Documentary Review: ‘She Is The Ocean’

Greetings again from the darkness. “My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea. And the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” That quote from William Wadsworth Longfellow sums up much of what makes the nine women (OK, 8 women and one younger girl) the subject of director Inna Blokhina’s fascination. The film takes us around the globe to meet these women who are drawn to the sea.

It’s a beautiful film to look at, and why wouldn’t it be? Most of it occurs on beaches, underwater, or on surfboards as the waves come in. Two key elements are in play here. First is the spiritual connection to the ocean, and second is women pursuing their passion and dreams as they relate to the ocean.

Cinta Hamsel is the youngest of those featured here, and her aging acts as a framing structure for the film. Her name translates to “Love” in Indonesia, and the filmmaker catches up with her over the years, including her “first big wave”. Cinta flashes a luminous smile from a very early age, and it’s a treat to watch her energy grow and change over the years.

The other women featured here get their own segments – some more expansive than others – and there is probably a 40 or 50 year range in ages. Coco Ho is a 20-something year old pro surfer and the daughter of professional surfer champion surfer Michael Ho. She has many surfing titles to her name all over the world, and is a proud icon for the power of women. Ocean Ramsey swims with sharks – not in the business sense, but rather in the real world. She is knowledgeable and protective of the species, and even educates tourists on what sharks are actually like in comparison to JAWS. Anna Bader is a world famous cliff diver, often executing dives from 24+ meters. She hails from Germany and is the daughter of an Olympic gymnast. Ms. Bader thrives on independence, and she opens up about how her life perspective changed when she got pregnant. Rose Molina is a spiritual vagabond. She has lived all over the world and she thrives on her alone time with yoga and meditation. Her dance and ballet training combined with her free diving, lends itself to her freedom and safety in the sea. Keala Kennelly grew up in Hawaii and became a professional surfer. She discloses how she tried to fit into the feminine model the sponsors wanted, but now she just focuses on being herself – especially after a severe facial injury. Andrea Mollen loves distance paddling in the ocean and surfing big waves. She gushes over her love for her daughter and her work as an EMT. Jeannie Chesser is a bit older than those previously mentioned. She has lost her husband and her professional surfer son Todd, who drowned. Ms. Chesser discusses her cancer diagnosis and how she uses surfing for healing. Finally, we have Sylvia Earle, who despite being the most interesting of all of these woman, receives the shortest segment. As the first female Chief Scientist of the U.S., Ms. Earl is a Marine Botanist who spreads the message that the history of life is in the ocean, and we must respect and protect it. She also inspires by encouraging us to re-discover that child explorer that we once were … embrace the sense of wonder.

If the film has a flaw, it’s that the focus is so concentrated on surfing, and underplays the message and accomplishments of Sylvia Earle. Filmmaker Blokhina opts to give each woman their own song/music (some work better than others). And of course, while each story is inspiring and interesting, it’s the shots of Hawaii’s Pipe Line and Jaws waves that literally take our breath away. Jacques Cousteau said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” These women certainly agree.

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