September 26, 2008

Do the Right Whale Thing


Do the right whale thing

Paul Weideman I The New Mexican

Whaledreamers, documentary on interspecies connection,

not rated, The Film Center, 988-7414

Whales bring people together to save the Earth. That's the bottom

line of Whaledreamers, a 2007 documentary written and directed by Kim Kindersley. The film records a 1998 gathering of tribal leaders

from around the world at the Nullarbor Cliffs in South Australia.

The ceremonial gathering was called by Kindersley and Bunna Lawrie, a member of the indigenous Mirning people of Australia, who were forced from their traditional lands in the 1950s to make room for nuclear testing. During repeated trips to that country, the British filmmaker learned that the Mirning have a "dreamtime connection" with the southern right whale, and he began exploring the significance of cetaceans in other indigenous cultures.

Kindersley made three films about human-friendly dolphins in the early 1990s. The first examined a dolphin off the coast of Ireland that changed Kindersley's life when he swam with it.

Whaledreamers is sort of a combination of An Inconvenient Truth, Koyaanisqatsi, and a National Geographic special. It weaves stories about whales and fragile ecosystems told by indigenous people from Africa (Zulu), South America (the U'wa of Colombia), and the United States (Chumash and Lakota Sioux), and Australia. The film is visually stunning, featuring beautiful images of whales, of fire and sky and earth, and of humans in companionship at the gathering. There are less lovely images of whales being harpooned, burning oil wells, and melting polar ice.

Actor Jack Thompson (The Man From Snowy River, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) narrates. Kindersley shares producing credits with musician Julian Lennon, who met members of the Mirning tribe while on tour in Australia.

Pasatiempo called Kindersley in Australia.

Pasatiempo: Where are you from?

Kim Kindersley: I grew up on a large farm about two hours west of London. There was an incredible woods, and I had a blissful time until they sent me to an English public school. I couldn't understand what I'd done wrong.

Pasa: Are you a full-time Australian resident now?

Kindersley: I'm still a visitor, but I've fallen in love with the place.

Pasa: The first part of the Whaledreamers story, about your meeting

with Fungi the dolphin off Dingle, Ireland, is pretty fantastic, like a Disney film.

Kindersley: Yeah, it's such a fantasy. I was just going to go and visit Dingle, and I thought it would be fun to go out and see this dolphin everyone had been talking about. When it actually came up and looked at me with that eye of his, it was like a veil dropped away, and I realized that in a way I had spent the whole of my life living totally out of balance with nature and not being aware I was connected to something so much bigger and so much more beautiful and so much more magical. It just changed my perspective on everything, and it ended up with this, killing 15 years of my life making this film.

Pasa: I've read that Fungi is a "hermit dolphin." What does that mean?

Kindersley: It's just a term for dolphins who leave their pods and come to an area and start interacting with human beings. Often people say it's rather like a troubled teenager rebelling, like saying, "I'm not staying at home. I'm going to go out to a nightclub. I'm going to go play with humans for a couple of years."

What's interesting about the Fungi story is that all the other recorded hermits tend to be adolescents, but he's been there doing this every day for 30 years, so it has kind of blown that theory out of the water. I've been there with hundreds of people bobbing around in the water on a summer's day, and he'll just go from person to person and play with children. It's an amazing experience.

Pasa: This Whaledreamers production had its start back in the early 1990s with a film that was called Eyes of the Soul.

Kindersley: Yeah, originally we started researching a concept called "Eyes of the Soul," inspired by my own research into mythology and

the ancient connection between humanity and the whales and dolphins. Also, I had just seen the film Baraka, and I thought, How amazing that you can go to a cinema and see a film that actually dares to be profound.

Pasa: You've known Julian Lennon for three decades?

Kindersley: Yeah, since 1980.

Pasa: You directed something called The Julian Lennon Story?

Kindersley: That was a film made locally in Australia when he was touring here. It was fun just being on the road with him. That's when he met the Mirning tribe, just after the gathering.

Pasa: How did working with Julian make Whaledreamers come true?

Kindersley: Making an independent film kind of redefines the concept of masochism. There's so little money for independent film, and therefore to have a sponsor or a partner like Julian who is prepared to put some money down to allow us to do this project was invaluable.

Pasa: Were you there at the gathering the whole time, operating

the camera?

Kindersley: I made the decision not to operate any cameras, because

I felt much more involved with the story itself. So I got a great cameraman, Paul Dalowitz, and another named Jeff Pantukhoff, and I said to them, "Look, it's going to be really crazy the next seven days, but basically I'd like you to film everything." I was half in it and half directing it. I didn't have a set plan. I wanted it to be organic. Then it became clear that it would be more interesting if I did it with my perspective and Bunna's perspective. Then we had a third person, which was the Australian actor Jack Thompson, being the over-voice.

Jack's very well known over here as a human-rights activist. He's a representative in Parliament for the Aboriginal people, and that's why he appears in the film very much as himself rather than an actor for hire.

Pasa: One of the film's messages is that we're in this together - -

whales and man. Many people will appreciate that, but others won't. Are you hoping to sway some who may be on the fence regarding environmental issues?

Kindersley: All we can do is just keep trying to represent something that's a new way of being on the planet. It's obvious to me that everything we do should be in balance with nature, because it's just an obvious natural law and part of being human.

Pasa: What's Bunna Lawrie doing now?

Kindersley: He's playing music and sharing his whale stories with schoolchildren in Sydney. He was just on the front page of all the newspapers a week ago. He's being termed the "whale whisperer" by the press because there was a baby whale that was stranded in a harbor, and Bunna went in and sang some traditional songs, and the whale came up to him, and he stroked it. He really touched the hearts of the nation, but it was a sad ending. The whale got very weak, couldn't find its mother, and had to be put down. But it was really lovely to see that the government officials actually acknowledged, probably for the first time, that the Aboriginal people here have a part to play in these kinds of scenarios. It was an acknowledgement of indigenous peoples' rights.

Originally published by PAUL WEIDEMAN I THE NEW MEXICAN.

(c) 2008 The Santa Fe New Mexican. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.