With infectious enthusiasm Mike deGruy talks about the ocean-about how absurd it is that we have sent a probe to Mars but haven’t explored the deepest depths of own planet; about how much respect he has for sharks (he’s been bitten twice, one of which ripped his arm apart and nearly killed him); and about the film Superfish, by fellow Santa Barbaran Rick Rosenthal, which is one of six movies deGruy selected to screen at this year’s film festival.
A renowned underwater filmmaker for more than 20 years, deGruy has been in charge of scouring the documentary world in search of outstanding nature films to share with festival goers since the sidebar Reel Nature was added to the SBIFF program in 2004. “You’re taking a bit of a chance if you do what I’m doing with this Reel Nature thing,” he said, “which is put natural history films on a big screen for a feature film audience. : So I need to make sure of a couple things: one is that I pick good films. Two, give [attendees] something that they can’t possibly get on television. And that is the filmmakers discussing it. So I have a Q&A with the filmmakers following all of these screenings.”
Though it often takes a tricky bit of scheduling, deGruy manages each year to bring interesting filmmakers with visually stunning films that cover myriad topics. This year is no exception.
One of the highlights, deGruy said, is the film Eye of the Leopard, which follows the life of an African leopard cub during the course of three years. Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert tracked the cub’s movement 24 hours a day, seven days a week to tell this remarkable story. In addition to Eye, there will be screenings of Living with Big Cats, which documents the Jouberts’ three years behind the camera.
Also not to be missed is the aforementioned Superfish. Narrated by naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the film takes viewers around the globe as Rosenthal searches out billfish-large predatory fish that include sailfish, swordfish, and the big daddy of them all, marlin. Both fascinating and beautiful, Rosenthal captures the natural grace and impressiveness of these amazing animals. DeGruy concurs: “You’re out in the open ocean dealing with these big marlin and swordfish. : [Rosenthal] is really good at filming [natural] behavior so it just tells the story of animals we normally see at the end of a line on a hook.”
Lobo: The Wolf that Changed America is another winner. Part documentary, part re-enactment, Lobo tells the tale of Ernest Thompson Seton, a naturalist and hunter, who traveled from his native Canada to New Mexico to destroy the wolf that had been killing ranchers’ cattle. It was 1893 and there was a $1,000 reward. The two weeks he thought it would take to capture Lobo turned into two years; during that time, Seton changed his feelings about wolves, becoming their staunch advocate until his death in 1946.
Also included are the films Time Warp, a slowed-down look at nature, and Smalltalk Diaries, a short that shows what the world looks like to creepy crawly creatures.