Dir. Michelle Dougherty, Daniel Hinerfeld | USA | 2016 | 56 mins
In the murky expanses of the oceans where darkness abounds, many sea mammals are dependent on sound for survival. By emitting ‘songs’ of a specific frequency, these animals communicate within their own species enabling them to migrate, mate and hunt while they defend themselves and their packs from clandestine predators. Since the dawn of time, oceans have sustained this harmonic but delicate web of sound. Recently however, this song has been drowned out by the racket of industry.
Sonic Sea follows Kenneth C. Balcomb III, a former U.S. Navy officer turned whale expert who makes a discovery that changes the way we have come to understand the human impact on the ocean. Underwater noises generated by the seismic exploration of oil mining, freight ships and the effects of military sonar, measure off the charts and are observed to be having distressing effects on the ocean’s marine life. Extrapolating on themes also explored by In Pursuit of Silence (also screening at this year’s festival) the film is equally propitious, tracking scientists worldwide who are working towards reducing this harmful noise; re-affirming that the ocean’s destiny is one inextricably linked with our own.
The film is narrated with verve by Rachel McAdams and also features riveting interviews with ocean protection icons including Sylvia Earle and Jean-Michel Cousteau; experts on ocean noise such as Chris Clark of Cornell, Leila Hatch of NOAA, Dr. Paul Spong founder of OrcaLab, and musician/activist Sting, who riffs on the importance of sound from a musical perspective. Written by Mark Monroe who continues on from his brilliant works The Cove and Racing Extinction, Sonic Sea features dazzling underwater cinematography and a haunting score by Grammy-winning composer Heitor Pereira, reflective of underwater, ambient soundscapes.