Whale documentaries to double-feature for first time
Two award-winning local documentaries on the lives of humpback whales return to the big screen next week — for the first time as a double feature.
Where the Whales Sing and The Secret Lives of the Humpbacks will be shown back to back at the Speciality Cinema in Hamilton on Monday, starting at 6.30pm with a 15-minute intermission.
The documentaries, which were produced, directed, filmed, written and edited by Andrew Stevenson, focus on humpback whales as they pass through Bermuda’s waters.
Mr Stevenson, who will be on hand to take questions, is soon to embark on a new documentary series detailing his “quest” in search for the whale that started it all.
“I am going to go out looking for the magical whale from an encounter 20 years ago,” he told The Royal Gazette.
The appearance of the lone whale “had a profound effect on me”, Mr Stevenson recalled.
During his first film, Mr Stevenson found himself short on underwater footage and set out with two companions in late April when it was highly unlikely to spot humpbacks.
He slipped into the water as dolphins approached their boat and started filming.
When the dolphins’ clicking and body language abruptly changed, “I looked below — and there was this humpback whale that had suddenly come up beneath me”.
Whales can be identified from the distinctive patterns of their flukes: Mr Stevenson can recognise more than 2,100 of them.
However, no one in the community of fellow whale enthusiasts around the globe has spotted the scarred old male he encountered that day from the fluke ID that he sent out to “everybody I know”.
“The quest on this series will be me going to find him,” Mr Stevenson said.
“I will go to the Caribbean, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, to find the whale that has never been seen anywhere else but here.
“It’s a big hill to climb, but that’s the intention — a lot of the quest will be meeting the other crazy people like myself who are totally obsessed. It’s not about the whale, but about me.”
He added he would be headed out this weekend to look for humpbacks passing Bermuda on their way south to their feeding grounds, even though it would likely be “slim pickings”.
Humpbacks at this time of year are well-fed and unlikely to linger feeding in Bermuda waters as they do in the spring.
The conservationist observes the whales with a research permit issued annually by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Mr Stevenson’s daughters are also featured in the two documentaries.
Where the Whales Sing, narrated by the then six-year-old Elsa Stevenson, won the Best Underwater Film-maker award at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in 2010 along with the Masterworks/Charman Art Prize.
The film was also featured as in-flight entertainment for several airlines, including Air Canada.
Its successor, The Secret Lives of the Humpbacks, a character-driven nature documentary based on 15 years of insights into the mid-ocean social lives of the North Atlantic humpback whales, was completed in 2019.
The documentary is narrated by Elsa and Somers Stevenson, who were aged 15 and 10 at the time, and won the Best Oceans Film award at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in 2019 and the Festival International du Documentaire Maritime in France, 2022.
Tickets for the screening are available online at the Specialty Cinema website.
Mr Stevenson said his daughters claimed to be embarrassed nowadays at their appearances and voice-overs in the documentaries.
He added: “But I know the two of them, secretly, deep down inside, do like it. In actual fact, both of them are superb — and they still insist on coming out with me.”