Wednesday, 6 May 2015

11 Days in Gran Canaria - Angel Sharks and The Public Reaction To Of Shark And Man!

Not bad for a first screening of the Director's Cut!

So, I'm back in the cold and wet of the UK after a brilliant eleven days in Gran Canaria (including a day trip to Tenerife) where I met wonderful people, did some very cool dives, got a bit of a tan, ate some massive steaks, saw Of Shark and Man on the big screen for the first time with a public audience and even walked away with two awards!

Firstly Gran Canaria is great, the weather was hot, there is actually life underwater and the people I met were just amazing. I was a guest of Fernando and Manuela who run Alianza Tiburones Canarias, a small, grassroots conservation NGO which works to educate and inspire the people of the Canary Islands about sharks in their waters, in particular the Angel Shark.

The hospitality I received was second to none and I cannot speak highly enough of them, they are passionate, informed and ambitious and these are three things vital to running successful campaigns and above anything, they're really, really nice people!

I had been invited over as a guest for their annual film festival,focusing on marine life and films about the ocean for which they were incredibly keen to have Of Shark and Man screened. It was also a chance for me to do some diving and try to get some footage of at least one Angel Shark so I couldn't say no and off I went.

My day started at 3am for my 8am flight, I landed in Gran Canaria just past midday, met up with Fernando and Manuela along with David from EDNA and was immediately whisked off to a live radio interview, in Spanish to talk about the film and the festival! It was then off to the venue to discuss the structure of everything and meet a few of the volunteers who were (as was the case with everyone I met) really lovely people, I even had my own translator who was a real help, very kind and with whom, along with her boyfriend Christian, Dave and I went out for something to eat later and discuss all things shark.

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

So, to the festival itself!

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

 Photo by Kepa Garmendia

There were, if I remember correctly, sixteen films spread out over two days, two feature length films (including OSAM), a few animations which were great, one of which, "The Health of Our Oceans" had a super cool credits sequence at the end at which both Dave and I were salivating it was that good. Most of the films were shorts, split between pros and amateurs even including first time film-makers (which I love), most of the films had little to no narrative and topics varied from sharks to plastic pollution, to location pieces and everything in between. Friday's highlight for me and most of the audience was without question a short film by Alberto Ramos Rodriguez called "Utopia" which was both surreal and at times ingenious, I loved the fact it thought way outside the box. The audience seemed in agreement that the other highlights included the beautifully shot "Secretos de Macronesia" by Rafa Herrero Massieu, "The Azores in 5K" by Nuno Sa and Lee Burghard's "A Fight for Survival."

Saturday saw the screening of "Of Shark and Man," and to be honest, I was quite nervous, there was a lot of expectation and I was worried about the duration of the film as it is all in English and would play out in front of a majority Spanish/German audience. At 104 minutes with an enormous amount of content, I had visions of an audience gradually sneaking out to go to the bar during the film leaving only David and I in the theatre...

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

With that being said, it came as a very happy surprise that throughout the film, not one person left, even to go to the loo, people reacted to the film, there were laughs, the odd "woah" and audience members exchanging nods and smiles of approval with each other. When the film came to a close, the applause started immediately as the credits rolled and lasted almost the entire duration, leaving me, having been invited up on stage, rather embarrassed by it all. I don't really take public displays of praise too well when I'm there in front of a room of people!

What was particularly encouraging was the Q&A session, people were picking out parts of the film and quoting bits back to me, asking intelligent questions about everything and most importantly telling me what they liked and how they felt when they watched the film which isn't really the norm in a Q&A. Not only that but there was a genuine enthusiasm for not only the three stories in the film but the technical aspects of the Cinematography and Sound Design.

What became apparent over the remainder of the evening was not just that people liked the film, but that it awoke something in them, either a reminder of the kind of films that inspired their love of the oceans originally, or the desire to perhaps rethink their own opinions of things, discuss the incredible story of Shark Reef and also to readdress how they saw the portrayal of sharks in the media. What people really seemed to love is that the film does not claim to be or have a message, it just does what it does and encourages the viewer to think throughout and as such, amazingly for a foreign language audience, they felt the film's length was perfect as it passed by quickly.

They also mentioned it had an approachability in that instead of making breathy statements or trying to push ideas on the viewer, it informs by simply telling a story through one man's eyes and also, the people in the film itself were extremely popular because again, no caricatures or considered personas, just honest, decent people speaking from the heart.

To go in thinking I'd see people quietly sneaking out to the bar and instead to have more than one person tell me after the screening that "Of Shark and Man" was "the best shark film I have ever seen" (honestly, we have it on camera) is something I will never forget.

See what an audience mamber, Marjo, had to say about the film here.

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

Even saying all that, when I found out there would be awards presented, I didn't expect to win one, I thought maybe I'd get a small one for taking part and making the effort to attend the event but that's it, so it all came as a bit of a surprise that OSAM was chosen as the "Best Film" by both the City of Aguimes and most importantly of all, unanimously apparently, by the audience.

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

So after the evenings wonderful event and a celebratory meal in a cave (ginormous steak obviously) the focus turned to diving and trying to get some shots of what is likely the world's rarest shark, the Angel Shark.

Photo by Yuneysa Garcia Flores

The diving in Gran Canaria is actually really good, I've become accustomed to the Mediterranean in the last few years and there is so much more life around the Canary Islands, the water was a mild 19 degrees, the viz pretty good and on most of the dives we'd see some big shoals of fish which I always enjoy filming.

Photo by Yuneysa Garcia Flores
The dives felt wilder than in the Med and I like that, there was always something to see but what made the dives so special were the people I dived with. Mareike from Diving Centre Nautico with some additional RIB support from Jerry at Canary Diving, Kepa, Yuneysa (who took the two shots above), Felipe, Eugenio and of course, Fernando and Manuela.

Kepa and Manuela

Mareike and I

It took a few days but I saw my first Angel Shark (two actually) on a night dive at a place called Sardina but it was a couple of days later at El Cabron where I really got to have a proper encounter with a nice sized female we found towards the end of our dive. They may not be one of the big, charismatic species but it was so exciting to see one because they are so very rare and this particular shark really co-operated for the camera which is of course, always appreciated!

 Photo by David Diley

 Photo by David Diley

 Photo by Fernando Reis

 Mareike with the Angel Shark - Photo by David Diley

Fernando with the Angel Shark - Photo by David Diley

So, Gran Canaria was brilliant, I loved it! In the week I also did a press conference and an interview with VIVA Magazine alongside filming some more stuff for the Making Of features we will be releasing on the official website. There will also be a short film of some underwater footage coming up so keep an eye out for that.

I was also invited to the University of Las Palmas to give a talk about Shark Feeding and the Shark Reef story which was really cool as the students seemed really enthusiastic about it and asked some brilliant questions. It's nice to be a part of getting this story out to a wide audience.

I want to thank everyone I met for their hospitality, warmth and most importantly, their friendship. Huge thanks to the City of Aguimes for putting me up in the beautiful Casa Aldaba, which, if you ever plan to visit there, I strongly recommend, I loved it, it's a gorgeous little house in a gorgeous, quiet little town.

I'm feeling ever more confident about Of Shark and Man, it won over an informed audience of people in a foreign country for whom English is not a first, or often second, language and people didn't only like it, they loved it!

Lots of good stuff is coming your way so keep your eyes peeled, this journey is about to get very interesting!

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