The world lost a great champion of the ocean when Santa Barbara’s renowned underwater filmmaker Mike deGruy died at age 60 in a helicopter accident in February 2012. But his infectious excitement and ever more critical message about protecting the seas is once again headed for the big screen, for his widow, accomplished filmmaker Mimi deGruy, is producing a documentary about her late husband’s life and legacy. On November 15, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise the $75,000 needed to complete post-production.
Though loaded with some of the most amazing sea life footage ever captured and insight from luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough, Sylvia Earle, and James Cameron, the documentary was inspired by a newly found clip of Mike talking about the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010, and focuses on his shift to environmental activism. I spoke with Mimi to learn more about the project.
What led to this project?
When somebody dies suddenly and unexpectedly, they leave in mid-conversation. I found myself saying, “‘We didn’t finish that conversation. You had a lot more to say.’” We — his family, his friends, his audience, people who have loved him — were short-changed. On his behalf, I wanted to honor what I thought he would have been saying.
It’s just taken me a long time to get to the point where I felt that I was ready to share what I was finding out him and the footage that we’ve accumulated. I’ve reached a point now where it just seems like the right time.
Was it not until the Deepwater Horizon spill that he became more focused on activism?
As a marine biologist, he, and we, were both environmentalists before people called people environmentalists. We both grew up in families that were very comfortable in the natural world and took our relationship to the natural world very seriously.
For Mike, the most effective way to get people to be sensitive to the environment was to show them how extraordinary it was. Let’s make people fall in love with the ocean, and let’s make them not feel so alien to that world. That was always the philosophy behind his early work.
Then, increasingly and particularly when the oil spill happened, he just said, “That idea no longer works. We’re reaching a point where people are so disconnected and so disrespectful of the ocean that I need to be more vocal in raising people’s awareness.”
One of the biggest issues is that people are unaware of how critically important to our survival the ocean is. It covers 77 percent of our planet, and literally every other breath we take is because of the ocean. The oil spill flipped a switch in Mike’s mind. Business as usual doesn’t work.
Had he started on his own spill documentary?
We had a grant from the National Science Foundation to do a series of short films following the science of the spill. [But after going down there,] Mike felt it deserved a longer form film. He found that scientists couldn’t tell him what effect the spill would have because they really didn’t know. That to him was astonishing, that they didn’t have better baseline data. So if he had lived, I think he would have gone back down there and done a long-form film on the Gulf.
But that was a film I didn’t want to make without Mike. I couldn’t have done it. Instead, I felt inclined to do a film about Mike that highlights that issue.
How have you selected archival footage?
What was kind of spooky is that Mike and I had been talking about a project that looked at the history of his career. He had been pulling all of his favorite sequences and putting them on a timeline. When I finally went back into the editing room, I found that clip [of him talking about the Deepwater Horizon spill] and then all of this stuff on the timeline. It was almost like he said, “Here, this is my favorite work.” It was almost prescient.