Sundance 2023: ‘Deep Rising’ is a Reminder to Protect Our Oceans
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2023
We must take better care of this planet. We must change our ways and save what we can before it’s too late. We must stop treating this planet like an endless mine to make money from. This excellent documentary is a potent reminder we must do more to protect our planet and its natural resources from greedy investors and rich schmucks who simply can’t give up their addiction to profiting off of Earth’s offerings. Doc filmmaker Matthieu Rytz returns to Sundance (following his 2018 doc Anote’s Ark) with his latest feature film titled Deep Rising, a documentary about a precious resource hidden at the bottom of the ocean. I’m always on the hunt for splendid documentaries at Sundance, and this is one of my favorites so far. Not only is it about something important, something I didn’t know anything about before watching, but it’s an engaging doc in every way. Featuring a score by Ólafur Arnalds, it’s hard not to feel moved by this film and everything it’s trying to tell us and remind us – this planet is a special place and we need to stop destroying the ecosystem.
Deep Rising introduces us to the world of manganese nodule mining. Most people have probably never heard of these things before, which is why this is such a fascinating introduction. Found on the seabeds at the bottom of the oceans are deposits of minerals and metals that form into these black rocks. The film even explains that these nodules have been the target of many hungry nations looking to mine them for decades, originally identified in the 1970s as a valuable natural resource that seems to be quite plentiful – if only we can figure out an easy way to get them up from the bottom of the ocean. It took many years of debate but eventually the UN passed the Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 to determine who gets rights to ocean resources, which lead to the creation of the “International Seabed Authority” based in Jamaica. The film calmly and clearly shows us how this authority is corrupt and influenced by money, which is really no surprise. Nowadays, the “deep-ocean polymetallic nodules” (as they’re called today) are a priority for miners because they contains metals that are necessary for manufacturing batteries for modern electric vehicles.
What I appreciate the most about Rytz’s Deep Rising is how it lets so much of the footage speak for itself. Half of the film is spent following a shaggy-haired investor bro around as he tries to get funding for & pitch his company that’s planning to harvest these nodules. Rytz lets the fly-on-the-wall filmmaking do the heavy lifting, accompanied by a voiceover that helps keep viewers on track. This businessman eventually merges his company into what is today known as “The Metals Company”, sadly just another profit-chasing energy corporation. The film clearly points out and even literally says at one point: precious metals are the new oil. Batteries are not the solution to climate change, they’re just something shiny for wealthy corporations to focus on (and make lots of money from). Electric vehicles are good, and helpful to moving us away from oil, but they’re not the solution we truly need. Focusing on EVs means we’ll continue to mine these nodules and ruin our ecosystem in order to keep building more & more cars, and you know what, it’s about time we start recognizing this is opposite of where the world should be headed if it really wants to stop the climate crisis.
My main concern with this film is that not enough viewers will understand the implications and the message it’s trying to get across. The voiceover is telling us what we should be thinking, but I worry some will watch this Metals Company guy and see him as an entrepreneur hero. He’s anything but, of course, and that’s the real lesson. However, not everyone will pick up on that. The best part is the narration by Jason Momoa. His voice is perfect to tell this story, keeping our attention while also commanding us with his emotions and passion. He cares about this planet, he cares about the oceans, and that comes through so strongly in his voice. We never once even see Momoa in this, and that’s fine, because his voice is more than enough to carry it along and open our minds to the truth about why mining nodules is not the answer. This film is bringing all this to our attention so we can learn to stop this before it’s too late. It’s a warning. It takes millions of years for one of these nodules to form, we should not suck them all up and melt them all down, repeating the same mistakes as whaling centuries ago. I hope this film will wake all of us up to what’s really going on.