Luca Brasi swims with the fishes. Not exactly, but you can—virtually, with the resurgent International Ocean Film Festival. Ron Howard’s sobering documentary Rebuilding Paradise revisits the hell and the traumatic aftermath of the Camp Fire. Another timely doc, The Fight, follows the ACLU’s courtroom challenges to the administration’s seismic sabotages of the Constitution. What’s the connection between this week’s film offerings? It’s elemental, Watson.
International Ocean Film Festival
July 30–Aug. 9
Just two days before the Cowell Theater curtain was going to open on the 17th International Ocean Film Festival in March, the coronavirus forced the event’s cancellation. In an admirable feat of determination and logistics, the IOFF has successfully reassembled the entire original program online under the rallying cry “Reconnecting Summer 2020.”
The lineup includes nine feature-length films, a couple shorts programs and a slew of live-streamed Q&As and panel conversations. Several of the films, notably Sea of Shadows, which details the dwindling number of vaquitas (porpoises) in Mexican waters, catalog the dangers to and defenders of ocean life. An exhilarating exception, Picture of His Life, brings to light the holistic, healing properties of the sea.
Israeli underwater photographer Amos Nachoum, who’s lived for years in nearby Pacific Grove, generally prefers orcas and Manta rays to people. But a few years ago he allowed filmmakers Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir (and a small crew) to accompany him to the Canadian Arctic to fulfill his lifelong dream of photographing elusive polar bears below the surface of Baker Lake.
“At the end of the day, Amos was looking for his family,” Menkin told me in a phone interview last summer. “His family is the universe. It’s Mother Nature. He found his family and lives with it in harmony, and that’s what he wants us to do.”
Opens July 31
VOD via several local theaters
When I heard that perennial optimist and all-around good guy Ron Howard had made a documentary called Rebuilding Paradise for National Geographic about the catastrophic 2018 Northern California wildfire, I expected a skillfully crafted chunk of cinematic candy corn. You know the type: An uplifting testament to the resilience of human beings, with soaring strings and lots of tearful hugging, graphed in a straight line from tragedy to transcendence.
The trajectory of Rebuilding Paradise, it turns out, hews much closer to the ground. In the past 18 months, the survivors’ heroism and other fine qualities have been tested by a daunting gauntlet of reality checks, from destroyed schools to FEMA debris-clearing rules to benzene-infused water to scarce housing permits. When the camera does rise above it all, via drone, a panorama of scorched, empty lots shocks us back to earth.