“Fishpeople” Review: A Love Letter to the Ocean

“Fishpeople”, the new film from director Keith Malloy, is a love letter to the ocean, told through six vignettes of people whose lives are defined by their connection with the sea.

If we had to describe the film with one word it would be “blue.” But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Filmed in golden light in locations such as Tahiti, Hawaii and Australia, the cinematography plunges both above and below the water, capturing shafts of light shooting into azure depths, afternoon sun diffused through heaving green walls and the froth of a thundering wall of whitewash. It’s so gorgeous and so packed with interesting shots that it’s sometimes sensory overload.

The film works best during the sections focused on individuals with some hardship in their background. Ray Collins was injured during a coal mining accident and during his recovery, picked up a camera, bought a water housing and started taking pictures of waves. His unique captures of the ocean quickly caught on in the surf world and beyond; within the last year, he quit coal mining for good to focus on the ocean. To watch him speak about putting his old life behind him and taking the plunge into his passion was both riveting and emotional.

Freediver and spearfisher Kimi Werner moves beautifully through the water in a shot from “Fishpeople.” Photo: Perrin James/Patagonia

In another story, Eddie Donnellan recounts how his mother told him to “share the things he loved.” Donnellan is shown driving around San Francisco picking up underprivileged kids and taking them out for their first time surfing, and for some, their first time to the beach, period. The kids look somewhat shy and nervous early in the day but once they hit the ocean it’s smiles and laughs and wipeouts.

And of course there are the surfers. Director Keith Malloy, the middle sibling of the pack known in the surfing as “The Malloy Brothers,” is a world-class wave rider, a fisherman, a father and an ocean-focused filmmaker. Like his subjects, he and his family have built their day-to-day lives around the ocean. Malloy used his relationships from a lifetime of surfing to explore talents like bohemian surf figurehead Dave Rastovich and Tahitian wonderkid, Matahi Drollet.

While this film doesn’t feature any standup paddling, anyone who’s gotten bit by the SUP bug knows how addicting life on the water can be. And the love for the ocean that these people express so beautifully translates to any type of water. One theme rang true throughout the film: the ocean is place of sanctuary, to go to escape the stresses of life and to restore ourselves to a more natural state. And that’s something everyone could use more of.

“Fishpeople” premieres tonight, April 13, at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas, California. Check more tour dates to catch it near you.