Wow… I remain in awe as the movie credits draw to a close. Just wow! I close the laptop, begin to smile long and pensively, take my smartphone and begin to send a message to my sailing friends, adding a link to Amazon Prime: “Just watch this.” is the message. What has just happened? Well, the 2017 made sailing movie “Sea Gypsies” may be one of the most impressive sailing-related films since long and it just knocked me off my cozy couch. A entertaining, funny, intensive, serious and so well-made documentary with a big heart I shall say. Easily so much underrated and it deserves much better.
What is it about? The story is fairly simple: SC INFINITY, a sailing ketch under command of Captain Clemens Oestreich, a German, and her crew of colorful individual, sets sails for a 4-5 week trip from New Zealand via Antarctica to Patagonia in Chile. As such exciting enough, but with every minute watching this film, you begin to get to know the very, very special boat and her crew. INIFINITY is sailing on a shoestring budget. Not a luxury cruise nor a professionally organized trip. People are giving what they have, all are taking what they need. “We are more than a family”, says Captain Clem at some point: “We are a sailing tribe.”
The story of “Sea Gypsies”
The story is not of big importance. The aim is clear: Chile via Antarctica. The vessel is held together by lots of blood, sweat, swears and good hope, the decisions are about how to spend the limited budgets: Food or Diesel? As INFINITY sails on, like with every well-made documentary, the moviemaker takes us more and more into the general mood of the trip. We get to know the individual characters aboard, their behaviors, their feelings, their specialties, their fears and dreams.
As INFINITY sails south, of course, weather more and more deteriorates and the hardship of living at Sea becomes visible. As high seas, the violent motion of the ship and the freezing temperatures begin to unleash their effects on the crew, the ship itself starts breaking apart. Smaller problems turn to bigger ones, mechanical failures start to mount. The crew needs to pull together their strengths, act like proper seamen and function even under harshest circumstances. Repairwork turns into nightmares and as the Diesel-tank gets infected by water it becomes dangerous.
Touching at the deepest core of your heart.
But “Sea Gypsies” is not a technical sailing movie. INFINITY, her sailing route and the hardship of of the adventure is a mere vehicle. What touches me most in watching this gem was the characterization of the individuals comprising her crew. Starting with Captain Clem, who – in the best sense of the word – can best be described as a pirate. A sea nomad. Living on INFINITY and roaming the Pacific Waters for more than 20 years, he is a dedicated father of four kids (born and living on the boat as well) and the chieftain of the INFINITY tribe.
Accompanied by such beautiful and wonderful guys like French Ayack, a sailor through and through, always funny with a strong philosophical emphasis, the Canadian David Bowie (yep, that´s his real name) or the young German Ole, it´s INFINITYs crew, their journey, their hardship, their humor and dedication which makes “Sea Gypsies” such a wonderful movie. When Clemens talks about fishery and climate change, it becomes chillingly close call: “In the past we used to catch a big fish every day. Now we don´t have a bite in weeks. We even don´t try anymore to catch fish …” In all these funny, wonderful and free living, it is these moments so hauntingly close and touching.
Why you should watch “Sea Gypsies”
It is certainly not a movie made by professionals nor is there any script or “story” in the wider sense. As film maker Nico Edwards put it: “The film is made with a captured camera, edited on a used laptop with pirate software. We´ve had to beg for music and the only reason it got finished was that friends had expectations.” And it is exactly this pirate-attitude that makes this movie so watchable, so enjoyable and the impact in one´s heart so deep and strong: Neither of them cares about anything, they are just having fun, exploring the world and themselves, enjoying the richness of nature and what life brings up around the next corner. Freedom, in the closest meaning of the word itself, is what this movie gem radiates above all.
Watching INFINITY and her crew having the time of their lives, making the best out of almost nothing, bringing themselves and the ship close to their breaking points, master all obstacles and getting rewarded by setting foot onto unspoiled land, is just so heartbreakingly beautiful to watch. Seeing with how little one can turn out such big things, is truly a wonder. And this shoestring documentary does transport this feeling so well that I catched myself jiggling on my couch along the motion of the boat, smiling and being happy for what I was watching.
This film can do what so many other can´t. It is moving. Deeply moving. The laughs are real: No constructed story leading up to a jokingly funny punch line. If you laugh in “Sea Gypsies”, you do because that wonderful natural humor of the crew members is taking you up. If you shake in awe then it is because you really feel along with the crew members, aching under the miserable cold temperatures. It is just so relatable, so believable because it is real and not an artificial construct.
A wonderful message
Best comes at the end. “Sea Gypsies” is the first movie in years I literally watched up until the last second, up until the very last credit has rolled. Captain Clem says some wonderful heartbreaking and touching words at the end which brought tears to my eyes and made my heart beat faster. “We are a part in a universe of forces. So rich, so beautiful, so real …”, he says, his face red beaten by the icy-cold winds of Antarctica. “Most people tend to focus their lives on tiny, little and so meaningless aspects of their lives.” And he is so true.
The film conveys a balance between showing the easiness of “pirate” life, of a tribe of such wonderful free people who are pursuing their dreams, staying on INFINITY for just a leg of her journey or for many, many years over. It shows a bunch of people forming one potent crew, a happy family and a free tribe. “I guess you need a sort of permission to go here …”, one of them says while stepping onto Antarctica: “Wo don´t have one. Neither insurance or anything.”, he says, smiles and is greeted by a Penguin.
The level of professionalism and coolness of Cpatain Clem and his crew makes me stand in awe and feel so small. A level I most certainly will never reach. After watching “Sea Gypsies” I browsed their Website and tried to prolong that wonderful lighthearted feeling as much as I could. Later in bed I thought about it and had to laugh so hard many times over: This is sailing. So spontaneous, so funny, so hard, so rewarding. Just … watch this film! It is such a wonderful gem …
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