Directed by Julia Barnes
Starring Julia Barnes, Rob Stewart, Louis Psihoyos, Fabien Cousteau, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Documentary Film Review by Jack Gibbs
So many documentaries that focus on the marvels that lie beneath our waters focus almost exclusively on the wondrous creatures that live their lives in the near-boundless realm of the seas. From sharks to dolphins, octopi to coral reefs, there are innumerable programs and one-offs made about the denizens of the deep, espousing their wonders and uniqueness.
So few of these productions, conversely, decide to examine in detail the impact that we as a species are having on our oceans – and Julia Barnes’ Sea of Life seeks to address our folly in a manner both educational and unflinching. What documentaries like Blackfish did for public perception of how zoos and aquariums treat the animals they keep, this will hopefully do for how we treat this fragile realm which we are so carelessly polluting and inspire us to take action before it is too late.
Despite its hard-hitting nature, it is not a documentary without beauty – there are sweeping shots of vibrant ecosystems, teeming with life. There are awe-inspiring close-ups of astonishingly unique specimens, and thought-provoking scenes of fish working together to carve out their homes in reefs. But for every shot that encapsulates the inherent beauty of the oceans, there are just many both above and under the water’s surface to give a rough but necessary dose of reality to the proceedings.
Bleaching coral. Sharks ensnared on long lines. The future of reefs and fisheries laid bare, and interviews with a whole host of individuals who have made it their mission to spread the truth about the state of the ocean, a vital part of our planet – indeed, its lifeblood – and campaign for its preservation. At times it seems a touch excessive and heavy-handed in its delivery, but in all honesty, we are fast approaching the point where such an approach may well be needed in order to outline the dire straits our world will be in if we do not act.
It’s a feature that expertly balances gripping visuals with blunt yet salient commentary. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of an Attenborough production, but it doesn’t need to in order to make its point. The thoroughness displayed in finding the right people for the right statements, and the plight of sea life combined with witnessing the earnest efforts of people coming together, be it in protest or through governmental initiatives, to aid our ailing planet, and seeing the scale of our own neglect as a species, works to its full effect despite the odd lapse into being overbearing. One simple statement, made at the beginning of the film, summarises the documentary in its totality:
“Action is no longer an option – it is a necessity.”
Of all the striking statements, deeply concerning revelations and close examinations of our own folly that are present in Julia Barnes’ Sea of Life, this single simple declaration is the most effective – and the one that we must contemplate the most, lest our only home among the stars and all the myriad creatures it plays host to fall into utter ruin.