Michael Pitiot: Capturing Planet Ocean

Michael Pitiot is a French filmmaker who, together with Yann Arthus-Bertrand, directed Planet Ocean; an exploration of the relationship between man and ocean. IT chats to Michael about his experiences filming all over the world.

Q: Of all the destinations you filmed for Planet Ocean, which was your favourite and why?

On the eastern side of Indonesia, there’s a very, very remote place called Raja Ampat. This place is made up of 1500 small islands made completely of plankton and there is no forest. This is a very unique place in the world. If you want to see nature – real nature – but also people living there like you would have seen 1000 years ago, this is where to go.

For years and years it was a place where fishermen were blasting the reef. They decided to stop about 15 to 20 years ago because there was evidence that nothing was going to live there again. The locals made it a big sanctuary and they asked the fishermen and locals to help control access. Today, I think it’s a very, very interesting and preserved place. Raja Ampat is the heart of the Coral Triangle, which is one of the key sustainable systems of the ocean. It’s interesting to think that Indonesia accomplished that.

Why did you feature a manmade pool right by the bay in Rio de Janeiro in the film?

It’s forbidden now to swim because the water is too polluted, so they built the pool for swimming. The worst thing is this has been a 20-year story.

Twenty years ago there were warnings about the pollution at the ‘92 edition of the Earth Summit. And everybody in the Rio Administration knew there was a big problem with pollution in the bay.

But nothing has been done in years. That’s why we wanted to feature it at the end of the film. It’s a warning.

What’s been your favourite experience with locals when shooting a documentary abroad?

I shot my first film in Zaire Central Africa – it was a small film working with an NGO. At the end of filming, on my way back to France the bus had some trouble and ended up in Kigali in Rwanda. But I had no idea where I was at the time.

It was in 1991, the beginning of the Civil War in Rwanda. All of a sudden the bus station was cleared. I was lost and a guy came up to me and just said, “You should not stay here.”

He brought me to his home and he said, “You’re going to have to wait here for a few days until it is safe to go back to your home”. I will always remember this man.

As a traveller how can we be part of the solution rather than the environmental problem?

If we want to live, and want to just enjoy the earth we’re living on, we have to take into consideration we will have an impact. The impact is predation, pollution and global warming.

For global warming, the carbon offset schemes can help.

In regards to predation; I think we are eating too much. I just need to say that. A Chinese guy is eating maybe a tenth of what a westerner is eating every day.

The third one, pollution, is a bit more complex. I don’t know what can solve this situation. The question is how to reduce it without stopping our enjoyment of the earth.


Planet Ocean DVD was released 6 June to align with World Ocean’s Day. For more information visit yannarthusbertrand.org/en/films-tv/planet-ocean

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This article appeared in issue 6


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