“Sailing a Sinking Sea” illuminates Moken culture

Teresa Dale
  Staff Writer

As summer comes to an end and people are returning to their busy schedules, there are a lot of daydreamers fantasizing about forgetting their daily routines. They’re dreaming of the beach and possibly jumping on a boat to live off the sea for the rest of their lives. Just off the coast of Thailand and Burma there is an interesting community of people who are already living that way.

The Moken are a small Austronesian ethnic group whose entire existence revolves around the sea. A filmmaker by the name of Olivia Wyatt has created a feature-length investigational documentary that observes them, their sea-based lifestyle, and their unique culture.

“Sailing a Sinking Sea” follows the Moken who spend up to eight months out of the year on the water. They live on handmade wooden boats that they sail on the Andaman Sea, a body of water claimed by both Thailand and Burma. The Thai and Burmese governments have been a threat to the Moken culture due to their attempts of trying to integrate them. With roughly 3,000 members and a diminishing population, the Moken way of life is in jeopardy of disappearing altogether.

The Moken people have always had a strong connection with the sea; this connection has manifested itself in their folklore. Their ancestors passed down different beliefs and teachings of how to watch the changes in the tides and currents. They also warned of giant waves as well as knowledge of how to survive them. Due to what their ancestors taught them, the Moken were able to anticipate and survive the devastating tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in December 2004.

The film focuses on the mythology that saved the Moken from the tsunami, the integration of their community into the Thai and Burmese cultures, and how they live their lives upon the sea. A special screening of the film is happening at The Den Theater in Chicago on August 25th. Attendees will get to experience a showing with original music performed live by local Chicago band, Bitchin Bajas, as the film is playing.

The music by the band Bitchin Bajas is a familial, ambient sort of style that slowly unfolds as you listen. It can be best described as a long journey, which meshes with the film’s artistic and tribal narrative. Coupled with the live ambient music, this special screening of Olivia Wyatt’s film will create a captivating atmosphere where viewers can be truly transported into the seas with the Moken people.

Olivia has created other similar ethnological documentaries in the past, including “Staring into the Sun” and “The Pierced Heart & The Machete”. Her approach to filmmaking is less systematized than other films in the same genre. Her method is a lot more abstract due to her unique format and mixture of cinematic techniques.

Directed and produced by Olivia herself, the goals of her films are to honestly portray her experiences with the people she spends time researching. She spent a lot of time overseas with the Moken people as she filmed “Sailing a Sinking Sea”. She also did most of the filming herself, with several different grades of cameras ranging from GoPros to more high-end equipment.

Films like “Sailing a Sinking Sea” not only expose people to lesser known artists and filmmakers, but also to different cultural practices and issues that many may be oblivious to. The benefits of seeing performances live, especially events with important subject matter, can be extraordinarily valuable to our society that so often forgets the beauty that exists elsewhere in the world.

Opportunities to experience screenings of films with live music from the band that actually made music for it isn’t something that people do every day. Usually, people have to be content with staying at home and watching the film on their computers. But to actually go out and experience something new, exciting, and informative leaves a lasting impression that can’t be matched by staying in.

Events like this are important because sometimes it is necessary to indulge in a little art and culture. In our homogenized society of self-obsession it is so important to appreciate other cultures. Part of Olivia Wyatt’s purpose in producing “Sailing a Sinking Sea” was to capture the distinctive culture and special nuances of a shrinking community and to share it with the world. Olivia’s screening in Chicago will be a unique experience that should interest people from both an artistic and informational perspectives.

Categories: arts, Arts & Entertainment, Uncategorized

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