REVIEW: Soul in the Sea
(Abyss Films, PG)
Alternatively heartbreaking and heart-lifting, Soul in the Sea tells the tale of the friendly dolphin who made his home in the waters of the Eastern Bay of Plenty in 2010.
Moko bewitched the townsfolk (and numerous out-of-town holidaymakers as well) of Whakatane and Ohope, before eventually swimming west to Tauranga, where he met a premature demise.
As anyone who encountered Moko first-hand will tell you, he was an undeniably friendly fellow and a lot of fun to be around. Hence the attraction . . . which, possibly, proved to be of the fatal variety.
This documentary is the result of a lot of hard work by director/marine biologist Amy Taylor, who amassed hours of footage of Moko and those he interacted with. Beautifully shot and edited, it is a longer, more thought-out version of an initial work that screened on TV3 last year. This is the far better viewing experience.
It is also a study of small town pettiness.
It's a very simple formula - just add an element of change (in this case a friendly, cavorting dolphin) and watch the divisions form.
In this case there were those, including many Department of Conservation staff, who thought it best to let the dolphin get on with being a wild animal versus those who, to a degree, anthropomorphised him and wanted to look after him, as they would a child or a dear friend.
Others saw money-making or tourism opportunities.
And then there were the stupid people who thought Moko was just a fish. The less said about them the better.
Chief among those who wanted to care for and look out for Moko was local woman Kirsty Carrington, and it is through her sympathetic eyes much of this documentary gets its perspective.
Marine biologist Ingrid Visser is also on hand to give a more analytical viewpoint: "They realise that these animals are sentient beings,"she says of those who spent time with Moko. They're self aware, they have humour and intelligence and they really are individual personalities."There have been some stunning New Zealand documentaries made in recent years - Brother Number One, Kaikohe Demolition, Numero Bruno and Operation 8 to name but a few. Soul in the Sea deserves its place in that pantheon.
It should also be a companion piece to The Cove, the acclaimed (and trauma-inducing) documentary about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan and the brutality behind the marine attractions industry.Dolphins get a raw deal from us humans. If more people saw films like this, they wouldn't.