Saluting “Captain Planet”: A Film Explores Jacques Cousteau’s Conservation Legacy | Documentary films

Hou was the French adventurer who probed the depths of the world’s oceans to make us discover a magical and unique underwater universe. Commander Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a former naval officer who became inventor of Aqualung and diving equipment, then television explorer, has become a hero for generations of children fascinated by his adventures and his revolutionary films.

Today, a new documentary explores his life and legacy, showing how, more than half a century ago, Cousteau sounded the alarm over the destruction of the oceans, which he considered vital to the world. future of the human race.

While a young David Attenborough captivated viewers fascinated by terrestrial nature, Cousteau, with his red beanie and worn profile at the helm of the Calypso, was the Old Man of the Sea, co-star of schools of colorful fish, sharks and coral reefs. in Jacques Cousteau’s Underwater World.

“Making underwater films was extraordinarily rudimentary before Cousteau came along and revolutionized it. It’s hard to remember now, but it was a whole new world that he showed us, ”said Liz Garbus, award-winning director of the new film about the oceanographer, Become Cousteau.

In the 1970s, after decades of diving and exploring and at the height of his fame, Cousteau changed course: instead of just showing off and sharing his exploits, he began to worry and warn about the damage humanity was doing to the planet. Today, as world leaders meet in Glasgow to discuss the climate emergency, Cousteau’s fears for the future of the marine environment appear premonitory but ignored. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the oceanographer – nicknamed “Captain Planet” – was received as a hero and was the only non-politician in the official portrait.

“Cousteau was warning of the dangers of climate change even before those two words were used together in a sentence, before we had this notion of global warming,” Garbus said. “He became an ardent environmentalist well ahead of his time.

Cousteau, who died at 87 in 1997, began his navy career with pilot training, an ambition cut short by a serious car accident when he was in his mid-twenties. Part of his physical rehabilitation was swimming and Cousteau developed a love of diving, developing the first Aqualung, and after WWII setting out to explore the seas and oceans of the world in the converted minesweeper Calypso.

The 90-minute National Geographic documentary film, released in UK theaters from November 12, reveals how Cousteau set out to become the John Ford or John Huston of the underwater world, developing the first underwater cameras and inventing new ways to film. For many, it was the first time they saw the wonders of the depths. But, strapped for cash in the 1950s and wishing to keep the Calypso and its research afloat, Cousteau accepted funding from British Petroleum to help search for oil in the Gulf. Reflecting later on the environmental damage caused by offshore oil exploration, he would come to regret that decision. “I think I was naive… but we didn’t have a dime,” he says in the movie.

Cousteau and his band of adventurers’ early interactions with marine life would be considered unacceptable today: footage shows them throwing loads of dynamite to kill fish, ‘riding’ turtles, and, in the 1956 Oscar-winning documentary The Silent World, reveling in the murder of a shark who fought to the death.

The film doesn’t hide his personal flaws either. Cousteau had many talents; being a father, an attentive father and a faithful husband were not among them. His two sons, Jean-Michel and Philippe – the latter who worked with his father and died in a plane crash in 1979 – were sent to boarding school while workaholic Cousteau and his wife Simone plied the oceans. He married his second wife, Francine, shortly after Simone died of cancer, by which time he already had two children with her.

After his son’s death, Cousteau’s films became darker, more pessimistic about the plight of humans, whom he saw as inextricably linked to an endangered underwater world.

Oscar nominee Garbus, who has notably painted portraits of Nina Simone and Marilyn Monroe, said she grew up with Cousteau’s extraordinary documentaries but found out when reading a story about her to her son that he had “retreated into the woods, disappeared completely” from the public domain. “I went on the internet and couldn’t find much about him there either,” she said. .

“I wanted to explore how he went from his early days as a conquering adventurer to someone who was a staunch environmentalist ahead of his time,” Garbus said. “He changed not only to show and share, but to protect. In the 1970s, he began to talk about decades of diving and observing dying reefs and abundant fish species disappearing. He was the most popular voice for conservation in the 1970s, and then he just died out. “

Garbus said Cousteau’s enduring importance was as a “non-partisan person uniting us around this issue,” a powerful role she believes no one can fulfill today.

“His heritage is ours. Is this Cassandra’s story of someone warning of impending doom that the world won’t listen to, or a story that we take action, but too late, but still action?

“As Cousteau says, you will only protect what you love. He brought us closer to the underwater world and his creatures, and now we love him and want to protect him and that’s because of him. This is his heritage.

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