CSIF Water Works film festival

Saturday 05th, October 2013 / 17:41


Wavumba: They Who Smell of Fish

A few months ago, flooding damaged much of Calgary’s downtown. On September 27, the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers fittingly decided to use part of this area as the location to show one of their documentaries about water – Wavumba: They Who Smell Of Fish as part of Water Works, their free outdoor festival on short, documentary and experimental films about water.

At the base of the Peace Bridge, three different screens were lit up with images and sounds of nature and water, giving any onlooker the feeling that we were walking into an ocean escape. The organizers planned the showing of their documentary outside to get viewers in touch with nature as we embarked on a journey to Kenya for the evening.

“We wanted to bring relation to water and the environment,” says Tristan Surtees, lead artist for Watershed+, a public art program hosted by the City of Calgary’s Utilities and Environment Protection department.

CCC228D7-C8FE-4790-AA52-582C74F26E25“Since this area was underwater not too long ago, we wanted to celebrate our relationship with Watershed+ and thought this was good context.”

Wavumba was the winner of the Best New Documentary Award at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It shows us the life of an elderly Kenyan shark fisherman who is deeply connected with the ocean and the creatures within it. Throughout the film, we are told traditional African stories that mix fantasy and belief with reality.

As the film begins, we find out that many of these tales include secrets of the sea, and the spirits within, and that in reality, only a few people are now brave enough to try and tackle the creatures that live within. The film’s use of shadowy images and both long and close up shots of the landscape and characters create the sense that we are there, witnessing everything with the filmmakers. Eventually we meet our main character and immediately see how rugged he has become from the hard work that comes with being a fisherman – something newer generations haven’t been accustomed to. The parallels between the traditional African stories and the real life story we are being told are fascinating to see and add to the unique way this documentary was filmed.

Over time, our fisherman tries to teach his grandson the lessons of shark hunting, passing on the knowledge and skill he has perfected for so long. Although they bicker, it is a heartwarming relationship built on respect, which adds character to the film. Some of the shots were held for a little longer than they needed to be, but in the end, Wavumba is a great tale about fantasy, reality and hard work, and shows us that some traditions will never die, especially if someone is determined to keep them alive.

By Kaila Sept
Photo by Ryan Quan