Filmmaker Q&A: Karen Martin

Surf, Sand and Silversides: The California Grunion” “Surf, Sand and Silversides: The California Grunion,” a new short documentary, shows the natural phenomenon of one of nature's most spectacular scenes. During moonlit spawning runs, these unique marine fish surf by the thousands onto California's beaches for a midnight rendezvous. The documentary reveals new discoveries about the grunion life cycle, early development, marine ecology, and the challenges facing this charismatic surfing fish as it nests on California’s urban beaches. Ways to conserve these charismatic fish and benefit the beach ecosystem are shown in rich scientific detail with the wonder of children.

Shot on location at more than a dozen different beaches along the California coast, the documentary shows new discoveries and vivid animations about the grunion life cycle, its embryonic development out of water, and its place in the marine web of life. Inspired by these charismatic fish, a group of citizen scientists called Grunion Greeters cooperated with local residents, scientists, government agencies, and environmentalists to find new ways to balance human recreation and wildlife conservation on California’s beaches.

“Surf, Sand and Silversides: The California Grunion” was two years in production. Support was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California Coastal Commission, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Geographic Society, Coastal America Foundation, and Pepperdine University.

What was your inspiration for creating the film? I was impressed by the beauty of the waves of fish on shore and their incredible vulnerability along one of the world’s most populous coastlines.

What was the most challenging part of creating the film? Trying to capture images of unpredictable animals in the dark!

What do you want to impart on your film’s viewers? I want to show people something that few people have seen and to increase awareness of the beach ecosystem. I hope to impart a desire to improve conservation of this endemic fish and the entire beach ecosystem.

 What was the most enjoyable part of creating the film? The many long walks on moonlit California beaches!

Who (or what) is your inspiration? All of the people who shared their grunion stories with us that took time to observe and protect the natural treasures on our beaches.

How or why did you begin creating ocean-focused films? I have a desire to improve people’s understanding of marine animals and issues that are not immediately obvious or easy to see. I hope that this documentary increases the awareness of the ecological values of sandy beaches.

Why did you choose to submit your film to the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival? I submitted my film to SFOFF because this festival is so prestigious and the audience is so knowledgeable. We are honored to have been selected.

Is this your first time participating in an ocean-focused film festival? This is our 5th film festival but the first one with an ocean theme. Very exciting!

What was the most memorable moment in creating the film?When we saw it all come together: the stunning images, the diverse interviews, the evocative script, the expressive narration, the amazing animations, and the ebullient music. Putting all these pieces together and seeing it edited to tell the story in a brand new way was really a thrill.

 Is there anything else that you would like to share? Although the film was not shot in San Francisco, we organized a local group of Grunion Greeters that saw grunion running at several different beaches here in San Francisco Bay during the past decade. We worked with East Bay Regional Parks, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Port of Oakland, and many volunteers from the community on this project.

Thanks for the opportunity to bring our documentary to SFOFF!