Dec 2, 2008

My Kiwi Adventure Comes to a Close

West Coast Jungle

I'm sad to say it, but my time in New Zealand has come to an end. Looking back on my four months in Aotearoa I can't believe that I managed to shoot more than 20 hours of film footage, complete many interviews, and meet with dozens and dozens of Kiwis interested in sustainable fisheries. It's been a whirlwind tour across both islands from the glaciers and fjords of the South Island to the rainforests and volcanoes of the North Island and I'm a little tired just thinking about it.

The Road South to Otago

It's a bit crazy to think but the last 3o days have seen more traveling than the first three months combined. After saying goodbye to my wonderful host family in Christchurch where I spent a good portion of my time on the South Island I headed down the Otago coast and crossed the Southern Alps picking up the last of my footage in Dunedin, Queenstown, and the West Coast. I was met with a barrage of rain, snow, and wind during my brief few stint through these very southern parts, even though it was spring and the flora and fauna were in full bloom. After passing through the coastal city of Greymouth towards the north end of the West Coast I returned again to Nelson where I conducted a few last minute interviews and meetings with my remaining interested parties. Luckily, the day before my ferry to Wellington, the sun finally came out and I was able to take a brief jaunt to the world renowned Abel Tasman National Park where I caught a few fish for dinner and took a much needed nap on a golden sand beach. During my few days in Nelson, I was also blessed to run into my closest friends from Christchurch would happened to be traveling through as well. We built a fire on the beach and watched as the tide slowly washed it away before saying our goodbyes.

Good Friends

My ferry ride across the Cook Strait was uneventful and aside from an interview and meeting with the Seafood Industry Council and NIWA, I barely lingered in Wellington. After leaving the perimeter of the city and headed back towards the West Coast, I was again greeted by torrential rainfall and for the next few days I lived a very wet and miserable existence plagued by more mosquitoes than I ever thought existed. Eventually I found my way to the Coromandel Peninsula towards the tip of the North Island where I met with a Bowdoin couple and filmed a bit more footage. After sitting in my own personal saltwater hot-tub at Hotwater beach (a geothermally heated beach) I finally I arrived in Raglan and was afforded a chance to unpack my bags, wash my clothes, and empty the sand out of my shoes.

As I finish this last post from New Zealand my mind is already wandering back to the breathtaking vistas I filmed and hospitable Kiwis I met. From a friendly fisherman at Opito Beach who offered me a fresh fish he had just caught to all the roadside fruit and honey vendors who were always happy to chat about anything, I have to say I've never met a more friendly or laid-back group of people. And remembering the mountain peaks, glacier-fed rivers, golden beaches, waterfalls, and lush rainforests, its possible I've not seen a more beautiful landscape in all my life. Sure, it hasn't all been a breeze, I've broken camera gear, lost footage, twisted ankles, and ruined more clothing that I thought possible. But despite these few bumps, the road through New Zealand has changed my life for the better and left me with memories that I'll never forget.

West Coast Fox Glacier

So, my dearest friends and family, as the holiday preparations begin back home, I'm heading off on a new adventure, to the tropical islands of Samoa. Chances are I'll be decorating a palm tree with coconuts this Christmas instead of a pine tree! I miss you all and will be sure to write again soon. In the meantime I wish you all a very happy holidays.

Nov 1, 2008

Fading Into the Blue Trailer #1

I'm excited to say that I've just completed the first trailer for my film!!! I've uploaded it for the time being to YouTube as I'm still working out a few kinks to get it on my blog. Click on the title above to navigate to the page. If your computer can handle it, click on the option to "watch in high quality" as I posted an HD version. Hope you enjoy and I look forward to any comments you may have.

October: 100% Pure New Zealand

Less than a month has passed since my last blog post but I barely know where to begin. Seasonly, New Zealand has blossomed. Trees adorned with flowers ranging from exotic purples to violent yellows litter the land like an impressionistic painting, young animals frolic across the rolling green hills, and the dark clouds have withdrawn from the coasts revealing an ocean brimming with life and color. For weeks I have traveled daily with my camera fully assembled in a duffel bag at my side, too afraid to be caught staring at a perfect scene without camera in hand. Roadside fruit and vegetable stands have popped up like weeds after a rainstorm and friendly smiling people abound. The Kiwi motto of "100% Pure New Zealand" seems to have finally come true.

My film has entered a new season as well. I have slowly removed myself from the quagmire of pre-production and incessant phone calls and transitioned to full-time filming and editing. It has been a welcome change and one that keeps me constantly invigorated, albeit slightly sleep-deprived. Most days find me shooting interviews or canvassing the landscape and small townships with my camera in tow. My first stop after I left you in Nelson as of my last post, was Wellington where I met Dr. Phil Heath of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. My arrival to Wellington was predicated by a long but stunning ferry ride through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds and across the wild and windy Cook Straight. A clean city of 200,000, its white walled houses are tucked into the green hills of the North Island. I must say of all the cities I have every visited, it ranks as one of my favorites both in beauty and personality.

(Above are a few photos of yours truly)

My trip to the aquaculture research facility in Mahanga Bay, Wellington, was stimulating and eye-opening. Dr. Phil and his counterparts were actively growing and researching the Paua, a large shellfish native to New Zealand waters. Their research provided the Paua industry with better methods for creating economically and environmentally sustainable Paua farms. Before interviewing, Phil showed me around the facility, noting the many breeding pools and cages full of young and mature Paua shells (some as tiny as pin heads and others as large as my palm). Most interesting was how they had engineered a way to grow Paua with white bottoms and without losing the blue character of their shells via a combination of clean tanks and certain vegetable based foods. The best part was watching Phil pluck a mature Paua from the tank and hold the creature on his hand until two tentacles peered out from under the shell.

(Paua Shells on Display at a farmer's market)

After my tour around the facility, Phil graciously answered my questions regarding the sustainability of aquaculture. He made enlightening comparisons between terrestrial and water based farming arguing that while our culture will accept thousands of hectares of cow farms, a few Paua or Salmon farms will stir the general public into a frenzy. He furthered his argument by talking about the difference between the conception of public and private space and how in essence, we as a society view the oceans as public space . . . thus explaining our misunderstanding of aquaculture. It was an interesting discussion and one that I hope you enjoy in full when the film is finished next year.

I could have spent much more time in Wellington but business beckoned me back to Nelson and after a quick meeting with The Seafood Industry Council where I briefly interviewed for their magazine about my project, I took an incredibly bumpy and rainy five hour ferry ride back to the South Island. There I met with Chris Choat of Aquaculture New Zealand who put together an interview will the local paper, the Nelson Mail, as well as two shoots with King Salmon and Marlborough Mussels (aquaculture operations based out of Marlborough). Needless to say I worked straight out for a few days, riding out on boats to the farms, filming tons of salmon and mussels being harvested, and interviewing many people. Now that I've finally gotten a chance to sit down, take a deep breathe, and reflect back on the last few weeks, I couldn't be happier with the progress I've made. The friendly and accommodating people I've met, places I've been, and action I've documented have made October a month to remember.

Oct 12, 2008

North to Nelson

Regrettably, my time in the small fishing village of Kaikoura eventually came to an end. Duty called and new shoots beckoned me northwards towards Nelson and the Marlborough Sounds at the tip of the south island. As I passed snow-flecked mountaintops and steel-grey rivers frantically dumping their glacier-melt into the deep coastal waters of the Chatham Rise and Bounty Trough, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness. Something about Kaikoura's constant weather, the slow pace of life, and the ocean air reminded me of my hometown Carlsbad, back in San Diego. But Kaikoura was already rapidly receding into the distance and I slowly turned my thoughts northward.

Before this gloomy spell could overtake me and blossom into homesickness I emerged out of the verdant green winery region of Blenheim and burst onto the Marlborough Sounds. And what a sight it was! With crystalline blue waters, golden sand beaches, bright skies, and friendly people, Nelson was a cinematic jewel. Not to be caught with idle feet, I immediately proceeded into downtown Nelson and met up with my aquaculture contact to talk about the operations based in Nelson. Salmon, pacific oysters, and the world-renowed greenshell mussel were some of the main exports. Needless to say we had a long chat about sustainability, aquaculture, and what it meant for the future of fishing around the globe. In the end I told them that I was most interested in documenting and displaying what sustainability actually looked like in practice. I imagine for most of you, myself included, sustainable fisheries seems a murky and sometimes fishy sounding proposal. I mean, what does sustainability actually look like in action? Some of my following questions related to environmental impacts, wild stock assessments, regulations, health inspections, the "organic-ness" of the product, handling, processing, etc. In the end it was important that I got a good grasp on how "sustainable" these fisheries were before I shot any footage.

After the meeting we set up a few shoots for the coming week. I was pleasantly surprised that the aquaculture operations didn't use water pesticides or antibiotics and secondly, each mussel, oyster, and salmon was handled individually as it came out of the pens. In fact, they said that to farm mussels all they did was set up ropes anchored to the bottom of the seabed and the mussels grew themselves, content in the clean and warm waters of the Marlborough Sounds. Of course a gross simplification of the process, it was still a miracle that pollution was one of their only main concerns, and a small one at that.

(above are screen-shots from my doco. footage)

Phewww! It was a lot to take in and even more to ponder. Yet I found my thoughts lingering over that conversation later the same evening as I sat atop a hill overlooking Nelson (a hill which was the geographic center of New Zealand in fact). I couldn't help but wonder, what did this mean for my documentary and what role would aquaculture play in 21st century ocean management?

Oct 2, 2008

Winter Comes to An End

Well I'm happy to say that winter finally came to an end. August and September brought much rain and gloomy days but now that October is here the weather has changed for the better. People are crawling out of their homes to witness miraculously clear days and longer hours of sunshine. It has been particularly exciting for me as this seasonal change has given me much more time to get outside for film and photograph opportunities.

(Portobello Sunrise, Otago Peninsula)

Currently I'm in Kaikoura, two hours north of Christchurch at the Kaikoura Seafest, an annual festival which celebrates the sea's bounty. Nearly 6,000 people converge on the tiny town for a two day event featuring music and much seafood. This Seafest is particularly interesting because it sources most of its seafood from the local sustainable industry and it openly promotes itself as a "premiere celebration of the abundance of the oceans and all it represents." The spirit of the festival is a beacon of local Kiwis' goodwill and respect for the ocean and its inhabitants, a message which I hope to convey in my documentary.

Yesterday I spent a few hours filming the set-up. It took nearly all day for the central tent, the so-called "Big-Top" to go up as well as the surrounding vendor stalls. Tonight is the pre-event, a four hour "Big Bash" before the actual Seafest begins tomorrow. I'm looking forward to filming a number of seafood cooking presentations and interviewing some of the many patrons who are attending the festival. During my initial filming, I met two local Paua fishermen, Jim and Kev who dive for large hand-sized Paua shells which they then throw on the bbq, apparently the taste is exquisite. They are excited to take me out on their boat and Jim, a character in his own right, said "Once you have Paua you'll never eat another cow again." What a very true and relevant quote.

(On the road to Gillespie Beach)

While it is wonderful that Jim loves seafood, his statement also sheds light on a growing issue worldwide and one at the heart of sustainability and my documentary. People are coming to realize that seafood is not only better for you but leaves a smaller carbon footprint than say beef or pork does. And while this realization is good, our exorbitant consumption of seafood is putting an innapropriate amount of stress of fish stocks and as a result threatening the very protein source that we have recently become so fond of. As a result, it is difficult as a filmmaker to balance the dualistic nature of an event like the Kaikoura Seafest. One on hand you have an event that represents seafood gluttony and on the other it is a celebration which opens peoples' eyes to both the quality of fish meat and the importance of saving some for future generations. The key is finding an equilibrium between the two, which I think is a notion at the very heart of sustainability.
(Moeraki Lighthouse on Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula)

Sep 29, 2008

The First Few Weeks

Perhaps the most common thing you will see in NZ, even in the city, are sheep. They literally coat the land like flies. Its true when they say that humans are outnumbered 10 to 1. Apparently there are upwards of 40 million sheep roaming the grassy hills of both islands. Anyways, during my first outing I was enthralled with the opportunity of getting a picture of one. I would run down the road and go to great lengths to secure a photograph of one, much to the chagrin of my friends. Come to find out sheep photo moments are pretty easy come by. I shot this picture during an excursion into the Port Hills and to Lyttelton Harbour where I had finished a film shoot earlier in the day.

Another sight that is particularly common are large billboard like sign posts which are coated with all sorts of colorful advertisements. I was thoroughly impressed by this particular signpost which hosted a variety of music and film acts that week. Sometimes the side of an entire building would be covered in flyers such as these. Needless to say, its pretty simple to tell what is happening in town from day to day with the help of ads like these.

After a few days seeing the sights and settling down, my first few weeks were spent getting in touch with contacts relating to my documentary. Some of the first groups I talked with were the Seafood Industry Council, Aquaculture New Zealand, and the Ministry of Fisheries each of which has a unique responsibility regarding NZ fisheries. The Seafood Council, as its name suggests, represents commercial fishermen and their interests. Aquaculture New Zealand supports the growth and marketing of sustainable fisheries on the islands and the Ministry of Fisheries is the government agency responsible for managing fisheries and creating legislation. The Seafood Council helped me get in touch with a number of commercial fisherman who operate trawler and deep-sea operations out of Lyttelton Harbour and Nelson in Marlborough Sound (about 5 hrs. north of Christchurch). Aquaculture New Zealand alerted me to the Greenshell Mussel Fishery, apparently the most sustainable mussel product in the entire South Pacific. Last but not least was the Ministry of Fisheries who promised an interview relating to government management.

These initial forays were enlightening but also overwhelming as I began to realize there were more than 3 major players in the seafood industry. Each call would end with 3 or 4 more contacts and soon I was filling my notebook with countless names and numbers. I began to realize, ever more so, that targeting the right people would become most important during the next few weeks of my journey as I could easily get lost in a sea of contacts.

Usually to finish a day I would head to South New Brighton beach, in the picture to the left. I lived a block away from this 4-5 mile strip of beautiful sandy dunes and witnessed a number of beautiful sunsets and sunrises during filming excursions to the area. This particular sunset was one of my favorites. I would try to catch the sun and the clouds at just the right time each day to allow for the best photograph. This day had what are called Northwesterlies, stiff winds that blow offshore for days on end, much like the infamous Santa Anas that church up fires at the end of summer in California.

Sep 24, 2008

Arrival to Christchurch
Two months ago I landed in Christchurch. Snow was thick on the mountains, the coastline was stormy, and the days were short. Despite the weather, I set out to see the land and was amazed by the varied landscape. One moment I was traveling through a mountain pass then suddenly would burst out onto a sandy coastline. Other times I would find myself passing from flat grassland to temperate rainforests in mere minutes. The impressive array of natural places this country houses in such a small space still continues to surprise me. Below is a photo of an estuary near Christchurch, what I eventually learned to be a prime location for viewing the ever-changing sunsets and watching wildlife.

Initially I did some exploring of the greater Christchurch area, one day venturing out into the Craigburn National Forest, very close to famous Arthur's Pass, a location in Lord of the Rings. This brief trip opened my eyes to the unforgiving but beautiful landscape that New Zealand more often than not hides beneath long white clouds. I couldn't help but take this picture of the Craigburn Range while on the way back from a rewarding hike to a nearby peak.

This third picture is very close to where I stayed for the first week in Christchurch. In the background of this picture are the Port Hills, a long row of grass-topped peaks that line the south-western border of the city and command stunning views of Cantebury and the South Pacific. The lights on the hill belong to the suburb of Sumner, reflecting off the saline waters of the Te Huingi Manu Wildlife Refuge and McCormack's Bay.

I hope you enjoyed this initial post. I have tens of photos, videos, and stories still to share but will save them for another day. See you soon!