We reached out to our festival filmmakers to ask them questions about the experience of making their films.
What inspired this story?
Sonic Sea filmmakers: Sonic Sea was inspired by the devastating impact that ocean noise pollution is having on whales, dolphins, fish and other marine life. Intense noise from naval sonar, airguns used in oil and gas exploration, and heavy ships are destroying the ocean’s delicate acoustic habitat, threatening the ability of whales and other sea creatures to prosper and even to survive. We made Sonic Sea to raise awareness about this problem and to propel solutions before it’s too late.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.
The biggest artistic challenge we faced is that Sonic Sea is a film about sound...sound that most humans never hear. That meant coming up with a visual vocabulary to depict the complex acoustic world of the ocean, and creating a score and sound design that completely immerses the audience in this rich and unfamiliar soundscape.
How do you approach storytelling?
Sonic Sea tells a complex scientific story, but we knew it had to be grounded in human narrative and emotion. We structured the film around the story of Ken Balcomb, a veteran Navy acoustics expert and whale scientist who worked heroically to prove to the Navy that it was killing whales with sonar.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
We are deeply gratified to see that Sonic Sea already is making a difference. The film helped spur the release of NOAA’s long-delayed ocean noise strategy; helped convince the Canadian government to commit to reduce shipping noise in key habitats; was instrumental in General Electric collaborating on an industry consortium to reduce shipping noise; led to a partnership with Maersk, the world’s second largest shipping company, to launch a pilot project on vessel retrofits and noise reduction; and was widely used by grassroots advocates in last year’s successful fight—now renewed during the Trump administration—against seismic blasting off the mid-Atlantic and southeast coasts.
Were there any surprising or meaningful experiences you want to share?
One of the most meaningful experiences in making Sonic Sea was to see the emotion that drives some of the world’s leading marine scientists and ocean explorers. Their personal stories about interacting with whales were so moving that we built a whole sequence of the film around them.
Anything else you would like people to know?
The ocean is an acoustic environment. Sound travels fast and far in salt water. Much farther than light. That’s why so many life forms in the ocean use sound to communicate, navigate, hunt, and raise their young. We need to respect that. Which means making a lot less noise. We have the technology to be much quieter. It’s just about making the choice. Let’s allow all of the singing voices of the planet to be heard.
We’re hoping to make a film that looks at climate change in a new way: through the eyes of America’s soldiers.
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