Making its US premiere at the 20th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival is one of my “Must See” films of the film festival - WALKING UNDER WATER. Already the winner of a Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs in Toronto, if LAFF was ever to start handing out specialty awards for cinematography, and in this case underwater photography, underwater camera operator Lisa Strohmayer would win it hands down for her work here.
Working with writer/director Eliza Kubarska, WALKING UNDER WATER is the story of the "Sea Nomads", the last compressor divers and free divers in the world from the Badjao tribe. A people that live on Mabul Island amidst the ocean between Borneo, the Philippines and Indonesia, the Badjao have no country, no form of documentation or government. They live in the sea and for the sea in a culture that celebrates generational lore and tradition, passed from father to son through the centuries.
Focusing on the story of Sari and his uncle Alexan, through the surreptitious eye of the camera, we learn as he learns; we learn the lore of the man called “Asangan” who lived in the Underwater Kingdom and who had gills like fish and could move between the land and the sea; we learn of the tree spirits and the Underwater People to whom you pray for permission to dive and who will keep you safe; we learn how to dive and fish and to build breathing tubes an underwater torches from simple natural items. We also learn about the clash with modern day cultures and the outsiders that come to dive in these waters the Sea Nomads call home and the destruction of their underwater way of life. But will Sari embrace the old ways or be lured by promises of easy money from tourists.
Immersed in the magic of this underwater world and way of life, the beauty and simplicity of WALKING UNDER WATER flows with the easy lull of the nighttime tides and the tranquil sounds of the sea.
Written and Directed by Eliza Kubarska
(Los Angeles Film Festival Review)
LAFF Post-Script: While Kubarska envelops us in the beauty of the underwater world of the Badjao with WALKING UNDER WATER, she also educates us on the difficulties the people now face as they are being driven to the land with generations of tradition being trampled upon and, by many, lost. But while they struggle to hold on to the past, the Badjao must also move into the future, a future that requires education for children like Sari. Unfortunately, as the Badjao have no ties to any government or nationality, they have no access to the Indonesian educational system.
Given the amazing response to WALKING UNDER WATER by festival goers the world over, the filmmakers, from crew to director to producers, have started an Indiegogo campaign to build a school for the Badjao children right on Mabul Island. This campaign would pay for a school, its organization and for a teacher and any school fees for 10 children.
As with most crowdfunding campaigns there are oodles of incentives, in this case, numerous limited edition gallery prints of the Badjao, Mabul Island and its underwater world taken by Polish photographer David Kaszlikowski.
Please check out the Indiegogo campaign SARI GOES TO SCHOOL at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sari-goes-to-school.