might need it.

To answer the question that I suspect you have… yes, the same narration continues throughout the film. I know, it doesn’t seem like a good thing, but I have my own personal relationship to that voice. Something that develops as the film continues, and you recognize its purpose.

WHAT WERE WE EXPECTING FROM “ODE TO MUIR”?

The film is called “Ode to Muir”, so an education about John Muir and the John Muir Wilderness? Probably. Great scenery? Sure. Another awesome Jeremy Jones snowboarding video? Very likely! I was correct on 2 of 3 fronts.

“Price of admission: lots of calories”

In short, this is a nine day, 40 mile foot-powered trek through the Sierra Mountains, as two-time Olympian Elena Hight, and a guy introduced as the “Sierra Phantom” accompany Jeremy Jones deep into California’s John Muir Wilderness. The remoteness is exactly that, and it is earned. Jeremy takes joy in mentioning the “Price of admission: lots of calories”. His point is a good one, that this is something that we can all enjoy. Crest after crest, the views are stunning and beautifully shot (as you might expect from a Teton Gravity movie). Jeremy indulges himself in pointing across valleys, and announcing that they must make their way in that direction. By his own admission, he has spent a lifetime in the Sierra, and continues to see landscapes the first time. The outdoors is a big place. 

Of course, Jeremy Jones does not need any introduction. His snowboarding movies have adorned bookshelves around the world for decades now. This, however, was something different. It was something more important. There is less of an emphasis on the music, or even snowboarding (don’t expect death-defying descents here). Instead, you will find more of an emphasis on Jeremy, the landscape, and more than anything else, Jeremy’s message. This is propaganda, just the positive kind.

Ode to Muir is a little like trying to subtly slip the bad news into an everyday sentence using snowboarding to distract us. “Honey, have we got milk at home, I crashed the car, because my parents are coming around this evening”.

Note: Whilst this is not your typical snowboarding movie, I could still hear the customary Jeremy Jones’ oooohs and ahhhhs from those sat around me.

THE MESSAGE

Time is spent on recalling a bygone era, when politicians spent time in the outdoors, they appreciated them and fought for them. They sat around fires, and really experienced the outdoors, they didn’t just swing clubs at The Mar-a-Lago Club. This movie is a call to action, that we must do something now, but gives us hope, that things can be done correctly, with the attitude that we have seen in presidents past. 

The movie is interwoven with animations that paint an important, and scary picture with regards to the future of our climate and planet. Key messaging that continually remind you that this is not just a snowboarding movie. This is an education, but not algebra, the information is presented well, it sinks in and you immediately recognize the importance. You’re going to bring this up and discuss these newfound stats when you’re next hanging out with friends.

Whilst the animations play an informative role, Jeremy contextualizes them. He refers to the terrifying term “last descents”, the chilling concept that people are now doing things that might not be possible in subsequent years due to climate change. As someone who lives in the outdoors, Jeremy can see these detrimental changes in his everyday life, and of course, it means a great deal to him. He isn’t just using what he is, but who he is to pass on this important information. Not stood behind a podium, but communicating important information to us whilst he uses his skills, and the beautiful shots to hold our attention. Jeremy obviously loves what he does, but he now chooses to do what he has done for so long, in such a way that communicates an important message. It’s commendable. What’s more, this isn’t a one-off, Jeremy is the founder of “POW”, or “Protect Our Winters”, an initiative with a mission to turn passionate outdoor people into effective climate advocates.

Find out more about POW: Protect Our Winters.

Still, an important point is made, real change can unfortunately only be sparked in the wilderness. Walking up the mountain isn’t enough, we need to walk up to the White House, and up Capitol Hill too.

THE PERSONALITIES

“The older I get, the more I love my snow”

A great element of this movie is easy to miss, Olympian Elena Hight trying to understate her own abilities. Elena is, of course, a very accomplished snowboarder, she’s more than comfortable on the snow and her modesty with regards to split skiing wasn’t fooling anybody. It’s an attitude that is great to see, but will make your average Joe, with your average abilities (like me), smile. Her reservations regarding her own ability are not shared by anybody else. Nor were there any problems for Elena when it came to the descents. She’s awesome, and a great addition to the film.

Jeremy introduces the “Sierra Phantom” pretty quickly. In effect he’s presented in a way that you would describe what Mogli is to the jungle, “ he’s out there all day and you just see his tracks”. A brief appearance, but worthwhile. 

Elsewhere, there are laughs from those who are sat around me watching the movie, as Jeremy reaches the crest of ridge and summits alike. You might expect “f*ck, that was hard” or “Jesus, I need some air” but no, invariably you will only hear “Good job”, another “Good job”, or “The older I get, the more I love my snow”. As impressive as Jeremy’s attitude is, and of course, it’s due to his familiarity with something that he has done for so long, it is also the relaxed nature of those that that summit with him. You won’t hear them telling JJ to “shut up and pass me the water”, it’s all fist bumps!

The movie ends with JJ suggesting a moonlight ride, to “get the last bit out of it”; spare a thought for those that might have fancied an early night. You would really have felt for the production team, had it not been for the stunning shots caught under moonlight. As someone who can relate to these guys, they live for such shots, and wouldn’t have required much encouragement. Not that their skill shouldn’t be acknowledged, something special is happening behind the camera. Many of the shots are powerfully engaging, whilst the audio is picked up perfectly, regardless of powder being thrown around.

BACK TO THE NARRATION

Here’s the thing about the narration. What would the movie be without it? Whilst Jeremy brings credibility as someone who is acutely aware of “last descents”, John Muir’s words hold unparalleled sincerity that can only belong to a different time – a time when people were less cynical, and in this context, given that this is propaganda, a perspective from that time counts for something.

I had a relationship with that voice. So much so, that I almost felt apologetic by the end. In a way, the voice is synonymous with the film, you need to absorb the delivery in order to absorb the information. It was just harder to do so in comparison to appreciating fresh pow.

Who would I recommend the film to? People who like ski docs? People who care about the environment? Just general outdoorsy people? It’s of interest to each, they all cross-pollinate in a way that was definitely intended.

This is an important film to watch, it’s incredibly digestible, and it will raise awareness of important issues. It’s the kind of content that we need more of.

You can find more information, and a calendar of tour dates should you like to go and watch the movie for yourself here. We encourage you to do so.

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