Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

First attack, then think: digging up the ocean grounds

ECOLOGY / Exposing the catastrophic consequences of deep-sea mining on marine ecosystems.
Director: Matthieu Rytz
Distributor: Roco Films
Country: USA

In times when we do not even know whether we have (or not) exceeded some critical no-return points of climate change, as even in the Amazon where more CO2 is spread out than absorbed, Matthieu Rytz confronts us with the challenging truth about the tendencies in attacking the oceans.

Still, the deep ocean grounds have recently been considered entirely lifeless. Now, science has delivered a panorama of a highly complex and fragile ecosystem with hundreds of thousands of mostly still unknown creatures. This is the scenery where all life on earth began and spread from. The life rhythms there are scaled in much longer terms than the frenetic life forms facing the sun. Creatures easily get thousands of years old. Some only recently discovered microbes are even 100 million years old. They are the most important organisms, the ones that run the planet and make it habitable.

Deep Rising Matthieu Rytz
Deep Rising, a film by Matthieu Rytz

The green paradox

The dark and suggestive voice of Jason Momoa in Rytz’s Deep Rising remembers the complex connections between the oceans with its countless, still unimaginable life forms, and the atmosphere, land, and ice sheets. Oceans are creating the conditions for life on earth. Without their support, human life would become unbearable.

Deep Rising, now presented in Warsaw’s Watch Docs Human Right International Film Festival, quickly confronts the spectator with the life-challenging global risk: 4 billion dollars have already been invested in digging up all kinds of rare metals in the up to 4,000 meters deep ocean grounds, materials urgently needed for the worldwide battery fabrication. A project of this size can’t fail when we follow Gerald Barron, the Deep Green Resources CEO. He is convinced: «We know what we need to do to get the licenses.»

Indeed, here is the paradox: the «#green economy#» focused on batteries needs to destroy natural grounds, and faces all kinds of still unknown consequences. Attack first, think later seems to be the motto, and indeed, the life in the deep ocean grounds, once touched and destroyed, will be lost forever.

life in the deep ocean grounds, once touched and destroyed, will be lost forever.

The new oil

In some short sequences, Rytz also documents the devastating natural consequences of land mining, where the energy to capture the metals is produced with huge amounts of dirties: coal, gas, and oil incinerations worldwide. The surrounding ecosystems are collapsing regularly. The so-called green revolution, based on batteries, isn’t a solution. Batteries are just the new oil.

The actual battle on receiving digging licenses between the most powerful companies stays in clear contradiction of all essays of negation about the ocean properties for many decades. Since J.F. Kennedy’s 1966 declaration of huge interest in ocean exploitation, negotiations followed to declare them as human heritage. Every benefit should be shared equally between the nations. In 1979, the «Law of the Sea Conference» officially started. Finally, negations were confirmed in 1982 during a world conference in a declaration signed by most present nation representatives.

Those times are over! Only leading capitalistic organisations have the means to explore. Gerald Barron mentions a 900 Million tonnes exploration only on his own account, followed or even overpassed by the exploring activities of China, Russia, and Europe, just to name the firsts. Local resistance against the destruction of their living grounds is smashed as usual.

Deep Rising Matthieu Rytz
Deep Rising, a film by Matthieu Rytz

Lost excess

Matthieu Rytz surrounded these breathtaking facts with two aesthetic counterforces. Through mind-blowing beautiful images, he delivers the beauty of the fragile deep ocean creatures. His visual materials come from at least ten research institutes, foundations, companies, and scientific centres. These images can only suggest the life forms of uncountable amounts of still-unknown, mostly fragile organisms. These tasty deep ocean interactions are visually contrasted with the considerable machinery attacking them, industrial boots, over-dimensional power shovels, and the cold interiors of the conference rooms, where deadly decisions occur.

Another «flight line» (using Gilles Deleuze’s term) is the compositions of Ólafur Arnalds, which infiltrate most of the scenarios, from the deep ground up to the sky, images, from panoramic views to tiny laboratories, sponsor parties, and decisions makers’ rooms. The near-to-madness human activities are surrounded and framed by largely higher forces, the sound wave, which indicates what they are: unconscious and lost excesses condemned to fail.

Of course, the mining companies have another strategic argument, declaring their activities as only temporary to cover urgent needs, forgetting, of course, that batteries getting restored again will consume metals.

However, Matthieu Rytz doesn’t leave the spectator without any hope. The first good message is that some primary companies have recently faced internal and growing external conflicts, also caused by a lack of transparency and their sharing of interests. More importantly, green hydrogen and innovative battery chemistry are gaining momentum on a large scale, so providing energy without extraction seems possible now.

Still, the real problem can only be found on a deeper level. If humans don’t change their relationship to their surroundings and don’t overpass their most usual behaviour, to make a profit (out of everything), there will not be a resort from their auto-destruction.

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Dieter Wieczorek
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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