Haulout (Short Film) ★★★★ London Film Festival 2022

Haulout (Short Film) ★★★★ London Film Festival 2022

Haulout is a powerful documentary that shows the sheer overwhelming scale of the consequences of climate change on beautiful animals in the Arctic. Tragic and sobering, Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev’s film is essential viewing.

A lonely man waits to witness an ancient gathering on a remote coast of the Siberian Arctic in a wind-battered hut. But warming seas and rising temperatures bring an unexpected change, and he soon finds himself overwhelmed.

This grim island feels more like a punishment for Maxim than something of importance, the lack of connection other than his voice recorder. He is left to eat from his tinned food and wander the island for any hint of what he is there for. The winds, dense fog, cold, and solitude just feel so wretched. As if any job in the world would not be worth doing what he is doing. However, when those he has been waiting for eventually turn up, you are totally and utterly stunned by what we are witnessing—Moreso, by how nonplussed he is about the whole moment, just watching what is before him.

Clothed in darkness, we hear him rummaging about and, with all but his head torch, hear almost monstrous grunts. You could literally transport this moment into a horror film, and it would work. It is not until the door of his cabin is opened and we see the throng there on his coastline that we start to twig (especially if you were not sure what Haulout meant before the documentary starts) what is going on. This moment is not something you will have likely seen before, and certainly not on this scale. If it was anyone else, they would be in a panic in seeing thousands of mammals, yet his calmness, even when you can clearly see him struggling, is fascinating.

Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev are so close to proceedings that its intimacy takes your breath away. You are constantly watching Haulout with your mouth agape, and when we see the alarming result of so many mammals being on this small island days later, your heart sinks. To see the desperation on such a horrible scale as Maxim wanders the island counting the costs of this year’s haulout, is something that will not leave you soon, especially in one particularly striking moment with our scientist and a small walrus.

The scale of this issue is worryingly only going to get worse for these animals, and it is thanks to this meticulous yet unrecognised job that Maxim does, even with how overwhelmed he is at times here, that we can be aware of this. Arbugaeva and Arbugaev have created a film that is the perfect length, but goodness, how much would we pay to see more of Maxims in three months in this environment? Haulout is an extraordinary piece highlighting the perilous situation the planet is in.


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