Review: Walking Under Water

Photo: David Kazilkowski

Photo: David Kazilkowski

In Walking Under Water, filmmaker Eliza Kubarska dives off the beautiful coast of Borneo into the underwater culture of the Badjao, a tribe who has no country or formal ties to any government. Living between Borneo, the Philippines and Indonesia for centuries, the Badjao tribe maintains a nomadic, seafaring lifestyle with a deep connection to the natural environment its incredible power to provide sustenance.

In this mesmerizing documentary, we climb aboard a primitive motorboat and plunge deep into the sea with Alexan and his nephew Sari. Alexan is the last compressor diver off his island, fishing to provide for his family. Sari is both his uncle’s assistant and student. Compression diving is much more useful to them for catching more fish faster – but as they’ve learned, the technique is difficult, relatively dangerous and requires expensive materials. Sari wants to learn this trade from his uncle but is faced with pressure from the modern world, and his parents, to pursue other options for his future.

Throughout the film, we experience Alexan and Sari’s typical trip on the water. We are able to put ourselves in Alexan and Sari’s shoes (flippers) and understand the struggles and inner turmoil that the Badjao face as they continue in a way of life that makes it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  

Kubarska takes us on an adventure that is breathtakingly beautiful but tugs at raw emotions of sadness and frustration. Through Alexan and Sari’s experiences, we witness the telltale signs of modernity and globalization influencing a beautiful and mystical culture. The stark contrast between the lifestyle of the Badjao and the western world is obvious in terms of values, ideological views and most strikingly, an unfair distribution of wealth. The film illustrates the stunning beauty of the underwater world in contrast to the busy polluted streets on dry land.