This Saturday, Doris Duke Theatre is proud to screen three showings of Angel Azul, a documentary film that follows the work of sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, who founded the underwater museum Museo Subacuatico de Arte—or MUSA—which translates to ‘The Underwater Museum of Art.”
The name is not a clever allusion to an aquatic themed exhibition, the museum galleries are literally underwater. These submerged galleries are comprised of over 200 tons worth of sculptures spanning 420 square meters in all, and serve not only as an underwater museum, but an artificial reef, which relieves some of the pressure of visiting tourists off of the natural reefs.
The film follows Jason and his team of volunteers as they navigate perilous waters, both literal and bureaucratic in nature. As it does so, it sheds light on the tragic and rapid disappearance of much of the world’s living reefs.
Film producer/director Marcy Cravat was kind enough to discuss the making of the Angel Azul with us recently by email.
How did you come to be involved in the documenting of this project?
My daughter had stumbled upon photos of Jason’s underwater statues online and called me to suggest the possibility of doing a documentary on him. I went online immediately to have a look and was instantly captivated so I called him right then not knowing where he was nor anything else about him. It turns out he was a British guy living in Mexico, and after speaking for about 15 minutes, we’d agreed to do a documentary. I did not know that the doc would evolve into a full fledged environmental doc… that realization came when we learned about the algae choking the reefs. I felt it would have been irresponsible to not cover this especially given that the statues themselves contain messages related to the environment that are near and dear to Jason’s heart and creative process. It was at that time it became obvious to me that we needed experts to educate all of us about the problems coral reefs face and solutions available to help reverse these problems. I reached out to Dr. Thomas Goreau who was incredibly knowledgable and articulate, not to mention interesting and then further down the line I contacted Dr. Sylvia Earle who was very interested in helping provide the bigger picture angle for us. Meeting her too was amazing.
At what point was it determined that a documentary of the project should be produced?
It was very spontaneous. It happened within the span of 15 minutes. Jason told me that he was thinking of casting an angel and that her wings would be made from live Gorgonian fan coral that would flow back and forth with the tide. Visuals were overtaking my brain and I told him I wanted to fly down and capture the making of this angel from the very beginning. I called a sound man, John Bennett, with whom I’d worked with on a set here in San Francisco, and I booked us some flights and we flew down to Cancún and just started shooting. We figured the story would find us, and it eventually did.
Had you been familiar with Jason’s work prior to your involvement?
No I had not known anything about Jason or his work. It was a magical surprise.
There were a number of challenges—both bureaucratic and environmental in nature—that the artists face during this project. Did you as a filmmaker experience any similar challenges?
Absolutely. Film making is very challenging for so many reasons and also a tremendous learning experience. I am much more prepared now to embark upon the making of another film than I was then. I made mistakes that impacted me both emotionally and financially, but I had to learn… mostly that I am a filmmaker and that I need to follow my instincts.
One of the biggest challenges aside from trying to raise funds, which is a bore that every filmmaker has to contend with, was resisting pressure to alter the story …. basically filtering feedback to find the sweet spot where I felt the story wanted to be. I am really glad I stuck to my instincts, but at times it was really hard to feel and hear them. This really tested me as a filmmaker.
There is a strong environmentalist message Angel Azul delivers. Aside from what is said in the film, what other ways can people help to address these issues?
I think the most important thing we can do as individuals in take responsibility for the things we demand and realize as our demands evolve, the markets will have to follow. This involves a lot of waking up. The pressure of demand is very powerful. It starts with the individual, gravitates toward movements and inevitably effects change. This includes how we treat each other and the life that lives on this planet. If we demand an awakening, people will eventually get it…. the question is whether or not this will happen in time. Everything connects. We cannot ignore this and I do not believe we have the luxury of time.
Do you feel there are parallel lessons that we here in Hawai‘i can take away from the film?
Given the unique beauty of the islands and the remarkable life that lives in and around them, I would think that these lessons would ring true as I imagine most people in Hawaii know how special their islands are.
Of each of the works highlighted in the film, do you have a favorite?
I love Vicissitudes, the ring of children holding hands because it powerfully communicates that we are all connected and the symbolism of a circle is very meaningful to me.
For showtimes and tickets to one of this Saturday’s screenings, click here.