Though impossible to prove, it is easy to figure that we humanoids have been finding better versions of ourselves in the sea since the very beginning. It is no coincidence that we and the planet that we inhabit are both, roughly speaking, three-quarters saltwater. It is a cosmic collusion of the highest order and a not-so-subtle hint that an unequalled evolution of self can be found both in and upon the forever flowing tides of the ocean. Don’t believe it? Well, go see Keith Malloy’s new film, Fishpeople, posthaste. Aside from being a visually arresting and inspirational bit of cinematic storytelling, it does a wonderfully rich job at demonstrating just how personal powerful time spent in the ocean can be for all of us.
Originally conceived to be a straight-ahead sequel to Malloy’s seminal 2011 bodysurfing film, Come Hell or High Water, Fishpeople became something wholly different — and markedly better — along the twisting and turning path of production. Sure, there is plenty of underwater, human torpedo action and a crazy amount of tranced-out and dreamlike-inducing, saltwater-soaked cinematography courtesy of Ventura’s Scott Soens and Santa Barbara’s Andrew Schoneberger, but the real import of this film lies in the extraordinary people it profiles and the (gasp!) poetry-meets-journalism effect that it has on viewers. Malloy, who is the middle brother of the Ojai-born Malloy clan, is following his big brother Chris’s evolution from pro surfer to full-fledged movie maker, and, if Fishpeople is any indicator, he is absolutely shredding the learning curve with his sophomore effort. (Youngest brother Dan is getting in on the anything-but-easy transition, as well, by directing last year’s exceptionally well-done short documentary about domestic hemp farming, Harvesting Liberty). You don’t have to be a wave rider to appreciate this film; you simply have to be alive and interested in the human spirit.
So what exactly is Fishpeople? Well, it tells the story of six different ocean lovers and explores the richness of their respective aquatic love affairs in search of bigger meaning. There is a recently retired Australian coal miner turned artist who paints with a camera while wearing swim fins. There is a spearfishing free diver from Hawai’i who moves through underwater landscapes like she was born there. There are two surfers who truly seem to be real-life fish people, considering the grace and explosiveness with which they move both upon and below the water. There is a group of at-risk youth from the Bay Area who find salvation in the sea, and the man who works tirelessly to bring them there. And then there is Lynne Cox, a world-record-holding open-ocean swimmer from Boston. Though all of the above are impressive and illuminating in their own right, it is Cox who truly steals the show and ultimately proves the film’s thesis statement in such a way that it becomes accessible to even the most landlocked of viewers. Simply put, her story is the stuff of legend.
4·1·1 Fishpeople will have two free screenings: an outdoor screening on Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m., at Patagonia’s headquarters (259 W. Santa Clara St.) in Ventura, as well as Friday, April 21, 7 p.m. at The Sandbox (414 Olive St.). For more, see patagonia.com/fishpeople.