filmmaker danielle ryan diving with sea turtles

The Map to Paradise

Words by Kim Feldmann de Britto, images by Danielle Ryan, James Sherwood, Guillermo Fernandez & film by Bluebottle Films



In a world where visual communication is a growing part of our human interactions, films have the power to inform, inspire, and, at times, incite positive change. And it was motivated by these three i’s that Danielle Ryan and James Sherwood (founders of Bluebottle Films) went on a three-year-long journey to produce they latest feature, The Map to Paradise.

What follows is Danielle’s account on the challenges, lessons, encounters, and fortunes of this venture as well as what motivates them to keep doing what they love.

“I’ve always loved the idea that the ocean is the place that we can’t conquer as humans – we can’t really build on top of water very effectively. It’s just so nice to look out to the endless blue of the ocean and appreciate it as the wild place that it should be.”

Bluebottle Films was the culmination of knowledge gathered overtime, intuition, serendipity and an early adulthood anxiety-driven motivation. Founded in 2011, Danielle and James’ Australia-based production agency focuses on creating video and documentary work specialised in the natural world. But more than a business, this was the way Danielle and James found to work together in the pursuit of valuable and inspiring stories that somehow related to their own passions and perspectives.

“I think my 20s were a very confusing time for me. I was driven and determined to do something, but I had nowhere to focus that determination properly. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. That’s when I realised that us two lost souls needed to unite and do something a bit different. I also understood I needed to be true to myself and go back to my roots – the art space. I didn’t care if it meant doing any old job to get to do the kind of documentary projects we wanted to do on the side. Luckily, everything worked out.”

One of these stories took them to the lush green jungles of Costa Rica, where they developed the documentary Corcovado’s Dark Secret – which portrayed the efforts of local character Alvaro Ugalde to fight unbridled development.

Along the same lines, in their most recent feature, The Map to Paradise, Danielle and James deliberately sought (and found) some of the most forward-thinking people on the planet who are driven to protect the ocean. One of them happened to be H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco who, inspired by his great-grandfather, Prince Albert I (founder of various scientific expeditions and actively engaged in topics such as overfishing), also set off on a mission to protect the oceans.

“I really hope that when people see the film, they think ‘Wow, if someone like Prince Albert II of Monaco can fight to protect the environment, why can’t my Prime Minister or President do the same?”

 

When shooting in the Philippines, they encountered the chief of Apo Island, Mario Pascobello, who shared the story of how his work to protect the sea from the young age of 12 helped to kick-start new movements related to the marine environment in the Philippines.

“It is this generational theme that does give me hope, because we have seen time and time again on projects that when elders do the right thing and demonstrate real leadership by trying to do something ethical and purposeful with their lives, then the next generation will follow in their own unique way.”

 Similarly, the president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau – who has the same charisma as Mario about him – has spearheaded a decision to protect 80 percent of his country’s waters, something that no other country in the world has done.

“It’s kind of magical, from a story perspective, to think that these people have the power to transform their islands and keep them wild and pristine.”

In The Map to Paradise, Danielle and James aim to share a story which gives audiences clues on how to build a successful movement to protect natural environments, so that they can take some of these lessons and apply it to their own backyard. On the other hand, they also wanted to create an art-induced film – featuring original music and hand-painted illustrations – to lure people into the beauty of unspoilt nature and the overall campaign to restore wilderness areas. In other words, to restore paradise.

“The Map to Paradise is an adventure-filled tale about the birth of the movement to protect the sea. From underwater world lands of ice, corals and kelp, we travelled the world to find some of the most inspirational stories to share this modern history.”

They began filming over three years go while working on various other sea protection stories in Australia at a time when the country moves to rollback protections to the sea and the land. Understanding the dynamics of environmental protection laws – which, in theory, should safeguard an environment forever – has made Danielle and James realise that politicians have the power to manipulate regulations. Hence, with The Map to Paradise, they hope to give communities the knowledge and the inspiration to do what they need to do in order to keep places wild ‘forever’. After all, it is the responsibility of locals to keep an eye on their lawmakers and make sure that a nature reserve remains a nature reserve.

During their travels (as well as by chatting to scientists) they learned of many tales about inspiring individuals protecting the ocean. However, since telling every story would be nearly impossible, they ended up selecting those which were most significant in terms of marine science or politics. As an example, the story of Prince Albert II of Monaco and his family stands out because it was his father who helped to establish the first international sanctuary on the high seas – something believed to be impossible at the time. Meanwhile, the story of Apo Island is famous in marine science textbooks as the first successful community-led marine sanctuary in the world.

“We travelled just the two of us to each of these locations to keep costs down. We were lucky to get some funding support from Prince Albert II of Monaco’s foundation, a Kickstarter campaign, the Sealife Trust, and from One Ocean Expeditions. This most certainly helped us with production costs.”

As fortunate as they were in receiving support, a feature documentary film is never an easy endeavour. They had to consider the financial burden of such a long-term venture together with the anxiety attached to the fear of no one watching; as well as their own personal struggles (James was battling post-traumatic stress after a serious dive accident) and family matters (Danielle lost two grandparents and was constantly worried about her stepfather who was fighting cancer back home).

“When you go through such personal events, you do begin to wonder whether you have your priorities straight. ‘Should we be at home with our family? Should we let go of this crazy idea to make a feature documentary and act more sensibly? Honestly, will this make any difference?”

Fortunately, through support and encouragement – including from Danielle’s stepdad, who is an academic and deeply stressed about the state of natural environments – they kept going.

“We also flooded one underwater housing, which was a nightmare.”

In a way, the sacrifices made to bring this feature film to life are a consequence of a grit and passion as well as a reconnection between their roots and what they currently believe in.

“What I’ve learned from working so intimately with The Map to Paradise is that role models – our parents, the older generation – really do influence what we do, whether we realise it or not.”

 “Now, that we have finished making the documentary, have been getting some good feedback, and are preparing for the launch, we feel a bit more relaxed. Indeed, for the first time in a long time, we have gone on a couple of adventures to explore some remote reefs and have had a chance to appreciate paradise for what it is – without a camera.”

Learn more about The Map to Paradise, including news of the film’s release date and cinema screenings, at www.themaptoparadise.com.


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