According to its own publicity material, She Is The Ocean is “a full-length documentary about great women. An in-depth exploration into the lives of nine astonishing women (who) share deep love for the Ocean.” With the film itself spending a lot of its time trying to be inspirational and less informing the audience about who these women are and what they have achieved, looking at additional information can be a big help, in particular for those who aren’t familiar with its subject matter.
Director Inna Blokhina features each of her nine subjects separately, one after another. The exception being ten-year-old aspiring surfer Cinta Hansel, competing in her first competitions, which is used as a wraparound for the whole film. It seems that this is for the young girls in the audience, to show them they can achieve from an early age in life.
It is a bit undermined by her father, who himself wanted to be a surfer when younger, doing a lot of her talking for her. That is made up for by showing Hansel in action on the surf, but therein lies a recurring flaw of the film: what’s on-screen does not always match the subject matter at hand.
If Hansel is the future of surfing, She Is The Ocean also profiles the past and present of women not just in competitive surfing but all manner of water sports.
Champion tube rider Keala Kennelly talks of growing up having male surfers be her role models, then having to compete as a woman in a male-dominated sport. Anna Bader tells of her career as a cliff diver, accompanied by plenty of very impressive clips of her doing just that. They are featured more prominently than the modern-day star of surfing, Coco Ho, an annoying, plastic millennial who thankfully has just a short, token appearance early on.
There are also some interviewees whose inclusion here genuinely makes no sense. While it has women who have made an impact in their field, ballet dancer and yogi Rose Molina qualifies just because she likes the sea and going diving. Her section really doesn’t add much to the meaning and themes of the documentary, that she is the most pretentious and mysticky of everyone featured doesn’t help.
She Is The Ocean does spend more time with women who are impressive and inspirational. Freediver Ocean Ramsey (How could she not have a connection to water with a name like that?) overdoes it a bit with the spiritual talk, but takes an active role in the conservation of sharks. Accomplished and distinguished marine biologist Sylvia Earle gives a compelling and educating talk on the impact humans have had on the oceans, why it’s important we save and preserve them.
The most inspiring subject is Jeannie Chesser. She has seen much tragedy in her life, but none of that has dampened her love for the water, even though some of those hardships were because of it. She still surfs in her old age, knowing the time she has left is limited. She shows an unwavering determination that anyone can take heart from.
She Is The Ocean has the best will in the world, but its parts are greater than the whole. Everyone featured is clearly passionate about what they do, but with no real narrative or much to link them beyond they are women with a connection to water, the documentary has an uneven feel. Each of the nine segments could have worked well separately and independently of one another.
One thing that is constant in Blokhina’s film is impressive photography both in the water and on its surface. There’s plenty of shots of the surfers doing just that which look spectacular, both at a distance and close up. Most striking of all are the underwater sequences of Ramsey swimming alongside sharks. In fact it’s possible to gauge much of these women’s enthusiasm for their work from seeing them do it much as hearing from them. It is a well-meaning and well-made but muddled and too infrequently feels like a film.