Filmmaker Q&A: John Dutton

“Whale Disentanglement Network” is a five-minute immersion into the dangerous and adrenaline filled work of a group of people involved in disentangling whales from fishing gear. The film carries the conservation message that despite a strong need for training and education to be able to disentangle whales, there is a very important need to find ways to prevent entanglements.

What was your inspiration for creating the film? My inspiration was derived from an instruction video I was producing called “Whale Rescue and Disentanglement - The Role You Can Play”. Working with the various team members was so inspirational that I created this director’s cut.

What was the most challenging part of creating the film? The most challenging part about creating this particular short film was time. As a freelancer, passion projects sometimes have to take a lower priority.

What do you want to impart on your film’s viewers? David Matilla from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, interviewed in the film sums it up best – “it’s not just the effort to help the one whale, it’s a conservation effort to try to prevent whales from being entangled in the future”. I think that is one the key take home messages here, the need to find ways to prevent marine mammals and other non-targeted animals from being entangled in fishing gear.

What was the most enjoyable part of creating the film? One of the most enjoyable parts of creating a the film was going out on the boat with the whale disentanglement “experts”, as well as, going on a whale watching trip and filming breaching whales.

Who (or what) is your inspiration? The passion and enthusiasm of scientists and conservationists are an inspiration and my role as a filmmaker is constantly challenged to do justice to their cause.

How or why did you begin creating ocean-focused films? I first started creating ocean focused films when I went to San Diego Bay and filmed scientists tagging green turtles that hung out in the power plants effluent waters. I showed the BBC my footage and they made an episode of it in their “Dragon’s Alive” series. After that, I continued filming various other themes, for example, marine debris research in a two-man submarine or difficult subjects such as sustainable fishing issues.

How did you hear about the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival? I heard about the SFOFF about 6 or 7 years ago. This is the second time a film of mine is screening here. It is a great venue to meet peers and see some amazing films as well as meet an incredibly diverse group of interesting people. You just have to read the biographies of the SFOFF’s board of directors to know that they are going to put an extraordinary three-day event!

Why did you choose to submit your film to the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival? Apart from San Francisco being a great place to be, the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival is a great venue. It is the premier ocean themed film festival in the country and I feel honored to have a film selected and screened at this festival.

Is this your first time participating in an ocean-focused film festival? No, I have had several other films screened at other festivals.

What was the most memorable moment in creating the film? When I sent the cut to the disentanglement experts. Ed Lyman and David Matilla in Hawaii, they were so thrilled. The next week David screened it at the IWC (International Whaling Commission) in Norway - that type of feedback is very fulfilling.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? The Whale Disentanglement Network relies heavily on the public to report sightings of entangled whales and distressed marine mammals, but just calling it in is not really enough. Staying with the animal at a safe distance is one of the best things anyone can do, and if possible, collect as much data about the entanglement. Never jump in the water and try to rescue a whale, leave it to the experts who have the skills and tools to do the job properly and safely.