Interview: Jean-Michel Cousteau of “Secret Ocean 3D”

Posted on April 2, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Copyright 2015  3D Entertainment Films
Copyright 2015 3D Entertainment Films

Jean-Michel Cousteau has carried on the legacy of his famous father, Jacques Cousteau, who first allowed the world to see the creatures that live in the water, through deep-sea diving and his pioneering underwater photography. Now his son has used the latest technology to show us another world previously unseen, with tiny animals and colors as bright as any garden in full flower.

I spoke to Cousteau about his latest film, Secret Ocean 3D.

He wanted to work with IMAX 3D, in order “see the behavior of things that I’m flying or swimming over all the time since I started diving when I was seven years old, fifty nine years ago. And I would be very frustrated not to be able to see the behavior of tiny little things. So they put together the prototype cameras which are allowing us now to focus in slow motion on the behavior of small creatures and see what they are doing to feed themselves, protect themselves and be of course in relationship with other creatures. So for me I am now for the first time in my life able to see things on the big screen which I cannot see when I’m under water.”

I was especially fascinated with the tiny animals who look like flowers and the squid who could instantly change color to match the environment. “The flower-like creatures are found mostly in the tropical environment. The beautiful one that you see in the show are in the tropics in the Caribbean and in Fiji. Then there were these beautiful worms which are called Christmas tree worms. The squids were in Southern California. Squids and octopus can change their color, their texture. They have no bones so they are very bendable. They can hide. They are really amazing creatures. The bad news as you probably have heard on the show is that they die every year. After they reproduce they are gone. I am totally convinced that if they didn’t die they probably would run the planet today because they have real brains and are very clever creatures.”

There is a creature that looks like a pile of sticks. In the film, we learn that it has no head or brain but can regenerate its limbs. “We have seen those creatures but usually we don’t see the same one during the day and then come back and see the same one at night. Thanks to science and scientists we are able to learn about these creatures because they capture them and they analyze them. So the instinct that they have to capture food and bring into their mouth when you realize they have no brain is just for me it’s fascinating. I’m just like a kid every time I see them. So we were very patient, we saw it. As a matter of fact we saw two of them during the daytime and we decided, okay we have to wait and come back at night and we did and they were still there. And we were able to film them.”

What surprised me most in the film was the information about the tiniest creatures, plankton, and the part they play in keeping the rest of the world breathing. “Plankton are really the foundation of life in the ocean. And you have two kinds of planktons, the big which you see which are very spectacular, many different types of species and then the tiny little ones which drift. And the big ones are animals. They are called zooplankton. And then the tiny little ones which are plants, they are phytoplankton. Now the zooplankton is feeding on the phytoplankton. They need that to feed themselves and to grow and they are what you call the foundation of all life in the ocean. Without them there would be no life. So being absorbed within the food chain, they migrate towards the surface every day. And they are very very active at night and of course there are a lot of creatures that are coming by and feeding on them, both the plants and animals. And it goes all the way up the food chain all the way to the big creatures whether they are fish or mammals, whales or sea lions or tuna. Totally every creature is dependent on these unbelievable plants and animals which are the foundation of all life in the ocean. As a result of all that about half of the oxygen that is being produced comes from the ocean. And every other breath of air that you take you are getting it thanks to the ocean. So we are totally connected and dependent on the quality of life in the ocean. Unfortunately we didn’t know that before. Now we are learning and we are learning very fast thanks to what I call communication evolution. There are people all over the planet now who are asking questions now about these creatures. We need to learn very quickly and pass on the information to the decision-makers and the future decisions makers which are the children, the young people. They need to understand that we need to stop using the ocean as a garbage can. Because all of that decomposes and it affects the food chain, it affects the plankton, it affects the creatures which are concentrating those chemicals in their system and accumulates them, and concentrates as the creatures are getting bigger and bigger up the food chain. So we are hurting that environment which means we are hurting ourselves. At the end of the day it is not just the fact that we fishing or we catching more than nature can produce. We have learned that a long time ago, we are not hunters and gatherers we are farmers. So we need to do something with the ocean but we cannot farm creatures that are disappearing and you cannot farm in the ocean where you have the storms, hurricanes and so on.”

Jean-Michel told me that his father pushed him into the water with a tank on his back when he was seven and the water is home to him. “He kept telling me, ‘People protect what they love,’ and I kept telling him, ‘How can you protect what you don’t understand?’ So thanks to my dad I have this thirst for discoveries and wanting to protect what we don’t understand.”

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Animals and Nature Directors Documentary Environment/Green Interview

End the Year With Films About Justice

Posted on December 30, 2014 at 8:00 am

Bill Moyers has an excellent list of 2014’s best documentaries about the struggle for justice, covering issues from healthcare to the environment, politics, the collision between national security and privacy, domestic violence, human rights, and marriage equality. All are highly recommended.

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Documentary Environment/Green Lists

Dolphin Tale 2

Posted on September 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2014
Copyright Warner Brothers 2014

The warmest, wisest, most pleasurable live-action family film of the year is “Dolphin Tale 2,” even better than the 2011 original. This really is that rare movie for the whole family.

The first film was inspired by the true story of Winter, a rescued dolphin who was able to thrive in Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium after an innovative new prosthetic tail helped to protect her spine and allow her to swim. She has been an inspiration to millions of visitors in person and via webcam, especially to wounded veterans and other adults and children with disabilities. In the original, directed by Charles Martin Smith (Terry the Toad in “American Graffiti” and Farley Mowat in Never Cry Wolf, a sensitive loner named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) bonds first with the wounded dolphin and then with the staff who care for the marine animals, especially aquarium head Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his pretty daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff). Ashley Judd played Sawyer’s mother, Kris Kristofferson played Clay’s houseboat-dwelling dad, and Morgan Freeman played crusty Dr. McCarthy, who figures out how to make the prosthetic comfortable and stable.

Everyone returns for this follow-up, and this time Charles Martin Smith does triple duty as writer, director, and actor, appearing as a strict but not unsympathetic USDA official responsible for making sure the facility meets federal standards in caring for the animals.   He may refer to Winter at CMA1108, but he is trying to do what is best for her.

The kids have gone from middle school to high school. They are now experienced marine animal specialists, and spend most of their time at the aquarium, much of that in the water. We see how capable and knowledgeable they are when they assist in the rescue of an injured dolphin they name Mandy and a sea turtle ensnared in fishing line they dub Mavis. And we see how deeply they care for the animals when the veteran of their dolphin population, a 40-year-old deaf dolphin who is “paired” with Winter, dies suddenly. This is more than a sad loss. Dolphins are deeply social creatures. If Winter cannot or is not willing to be be paired with another dolphin, she will die.  The USDA inspector says that if they cannot find a friend for Winter in 30 days, she will have to be moved.

Mandy’s arrival seems providential. But then the best thing happens, which is also the worst thing. They are able to restore Mandy to health.  But that means that she can no longer remain in captivity, which is just for animals who can no longer take care of themselves.  The motto of the facility is three words: rescue, rehabilitate, release.  “You didn’t build this place to keep animals,” Clay’s father reminds him.  “You built it to heal them and let them go.”  The wrenching task of weighing those competing considerations is sensitively presented as a moral issue, an economic issue, and as a part of growing up that Hazel and Sawyer must understand.  It is an issue of more complexity than we normally get to see in family films, and it is presented with exceptional insight.  A scene where Hazel follows Sawyer’s mother’s advice to speak to Clay the way she would like to be spoken to is a small gem that got some appreciative laughs of recognition from the audience. Smith knows his audience, though, and expertly seasons the storyline with cute animals, especially Rufus the pelican, who is back for more comic relief. Even with Rufus, though, the slapstick moments are just part of the story.  His protective concern for Mavis is genuinely touching.

A storyline about whether Sawyer will accept an opportunity to take a special semester at sea is less intriguing.  But Gamble’s quietly sincere and thoughtful performance grounds the film, with Zuehlsdorff (who provides a sweet song over the closing credits) more ebullient, but never less than completely real and in the moment. The completely natural performances of the two leads perfectly matches the sun-drenched naturalism of the setting, utterly at home in the water, interacting with the dolphins, or struggling to grow up. When Dr. McCarthy sits down next to the conflicted Sawyer to hand him a family heirloom, Sawyer says knowingly, “I’m about to get a lesson here, aren’t I?” He is, and we are, too, but it is a good lesson and it goes down easy. So does the film, ambitious in scope but light in presentation. And it is no disrespect to the movie to say that the best part is the closing credits, where we see Wounded Warriors and other people with disabilities coming to visit Winter and Hope for inspiration and, somehow, a sense that they are being understood and cared for.

Parents should know that this film includes mild peril, some scenes of animal and human injuries and a sad animal death.

Family discussion: What was the lesson of the watch? What were the best reasons for releasing Mandy? For keeping her? Did they make the right decision?

If you like this, try: The original film — and watch Hope and Winter online

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Animals and Nature Environment/Green For the Whole Family Inspired by a true story Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Stories About Kids

Adventure Planet

Posted on August 26, 2014 at 5:00 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Environmental hazards, some peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to DVD: August 19, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00M1CFWCG
Copyright 2014 Arc Entertainment
Copyright 2014 Arc Entertainment

Jane Lynch, Danny Glover, Brooke Shields, Bailee Madison, and Drake Bell provide the voices for “Adventure Planet,” an animated adventure for the whole family out today on DVD.  Norva and Jorpe are siblings who live in the tropical forests of Northern Thailand, each of them endowed with unique gifts: Norva is an accomplished martial artist and an expert on local plants, while Jorpe has the ability to communicate with animals and plants. When excessive global warming creates fearsome “fire beasts” who begin to wreak havoc on the planet, world leaders develop a new solution called the “Cool Bomb” to combat the monsters. The problem is that the “Cool Bomb” will only make the crisis worse — and only Norva, Jorpe, and their friend Sam, the son of the President of Capital State, know the truth. As time begins to run out, the three friends must find a way to stop the “Cool Bomb” and prove that there is another way to save the planet.  Originally titled “Echo Planet,” this Thai film was renamed and redubbed for its US release.

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Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Environment/Green For the Whole Family Stories About Kids Talking animals

A Will for the Woods

Posted on August 15, 2014 at 7:59 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very sad death, themes of death and dying
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 15, 2014

“Without this,” Clark Wang says, “dying from lymphoma feels so empty and meaningless and pointless.”  Dr. Wang was diagnosed in 2003, and we meet him as he is running out of options for treatment.  His doctor tells him it is a matter of months.  His choice for making his death meaningful is to seek out a “green” burial.  He persuades a local cemetery to preserve a tract of forest instead of cutting it down to extend the lawn area.  He finds someone who can make a coffin coffin for him out of reclaimed wood.  We see him try it on for size, joking that “I’m going to be here for a while.”  He approves.  “It’s the exact style that I want to go out in.”  And, in a moment of both celebration and defiance, he dances on its cover.

“A Will for the Woods” is a documentary about the small but urgent movement for eco-burial.  But its focus on Dr. Wang, a psychiatrist and musician, makes it a profound statement about death and therefore about life.  While some people in the film speak in euphemisms and indirection, and even Wang himself uses terms like “burial is a very likely outcome,” the way that he and his partner Jane confront what is happening to maintain a sense of dignity, honesty, and control is both moving and inspiring.  It is not surprising that this film has won audience awards at four film festivals so far.

“It’s comforting to know I’ll be in such a beautiful place,” Wang says.  He speaks of learning to “befriend death,” to make sure that his last act is not an act of pollution.  Jane tells him what she will do after he dies, how she will wash his body and spend time with it, caring for him in a way he can no longer care for himself.

This is a touching film and a very important one. It is about dying with dignity, but it is also about living with grace. Just as Dr. Wang approached his own death with purpose and honor, the filmmakers have done the same in telling his story and making it ours as well.

 

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Documentary Environment/Green Movies
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