New footage reveals early experiments
Red ski hats went flying over audience members in South Beach Friday night in honor the world’s greatest explorer of the ocean, as members of the Cousteau family tossed the iconic caps at the world premiere of My Father, the Captain: My Life with Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
Jean-Michel Cousteau, the outspoken, white-haired elder of the family, introduced his new film at the New World Symphony’s hall in Miami Beach to an audience of environmental journalists. His father invented scuba diving in France and became the world’s most recognized figure of the 20th century with television programs that revealed previously unknown worlds under the sea.
With his two children on stage, Cousteau counted four members of the family by including the anticipated fourth generation from Celine, who is pregnant. He hopes that his grandchild follow in their footsteps. “I’m pleased that all Cousteaus will get wet,” he said.
The hats were a gift from the National Marine Sanctuary program, whose staff dons them every year on the birthday of Jacques Cousteau. “This hat is symbolic of the respect my father had of the hard-hat divers,” explained Cousteau. Those early divers needed warm caps because of a lack of insulation.
Jacques would have been 100 years old on June 11, 2000, and the film recorded that day as his son and several members of the Calypso research vessel celebrated his memory with a traditional dive.
The documentary revealed new footage of Cousteau’s early experiments with the Aqua-Lung, the device that allows scuba divers to move freely under water. It shows present-day Jean-Michel reaching into the attic of the family estate on the French Mediterranean to find old reels of film from as early as 1938, the same year that Jean-Michel was born. Other versions of this documentary have been shown, but this version was the first with the rediscovered footage.
World leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Ted Turner spoke in the film about the strong influence of Cousteau on their lives.
At the event and also tossing red hats were Celine and Fabien Cousteau. Earlier in the week, two other grandchildren of Jacques, Alexandra and Philippe Jr., joined the other three Cousteaus for an unprecedented public family reunion at the conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Called a first, the reunion did not include the side of Jacques Cousteau’s family from his surviving second wife.
Like their father and grandfather, the reunited Cousteaus use video and other media to promote conservation of the ocean.
“To see all five of us there shows that we are like different pieces of a Tetris puzzle, and when we see each part together, it makes sense,” said Celine, an independent documentary filmmaker. She pronounced the name of her grandfather as “Jeeks.”
“We’re learning something every day about the ocean. That’s why it’s so important. We need to protect even what we don’t know about,” said Celine. She said that people around the world tell her stories about how her grandfather inspired their careers and concern for the environment.
Fabien spoke of how attitudes need to change for both people who care for and ignore the environment. “Instead of becoming hopeless, create hope,” he said. “We need to stop living on this planet and start living with this planet.” He often speaks to children and tells them that the environment needs a revolution.
Fabien was impressed with the conference of journalists. “I didn’t realize how important it is, and it’s very encouraging,” he said.
The film premier was the centerpiece of Miami’s first environmental film festival, which is presenting 10 films. Jeff Burnside, the NBC Miami reporter who co-hosted the journalism conference, sparked its inception.
“Jeff said to me that if you’re serious, now is your chance,” said Michael Haas of the Environmental Coalition of Miami and the Beaches, which that organized the film festival. Haas noted that the theater, at five feet above sea level, would eventually be under water due to sea level rise.
The Cousteau premiere opened with a short film about freeing a humpback whale entangled in fishing net, by Michael Fishbach of the Great Whale Conservancy, and a one-week-old short about Deep Dredge, the planned expansion of the Port of Miami that threatens corals and will require 600 underwater explosions over two years.
Jean-Michel closed the evening with a story about a 95-year-old friend who still scuba dives and plans to celebrate his 100th birthday the same way, although the friend joked that Jean-Michel might not be around. “Salt preserve,” said Jean-Michel. “Get wet out there.” #