Environmental filmmaker Matthieu Rytz

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Matthieu Rytz

Q&A with environmental filmmaker Matthieu Rytz

22 May 2024 • Written by Hannah Rankine

One of the exhibitors at Ocean Talks 2024 is Matthieu Rytz, a Canadian filmmaker who has devoted his life's work to bringing environmental issues to light. His 2008 documentary Anote's Ark (Sundance 2018), which focused on how rising sea levels were affecting the population of Kiribati in the central Pacific Ocean, was released to great critical acclaim and won dozens of awards. At Ocean Talks, he will present his latest work, Deep Rising (Sundance 2023), which looks at the issue of deep seabed mining and is narrated by Jason Momoa. Matthieu will also share his experiences and insights behind the scenes of this complex story.

What inspired you to start making films about the environment?

I am actually a visual anthropologist and I obtained my master's degree in the Himalayas, far away from the ocean. At one point, I had the opportunity to work on a photo assignment with The New York Times in the Panamanian archipelago of Kuna Yala, covering the threat of rising sea levels. That was a decade ago and it sparked a new passion for the oceans and their role in maintaining life on Earth.

As soon as I landed in Tarawa, the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, I instantly knew that I had begun a long journey with the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants. I went on to make my first film, Anote’s Ark (2018) in 2014 about President Anote Tong of Kiribati and the plight of the Kiribati people who are on the frontline of the climate crisis.

Anote’s Ark focuses on the incredible journey of President Tong and how he desperately sought to find a solution to save his entire nation from annihilation due to rising ocean levels. It premiered at Sundance and set me on a path to tell the most important untold stories about the ocean, climate, and the communities most affected by the impact of the global extraction industry.

I actually came to BOAT International in 2018 to present Anote’s Ark and I am pleased to return this year to talk about Deep Rising (2023).

Tell us about a film you have made that you are most proud of.

I believe Deep Rising is critically important in raising global awareness about the threat of deep seabed mining and how it is linked to our global energy industry. Deep Rising also premiered at Sundance in 2023 and I am incredibly proud of the film and its message because it was a complex piece to make for many reasons.

I am also proud of the work that our narrator and executive producer, Jason Momoa, is doing to bring the world’s attention to the threat of deep seabed mining and what is happening behind closed doors at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Jamaica. Jason has taken such an important stand on this issue and has become a dear friend and ally.

It is vital for the public to understand that, under UN law, the deep seabed in the high seas is “the common heritage of humankind”. It belongs to all of us and future generations. However, as Deep Rising shows in detail, it is currently being parceled up and sold off to financially benefit a select few people.

Deep Rising debunks some of the myths that pro-mining nations and their mining industry partners are propagating around the need to mine the seabed for rare earth metals to help power a green energy revolution. The film clearly demonstrates why the plundering of our deep ocean for these metals is not necessary to facilitate a truly green energy transition. And I am very proud of that.

Deep Rising also highlights the incredible beauty and biodiversity of our deep ocean and helps build empathy and understanding for this unknown world. The deep ocean is the largest carbon sink on our planet. It is also the largest living space on earth and contains 95 per cent of our ocean biosphere. We know more about outer space than we know about our deep ocean and its ancient, fragile, interconnected ecosystems.

All the ocean science to date tells us that disturbing this incredibly complex ecosystem in any way could be catastrophic to our planet and its survival. And yet the ISA currently stands ready to green-light the first mining activity that would open a mining area the size of Europe on the seabed in the Pacific Ocean.

As we face a planetary biodiversity and climate crisis, we need our seabed now more than ever, but as you will see in the film, our seabed is under serious threat from those who would put profit before our planet.

We also have a global, strategic communications campaign tied to the public release of Deep Rising that we will be launching later this year. I am tremendously proud of this work (and the team behind it) as it will give the public real insight and agency on decisions being made about our seabed - our collective common heritage. Unlike other extractive industries that we are now dealing with, the devastating environmental consequences of deep seabed mining have not started yet and we have a real opportunity to stop it before it does. There is hope. Watch this space!

What do you think is the greatest threat to the environment?

Greed! We don't need to take more than is necessary. Our wonderful blue planet, which we are lucky enough to call home, is a complex living organism that sustains all of us. It is not made of endless commodities that can continue to be exploited. We have created a paradigm of growth that relies on the constant extraction of limited resources. While it may look good for corporate ROI, this system is failing us, our planet and our children. We urgently need to recognise the earth as a stakeholder in any decisions we make in order to move away from extractive economies and towards truly regenerative ones.

Could you describe a particularly challenging or memorable experience you have encountered while filming?

Deep Rising was a very challenging film to make because deep seabed mining is a complex story. When I started writing the script in 2018, my aim was to raise global awareness of the looming threat of deep seabed mining while showing both sides of the story. I had to negotiate with the mining industry to gain access to their activities and also negotiate with scientists to obtain deep sea footage.

Navigating between both worlds was extremely challenging, especially when rumors arose that I was biased toward the deep seabed mining industry. More than any project I have done in my life, Deep Rising taught me the skills of diplomacy and negotiation. I am now proud to share the film worldwide without compromising my integrity or editorial control of my director's vision.

In your opinion, what role do environmental documentaries play in influencing public opinion and policy-making regarding environmental conservation?

I believe that truly independent environmental filmmaking and storytelling is absolutely crucial to influencing public opinion and harnessing political will to protect our precious planet.

We know that Deep Rising has been pivotal in educating and influencing audiences from all backgrounds around the world - from high-level politicians and policymakers to school groups and grassroots communities. We also know that Deep Rising has brought more countries to the position of demanding a moratorium on deep seabed mining and as a team, we are so proud of that.

We need more independent films like Deep Rising to help the environmental cause. Sadly, there is a decline in this kind of filmmaking at the moment due to the complexities of the business model around independent documentaries. The algorithms that dictate what consumers watch on the big streaming platforms, which, in turn, influence what content they buy, are really killing our industry at the time we need it most. I hope that this will change in the coming years as the public demands more important content about conservation and the environment.

Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment?

The public release of Deep Rising is the next step on this journey and the powerful global communications campaign that we are launching in partnership with the Republic of Palau later is very exciting. I am currently working on this with our impact team.

I also recently started a new company called The Twilight Zone Studio and I am looking forward to developing new camera technologies in order to capture the deep oceans like never before. The content will be specially tailored for location-based experiences and education. It is a very exciting new chapter in my creative life.

Read More/Everything you need to know about Ocean Talks 2024

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