Robin Petré’s From the Wild Sea is a glorious showcase of cinematic imagery and impeccable sound design. A documentary that presents the ever-increasing devastation that humans and climate change have on marine life.
Along the raw and windy coastlines of Europe, a network of volunteers are constantly ready to rescue marine wildlife from oil spills, plastic pollution, and storms. Night and day, all year round, they work tirelessly to rescue whales, dolphins, seals, and birds. However, things are getting worse. As the climate crisis fuels violent weather across the seas and the annual winter storms arrive with unprecedented ferocity, their task becomes increasingly treacherous.
A rather apt moment right at the beginning of From the Wild Sea has the release of swans back into the water. Yet, as they glide through, we see a factory with smoke fumes billowing out of it, then suddenly a large trawler full of containers powers by eliciting a loud foghorn out into the world, disturbing this graceful moment. It is stark and enough to shake you from what was previously a great moment. A constant reminder of what we are capable of. It is a small moment, but it rings home with the greatest ease with perfect framing and editing. This is a documentary that never tries to be flashy, it keeps it simple, and as it does so, we wonder whether it is all a lost cause, has the damage irrevocably been done to nature?
With the efforts from our three locations, we certainly get the feeling that this is not the case. They work hard day and night looking after the animals, and as they recruit more and more volunteers, there seems to be a discerned effort from all involved to fight the good fight. They are remarkable people who need to be commended for what they do, and while we never spend much time with them here. We see more than enough to know that they need to be supported to carry out their important work, and with Robin Petré’s film, this should hopefully be the case.
At times From the Wild Sea is a hard watch, particularly when we know or suspect when an animal isn’t going to make it due to the trauma that it has experienced and these moments undoubtedly cause upset. However, when we have small successes, Petré allows us brief moments to celebrate. She isn’t entirely showing us a downbeat film, but it is a realistic one. The challenges are real and getting more challenging every year for these people in Cornwall, Ireland and the Netherlands. From the Wild Sea uses its striking and purposeful shots with equal skill as films such as Viktor Kossakovsky’s Aquarela to highlight the damage done by humanity.
The stillness of Petré’s camera hits home as long shots continue throughout. As we watch a group try to help a seal in pain, they work quietly with just the sounds of the women talking to one another and the poor animal. The only other sounds could from the tired and pain induced animal. This sensory form of observational storytelling works wonders here in From the Wild Sea. We feel the power of every moment from the swans huddled together in the back of a car driven to their new home after being cleaned. When a worker with just their hand and a jar on-screen shows her unseen audience the loss of a seals eyes and some objects that caused other injuries to animals, occasionally to the death of that animal. This style of shots evoke so many emotions and thoughts, and with their effectiveness, you become easily immersed.
Usually, the Petré and cinematographer Maria Grazia Goya keep a safe distance with their camera, either having the camera set down or mounted in one position or from a very respectable distance so that the teams can carry out their duties. However, when the camera does peek in, it does so for a purpose. Most of this is saved for our diesel soaked swans, as they are meticulously cleaned with cotton buds or when we are with someone driving to their next destination. Her observational techniques bring you in and especially so when some of the shots are truly stunning.
To gently hammer home the point that she wants to get across, Petré cuts away to show us the rugged coastline getting battered, be it during the day or night. Radio weather forecasts let us know that this harsh weather isn’t changing anytime soon. The Atlantic Ocean can be cruel, and as they become wilder due to climate change, their impact on nature becomes harder to swallow. The seals, dolphins and 19-metre whale that become beached and injured are left to die if it wasn’t for our coastline crews. They do their best to rehabilitate or get the animals immediately back out to sea, but those crashing waves are just relentless, as we see with a dolphin.
From the Wild Sea shocks its audience with how unflinching it is. A documentary that accomplishes its task with such simple technical techniques that you are saddened by its short 78-minute runtime. Robin Petré feature-length debut shows us a filmmaker with a great eye and one who isn’t afraid to disturb yet fascinate, making herself one to watch out for in the future.
To catch more of our reviews throughout Sheff Doc Fest 2021, Have a look below:
Summer of Soul (…Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
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