TARA OCEANS, THE SECRET WORLD

© M.Ormestad/Kahikai/Tara Oceans

Seen from the sky, the Earth is blue, the colour of the sea. But what do we actually know about the oceans of our planet ? What exactly lives in the oceans?

To answer these questions, a team of scientists set sail aboard the schooner Tara. Their voyage is an investigation into a secret realm…the world of plankton, largely unknown, but comprising millions of different species. One thing is certain: we know these marine organisms play a major role in the life of our planet.
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4 episodes.
52 minutes.
Each episode is independent & can be shown separately
Director : Michael Pitiot
Writers : Michael Pitiot, Thierry Ragobert et Frédéric Lossignol.

Interview with Michael Pitiot, director and writer of the series of documentary films

Why these four documentaries?

The story of a long expedition like Tara Oceans (2009-2012) is virtually a saga. The type of narrative known in cinema as a ‘quest’. A long road full of adventures which leads us to the big picture; all in all quite comparable to scientific research! This kind of film requires an introductory phase where we discover the heroes, the boat, the sea, and of course the main aspect of the quest. That’s what is outlined in the first film: the hidden world of phytoplankton and zooplankton. In the second film, we enter this world and understand its organization. The third film explores how biology is the source of our Earth, its geology, its chemistry… It’s quite amazing actually, the story gets more and more powerful! Finally the last film is the revelation, to go back to cinema terminology. That’s the one where we wonder about ‘mankind in all of this.’ The quest unfolds against the backdrop of quite difficult sailing in some extraordinary places. We’re describing an odyssey!

What messages did you want to get across in this series?

Prior to making these films, as far as I was concerned, the world of plankton was nothing more than the krill that whales eat… I had no idea about the incredible diversity of these species and their role. So I think that’s the first message: who are we living with? Then we want to explain that our planet was born out of a balance between everything that lives here. Basically it’s about ecology, as seen in terms of plankton. It can be perceived very clearly in the oceans. The final message results from the previous one: while it’s urgent to save biodiversity, in reality it’s humankind we are trying to save. And then we have to find the right tone with which to put that message across…

How do we make the invisible visible?

By surrounding ourselves with good collaborators… Some of the scientists for example, have lent me their images of plankton, like the biologist Christian Sardet. He films using a Canon 5D, which allows him to obtain superb close-ups of plankton. Ronan Jupin’s special effects are another important tool. He’s enabled me to manipulate the plankton as I see fit. There aren’t any gratuitous effects, just good 2D. But with a project like this, to see the plankton is to start to believe in its existence. So it’s not an option.

What were the main difficulties you encountered making this series?

These are films based on a real scientific mission. But that reality doesn’t always paint a powerful picture. You can say to a scientist: “Tell me that what you’re seeing is incredible” but it doesn’t necessarily work because, for him, that sense of wonder has long since passed. So we have to help the viewer feel what is happening. Also there has to be action and suspense! That’s not always easy when you consider that a research mission’s golden rule is precisely to avoid any unpleasant surprises… With that in mind, Frédéric Lossignol, senior editor of the series, has provided strong support in reconstructing those scenes. And the music by Gérard Cohen-Tannugi as well. Another tricky point is the length of time that can be spent filming onboard a boat. We can’t be there permanently, so the cameramen must take turns. Then afterwards their work has to be assembled. Fortunately, one of them, Christophe Castagne, has often managed to return.

What are your best memories?

The enthusiasm of the teams, be it the film team, the scientists or the Tara crews. I think another good memory is the day I understood what a mission like Tara Oceans could bring to all our lives. The history of the planet – and so our humanity – lies at the heart of the oceans. And its future too.