Director Jean-Albert Lievre, who has worked for Usuhaia and Nicolas Hulot for many years, presents a film about whales around the world. An unusual, poetic and immersive documentary premiered this Wednesday at MonCiné Béziers. The interview.
How did you come up with the idea to make this movie about whales?
We were shooting for Usuhaia in Silver Bank. We heard them sing, but it didn’t go down too well. We had no pictures. And then, while diving, I suddenly saw that the bottom was moving in front of me. It was actually a whale, I had never seen it so close and it was so big. We had a look, a strong emotional shock. Later I did other things, but I kept this idea in mind. That’s exactly what I wanted to do until I came across Heathcote Williams’ poem: space and whales. As seen from space, the earth is blue, and it is not really the territory of humans, but the territory of whales.
What is your message in this film?
Exactly the other one: besides humans, there are other societies with their intelligence and organizations… We share the planet with them. Whales are 35 million years old, they know their environment better than we do. We only know about 5% of the deep sea floor. They have their own communication, their own navigation system. They are socially organized. We might have something to learn from them.
How did you draw?
I am not an expert on the underwater world. I wanted there to be closeness, to find that exchange of glances and also the sense of distance that is possible with drones. I wanted this film to be a visual shocker, the whale would appear very small on land, but also appear life-size on the screen. So I immediately wanted a feature film. That the sound is impressive, that you feel underwater with them. The sound was mixed in Atmos.
We filmed during Covid. The downside is that some areas were completely closed off, like Asia, but where we could shoot, we were alone, without tourists. We shot with two crews in Tahiti, Mexico over three seasons. We did it in a very small team, with as many locals as possible, who were there diving and taking pictures. Two or three of us came from Paris at most with external equipment and lenses. This allowed us to keep a very small budget: 2 M€ when we reached Ocean 100. Where we couldn’t be, I was working with directors I knew and sent stories to – very precise boards. We did a lot of freediving or balloonless rebreather shots.
What is the importance of whales on earth?
This is a type of umbrella. At the bottom of the oceans, an ecological pump vital to the entire system. They play a role in the climate with the phytoplankton they eat. They allow more oxygen production than forests. They regulate the balance of the earth.
What does Jean Dujardin bring to the film besides his celebrity?
He was restless, swimming with sperm whales. His brother was the film’s producer, who agreed in principle to do the voting. And when he saw the finished film with my own voice, he gave his final approval. He liked the movie. His very composed voice brings a plus, an extra emotion. He speaks for the whales, I say.
So why partner with Project Ocean Rescue?
Jean Dujardin was a bit of a godfather. He suggested doing something with them. Plastic, I’ve taken it everywhere for 30 years, I’ve seen the earth take care of it. This is a big problem. It must stop. It’s fine to take, but it should be banned.
Yes. Because they are cycles. When plastic first appeared, it was almost an environmental boon. Like the car in the beginning. Each time we take one step forward, then one step back. Our technological human society is in its infancy. We will make a lot of mistakes, it will take time, there will be a lot of damage, but the ground is tough. So, yes, I’m optimistic. A demographic balance must be found. And take action. A moratorium on whales allows some to see their populations grow again. It’s going well.