Organisation - September 21, 2018

Sneak preview of new nature documentary WAD: A film odyssey with hunting starfish

Text:
Tessa Louwerens

This film that reads like a good novel. No fairy tales but the raw, pure beauty of Dutch nature. That is what film director Ruben Smit, known for The New Wilderness, had in mind with his latest film WAD – Surviving where water meets land. There is a sneak preview of the film on Wednesday 26 September on campus.

Director Ruben Smit during shooting for the new nature film WAD. © Ruben Smit Productions

The film portrays the entire ecosystem of the Wadden region. From microscopically small plankton - mini-organisms that float in front of the lens like extraterrestrial beings – to top predators such as grey seals. The film crew also managed to capture images never seen before, such as the birth of a common seal and a pair of peregrine falcons hunting together.

We wanted to let the images speak for themselves.
Ruben Smit, Director of WAD

A 15-person crew shot the film in over 300 production days. By way of comparison: the average film takes 30 production days. They collected a total of nearly 500 hours of film.

Scientific basis
Before Smit could start filming, he spent nearly two years doing research. This involved a lot of talking to scientists, including some at Wageningen Marine Research. ‘You can’t do without that scientific knowledge because you can only film nature well if you understand exactly how it works.’ Although he is an ecologist himself, he still gets surprises. ‘I knew for instance that starfish hunt mussels, but I didn’t know they did that in such large numbers at a time. I only realized that when I went out on a research vessel and we fished out huge numbers of starfish along with the mussels. I immediately started looking into how we could film that under water.’

You can’t do without that scientific knowledge because you can only film nature well if you understand exactly how it works.
Ruben Smit

Shelduck ducklings
Sound plays an important role in the film, explains Smit. ‘We recorded 40 different sounds of sand and 70 different sounds of the sea. The audiences unconsciously absorbs them and that draws you into the film more.’ It certainly does work, because as you watch you feel as though you are under the creaking ice with the seal or in the crunchy sand with the newborn shelduck ducklings. And you can’t help smiling at the oystercatchers’ dance-off to decide who gets the best nesting place. Sometimes it is hard to believe that it was all filmed in the Netherlands, especially the shots of the Northern Lights.

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There is very little commentary in the film. Only at the end is the viewer told that the Wadden region is seriously threatened by humans. Smit: ‘Above all, we wanted to let the images speak for themselves. If you start explaining a lot, it diminishes that sense of wonder and fascination.’

The premiere of WAD will be in Leeuwarden on 1 October. The film will be released in Dutch cinemas from 4 October. On 26 September, there is a sneak preview in the Waaierzaal in Orion, with a talk by director Ruben Smit.  

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