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14th Annual San Diego Undersea Film Exhibition: Half a show for half the thrill

Published on 2013-10-27 11:43:37

Two weeks ago I went down to San Diego for the 14th annual San Diego Undersea Film Exhibition, aka SDUFEX. This is a two evening showing of high quality pro or amateur underwater videos on a giant screen at the Qualcomm Theater in Mira Mesa.

Like last year, we stayed local to enjoy the beauty of the coastal areas around Del Mar and Torrey Pines and to not have to drive a long way each night to see the shows. After a nice dinner at, as the local Qualcomm employees call it, "Building K", we showed up early to be sure to get a good seat... After almost an hour waiting outside, we knew something was not going as planned... The power had went out earlier in the day and although it was back, it was hard to cool down the building and especially the machine room where the very expensive movie projector sat. After one more hour, the organizers decided to call it a day and re-scheduled that night show for the week after. Not a good start!

But we stayed in San Diego anyway and showed up the next evening hoping that the show would go as planned. It did. With the extra bonus of a few of the films planned for the night before would be also shown that night so that directors who made the trip from afar especially for the event would not have to come back the next week. I found it very thoughtful and very cool.

The MCs for the night were Howard & Michelle Hall, underwater cinematographers extraordinaire who shot IMAX, 3D and most likely 4K (and more) for the movies or National Geographic. They did quite a good job at being MCs, even if some of the interactions felt a little scripted, they had the right tone and the right type of joust that made their performance quite enjoyable.

The animal of the year, after the pygmy see horse and the mantis shrimp is now officially the whale. We had quite a few movies featuring whales this year, it seems Tonga & the Socorros have now dethroned Lembeh for best diving spot ever. I wonder what it will be next year... I vote for Shaw's Cove and the Spanish Shawl. Yay!

The show opened with a movie by Eric Hanauer, one of the SDUFEX board member, called "View from the rinse bucket". It is the story of the filmmaker's camera which talks and describes its experience. It is a pretext for Eric to show us a few very good clips of big animals. The story telling was OK, the voice over sometimes a little weird and delivered often in a monotonic way. Other than that, I noticed that the shallow shots were pretty reddish and the title was very 80's. The credits at the end were pretty funny although the font used made them look amateurish.

The whale movies had amazing footage in them. Two by Solmar V divemasters Adil Schindler, "Small moments like this" and Erick Higuera, "In harmony with whales" both shot while diving the Socorro Islands and one by Mr & Ms Hall themselves, Leviathan. All three featured jaw dropping shots of whales, often in family, showing behaviors. All three could have been very good, but for me they were just eye candies. No real story behind these movies, what do these whales tell us? What are they doing? Why do they behave the way they do? Sure in 5 minutes it's pretty hard to tell a good story, but here they did not really try. Just majestic animals and philharmonic music.

Ron Lagerlof showed "Epic Deep" shot entirely with the famous Epic line of cameras. At $50,000 a pop just for the camera, $15,000 for a few lenses and $20,000 for an  underwater housing with a few strobes, knowing that the movie was shot with several models of Epic Red, that's a short video clip averaging $50k a minute just in gear... It was pretty cool though! Nothing to complain when it came to high framerate movements (no blurry pixels there thank you) or color accuracy. The story telling was, well whale-movie-grade again, but with a lot more punch to it though.

Walter Marti, our local hero videographer, told the  story  last year of a derelict net that was removed off our coast by a group of volunteer divers. This year, Peter Mieras showed us "The net benefit" (I liked the title), a story of a similar endeavor undertaken this time in the cold and green waters of the Pacific Northwest. Contrary to Walter's movie which focused on the removal activity itself, Peter showed us the damage of the net first with heartbreaking shots of dead animals caught in the damn net; he also explained how the group worked with the local DFG to get the thing done and how the whole process was then executed. Who said you cannot tell a good story in 5 minutes? Oh, yes, that was me.

Speaking about Walter, this year he showed us the "Redondo Barge" (the link is not exactly the one shown at the show) with amazing shots of a schools of Molas (which I still haven't seen in real for more than 1/4 of a second) and a nice back story about a very cool mother octopus nursing zillions of little octopus eggs. The story telling is great, the steadiness and clarity of the macro sequence is unbelievable knowing how freaking hard it is to get anything stable here in the continuous surge! I had no idea Molas could congregate in schools, I had never seen it before so the thing I liked the most in this movie is that, at the end, I though, wow, he did it again, I learned something today.

Diane Randolph showed us "Octopus life and loves". Shot at the Blue Heron Bridge (BHB) off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, it is to local Miami divers, what Shaw's Cove is for us. Visibility and temperature excluded of course... With a very interesting voice over, Diane delivers a great narrative about, like our local Dr Bill would put it, munching and mating in the Octopoda cephalopod molluscs. Here again, I was happy to learn something new: one of the animal tentacle acts as a reproductive organ... Maybe next time an octopus finds interest in me, I should first ask him what type is that tickling tentacle he uses to probe my naked finger...

David Vik presented "Wicked". A very cool cinematography with alternate top side/underwater shots, amazing dolphins & sailfish shots, although sometimes the pixelization was pretty high... Had they had $250k, they could have used an Epic Red! Just kidding. Mmmm. Maybe not. Anyway, the movie was very funny, I particularly liked the definitions given between each sequence. "Wicked" - Previously Uncaptured (Photographer Dictionnary)... There even was a post-credit featurette! All that in 5 minutes!

Finally, my favorite this year was "Discohh Party" by Jeffrey Honda (he must have loved to have his name blotched in the hand-out program). Just like his previous entry last year, it is shot at night with fluorescent lights that show the bio-luminescence. This time though, the movie stuck together due to the fantastic soundtrack Jeffrey put on top of his incredible video clips. It really felt like an alien world disco party. I also started reconsider diving at night (I usually don't) with these kinds of light contraption to make similar images... A movie that got me thinking, what else can I ask for?

Despite these pretty darn good entries, the rest kind of lack the punch and the great story telling we had last year. So, even though I saw only half the show, it still felt like it lacked a je-ne-sais-quoi of innovation and boldness. Give me more new stuff, more things I have never seen on the screen or at depth, tell me a story I would remember, even two weeks after the event! That's what I expect from a show like SDUFEX!


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