Walking Under Water (2014) | BFI London Film Festival

September 29th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

WALKING_UNDER_WATER_still_4Dir/Writer: Eliza Kubarska

76min  Doc   Poland/UK/Germany

Walking Under Water won the special jury prize at Hot Docs, Toronto this year for its remarkable portrait of the Badjao tribe in Mabul Island, Borneo. Connecting with a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world, it explores this tiny fishing community who live above and below the clear blue waters off Borneo: and are now threatened with extinction. The striking beauty of this ocean paradise will appeal to lovers of exotic nature programmes but there is much more here than first meets the eye. This is a magical tale of wonder about a culture surviving between the sea and the land who believe in the existence of an underwater spiritual kingdom, the Sema Sallang, whom they must pay homage to each day with offerings and prayers to keep them safe when diving for the daily catch. Using a slim pipe attached to a simple compressor in the boat, they are trained to free dive and fish underwater for turtles and other marine life.

Enriched by Piotr Rosolowski’s breathtaking visuals, a narrative structure gradually emerges that shapes this observational exploration of the Badjao’s simple life through the relationship between Alexan, and his nephew, Sari. Passing his experience on to the boy, with minimal dialogue, he shares tales of sea gods, strange fish and the Sema Sallang. Kubraska sensory soundtrack evokes a delicious serenity, weaving a web of ambient sounds: native voices, exotic birds, rustling breezes waft through the local flora, gradually enveloping us in silence.

But when Alexan and Sari are forced to make a trip to the mainland for fuel, the magic is broken. Resignation, disappointment and fear for their uncertain future reflects on their faces and Sari contemplates the inevitability of work in a local casino. A sensory overload of noise, pollution and the local diving school ruptures the peace and an electrical storm breaks over the purple horizon. Alexan’s wife nags him for only catching three fish: It seems that even in Paradise women are unhappy with their husbands. MT.


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