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Local filmmakers shine at Ocean Fest

Published: August 27, 2010

Rescuers risk lives to liberate whales


LIKE CAPTAIN Ahab in “Moby-Dick,” the crew of a modern-day Zodiac boat risks life and limb to chase after whales. But while Ahab was trying to kill the giants mammals, the Zodiac crew is trying to save them.

The crew’s rescue work is the subject of “In the Wake of Giants,” a 16-minute documentary produced by Carmel filmmakers Mark DiOrio and Mara Kerr that will be screened Friday, Aug. 27, at the Monterey Maritime Museum. The event is part of the Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, which continues through Sunday.

The film’s aim is to bring attention to the dangers whales face as result of becoming entangled in human debris, as well as the danger rescuers face as they try to remove the debris from the mammals.

“In the Wake of Giants” focuses on the migratory route of humpback whales as they travel from Alaska to Hawaii. Along the way, they often become entangled with debris, such as fishing nets and mooring lines. The encounters can prove fatal.

High risk charity work

The rescuers, meanwhile, are members of the Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Network, a nonprofit group dedicated to freeing endangered humpback whales and other marine mammals from life-threatening entanglements. The group is also working to reduce the amount of human debris the whales are encountering at sea.

Rescuers chase after the whales in an effort to attach grappling hooks to the debris, which is often wrapped around them. It’s a high-risk activity no matter how it’s done, especially when you consider the vast difference in size that exists between a 40-ton whale and a small boat that, once attached to the debris encircling the whale, literally water-skis behind it. Early American whalers used the same technique, calling it a “Nantucket Sleigh-Ride.”

“They’re using whaling techniques to slow the whales down and cut the debris from them,” explained DiOrio, who works as a capital campaign director for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “We made the film because we want to make people aware of the problem and the good work these people are doing to save the whales.”

DiOrio and Kerr, who are married, traveled in February to Maui, where they observed rescuers at work as they tried to free whales entangled in debris. The Carmel couple was so moved by watching the rescue effort that they resolved to make a film about it. “These guys are risking their lives, and nobody knows about it,” DiOrio said.

The problem of whales becoming entangled in debris, it turns out, is surprisingly widespread. “Fifty percent of migrating whales become entangled in something,” observed Kerr, a published author and real estate agent for Alain Pinel Realtors.

Rescuers say about 300,000 whales, porpoises and dolphins each year are ensnared, injured and sometimes killed by human debris floating in the ocean.

Bringing the story to film

While DiOrio and Kerr knew they had passion for their subject matter, they realized they needed help making the film, which neither had done before. They were introduced to Grass Valley filmmaker Lou Douros, who signed on as director of the documentary. He brought along his son, Blaze Douros, who created the musical score with just a cello and drums. “We didn’t know anything about making a movie,” DiOrio said. “But we knew this was an important subject.”

DiOrio and Kerr sent the elder Douros back to Hawaii for more footage of whale rescues, and with the aid of the father- and-son tandem, the project was completed in about three months.

Now that it’s finished, Kerr said she’s more than satisfied with the end result. “I cry every time I see it,” she said. “The film evokes passion. You will see it, and you will want to help.”

DiOrio, meanwhile, hopes the film will empower others to make a difference in the world.

“If we can make a difference, anybody can,” he added.

More about the festival

“In the Wake of Giants” will be featured Friday at the maritime museum with three other films, “Blue Water Oasis,” “The Farallon Islands: California’s Galapagos” and “Protecting Americas National Marine Monuments.” All four films are finalists in the Blue Ocean Film Festival’s Best National Marine Sanctuary Shorts category. DiOrio and Kerr’s film, by the way, was also nominated for Best Emerging Underwater Filmmaker and Best Original Score.

The film festival, which debuted last year in Savannah, Ga., relocated this year to Monterey. A panel of 22 judges looked at more than 350 entries before deciding upon the finalists in 19 categories.

The screening begins at 1 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for children.

For more information about “In the Wake of Giants,” visit For more information about the film festival, visit

'Ocean Men' make the utmost of single breaths


THE PERILOUS quest by two men to break the world record for deep water diving on a single breath will play out on the big screen in Monterey this weekend.

“Ocean Men,” a documentary about the sport of freediving directed by award-winning Pacific Grove photographer Bob Talbot, will be featured Saturday, Aug. 28, at the Cannery Row IMAX Theatre during the BLUE Ocean Film Festival.

The 90-minute movie chronicles the 1999 rivalry between freedivers Francisco ‘Pipin’ Ferreras of Cuba and Umberto Pelizzari of Italy to see who will be the first to dive 135 meters (443 feet) while holding their breath.

“I started getting my head around these two guys,” Talbot told The Pine Cone this week. “I wanted to know how they got into freediving, where they came from and what they did to train.”

Talbot, who has been recreationally freediving for many years, said he wanted to give viewers an insight into the unusual sport in which superhuman competitors dive to depths of 60 to 250 meters — depending on the freediving discipline — without using air tanks.

Competitors endure crushing water pressure unbearable to most, lower their heart rate to as low as five beats per minute and hold their breath for several minutes. A six-minute breath hold is considered average in the sport.

“For me, freediving is really in some ways a metaphor for life,” Talbot said. “It’s all about balance ... about controlling your thoughts and economizing what you have.”

Freediving, though extremely dangerous, can also be tranquil and zen-like to perform — and to watch on film.

“You are not encumbered with a lot of SCUBA gear,” he said. “When you’re freediving, you are as sleek as you can be, you are as efficient as you can be. You are in tune with the ocean.”

But Talbot’s movie also reveals how Ferreras and Pelizzari’s friendship is compromised over the course of a competitive season.

The freedivers “were once friends, but their friendship dissolves into rivalry,” Talbot said.

“Ocean Men,” selected from the more than 350 films submitted to the film festival to receive a special screening, parallels “The Big Blue,” a 1988 film directed by Luc Besson about the competition and friendship between two real-life champion freedivers, one of whom was the late Jacques Mayol, the first freediver to descend 100 meters.

“I wanted to make the next generation of ‘The Big Blue,’” according to the photographer.

“Ocean Men” was shot on 70 mm film, the high-resolution IMAX format that lends itself to the stunning land and sea visuals in the movie. There were a variety of locations, for the film including California, the Bahamas, Italy, Germany, Mexico and Honduras.

“I’ve always had this feeling when I’m in the deep ocean that I want to wrap my arms around it and take people there,” Talbot said.

Talbot, who filmed the wildlife sequences for the Warner Bros. series of “Free Willy” feature films and Universal Pictures’ “Flipper,” is also known for his marine photography, which has been reproduced into millions of lithographs and sold around the world.

“Ocean Men” at IMAX, 640 Wave St., will show Aug. 28 at 11:00 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., with a filmmaker Q&A following the 2:30 screening. Tickets are available at or can be purchased at IMAX the day of the screening.