Haunting “Planet Ocean” Film Calls for Change

Acclaimed French environmentalist, photographer, and filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand has been traveling in the U.S. to premiere his recent film Planet Ocean. Arthus-Bertrand’s photos have been published numerous times in National Geographic media, and he recently sat down with the National Geographic Channel to discuss his 2009 film Home.

His new film Planet Ocean is narrated by actor Josh Duhamel. According to a spokesperson, the film “features dazzling aerial and underwater imagery captured in extreme geographical conditions worldwide to deliver a far-reaching assessment of the political and environmental challenges facing our oceans including pollution, over-fishing, global warming among others.”

Planet Ocean is distributed by Universal, which is working with educators and nonprofit groups to present it to many people free of charge.

In addition to his photos, books, and films, Arthus-Bertrand runs an environmental nonprofit called GoodPlanet. He was honored as a Knight of the Légion d’honneur and was named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.

We asked Arthus-Bertrand a few questions about Planet Ocean:

In the film’s marketing materials it says your team went to “geographical extremes” to make Planet Ocean. Why was that important?

I love going to extremes. We decided to make a movie on the oceans, but we decided not to shoot submarine shots, so we made very few of those.

So we went around the world, to find fantastic shots. We tried to bring our convictions. We went to China, South America, Central America, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, many places…

It was very amazing to go to China, to film the very big harbor in Shanghai. I was amazed at the number of boats, and the growth [development]. 

What did you see that surprised you the most?

Shanghai was an incredible city to fly above. But what surprised me the most was something we live in denial about, something everybody knows but nobody wants to believe: we saw these very big factory ships. I learned that fifty percent of the shrimp we consume comes from one percent of the ships.

A billion people around the world live on less than $1 a day, and they want to live the way we do, but our way of living is not sustainable. Seeing this surprised me every day.

Planet Ocean was made for Rio+20 (the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012); how did that turn out? 

We made this movie to show the ministers and presidents at Rio. But they are not leaders, they are politicians. We live in a democracy, and it is up to all of us to make a difference.

Do you think people still think of the ocean as too big to fail, or too big to help?

It’s too late to be pessimistic, we have to try. When I was born we were 2 billion and now we are 7 billion, more than three times bigger. Everybody wants to live like us, but it will be impossible. We consume too much, we have to live with less.

Everything is in the movie. I’m an activist. I want to convince people that we have to change. Not only to buy organic food, its more difficult than that. In all of our lives we have to think.

You are sharing the film free now to many organizations, can you tell us about that?

Home was seen by 600 million people worldwide. And now with Planet Ocean, Universal is doing 1,000 free screenings around the world. We send it free through my foundation (GoodPlanet) for education and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). We tried to make as much of the film as possible without copyright.


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science, TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.

Changing Planet