Short Film Showcase: A Day in the Life of a Lighthouse Keeper

On Cabo Polonio, a remote cape located on the eastern coast of Uruguay, a lighthouse has been guiding ships since 1881. In They Are The Last, film production company Kauri Multimedia captures the daily routines of Leonardo da Costa, Cabo Polonio’s lighthouse keeper. As more lighthouses become automated, da Costa is one of the few watchmen who remain. I spoke with the filmmakers, Diego Vivanco and Ian Clark, about the project and what their working on next.

Where does your film take place?

They Are The Last takes place in Cabo Polonio lighthouse, located in a stretch of coastline in the Uruguayan department of Rocha. The lighthouse can be found in a cape very close to the village of the same name.

How did you find out about Cabo Polonio?

We had wanted to film a short documentary on a lighthouse keeper for a long time, fully aware that there are only a handful of countries where lighthouses are still manned. After some investigating we learned that one such country is Uruguay and that their lighthouses are operated by their navy, so we carried out some further research and contacted them once we narrowed down our options to two of their lighthouses, one in Isla de Lobos and our final choice in Cabo Polonio. The Uruguayan Navy were extremely helpful and diligent and were more than happy to grant us filming permission, which was given to us once we decided that Cabo Polonio was a more realistic and feasible choice.

Can you tell me about your protagonist, the lighthouse keeper?

Leonardo da Costa is a wonderful man. At the time of filming, two keepers were in charge of the lighthouse, each taking turns to run the lighthouse on a two-week rota. Leonardo is in charge of absolutely everything in order to ensure that the lighthouse is run smoothly. Apart from what you see in the film, he operates the lighthouse manually if the system goes down, he carries out all sorts of repairs, he assists people in Cabo Polonio village when emergencies occur, paints the outside of the lighthouse periodically … He is totally committed to his job, which he is passionate about. He has been in the Uruguayan Navy all his life, he loves the sea, and it shows. Cabo Polonio is his second posting; he was based in a lighthouse in a remote island before.

Was there a stylistic choice to use only natural sound without underlying narration or music?

The choice to use only natural sound came about fairly early in the edit. We did record an audio interview with Leonardo, but quickly came to the conclusion that the images themselves coupled with the ambient sound provided a more honest and objective perspective on his daily routine. Living in European cities, we (like many viewers who have seen the film) had a quiet envy for the peace and tranquility Leonardo has found in his working life and wanted to reflect that as unobtrusively as possible.

What are you working on next?

We are always looking for interesting projects that resonate with our core belief—that modern life has a capacity to be hectic and there is great value to be had in stopping and reflecting on the smaller stories.

Our next project, which we are currently filming in Spain and plan to complete by the end of the year, is a short documentary portraying the positive qualities of trees: a video conveying their attributes and benefits, a tribute to their uniqueness, importance, beauty, and role as our friends.

We also have two more projects in the pipeline which we intend to film later on in the year. One will be set in the Canary Islands and will focus on the life (past and present) of a fishing family in a secluded community on one of the islands. The other project we are currently preproducing will take a look at the preservation of manuscript collections by Mauritanian families, with the aim to show the importance of these libraries, as well as the richness of the literary tradition in this part of the world.

Check out more from Kauri Multimedia.

See other films in the National Geographic Short Film Showcase.

The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the web and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic’s mission of inspiring people to care about the planet. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of the National Geographic Society.

Know of a great short film that should be part of our Showcase? Email to submit a video for consideration.    

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Rachel Link curates content for National Geographic's Short Film Showcase. Each week she features films from talented creators that span a range of topics. She hopes that this work will inspire viewers to explore the world around them and encourages filmmakers to keep pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling.