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Ciné-ONU Screening of ‘The Loneliest Whale’

On the eve of the United Nations Ocean Conference, Ciné-ONU was proud to host a screening of ‘The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52’ on Friday 24 June at the historic Cinema São Jorge in Lisbon, in partnership with the US Embassy in Portugal, Oceano Azul Foundation and City Hall Lisbon.

Directed by Joshua Zeman and executive produced with Leonardo DiCaprio and Adrian Grenier, ‘The Loneliest Whale’ takes viewers on a cinematic quest to find the “52 Hertz Whale,” which scientists believe has spent its entire life in solitude calling out at a frequency that is different from any other whale. As the film embarks on this engrossing journey, it explores what this whale’s lonely plight can teach us – not just about our changing relationship to the oceans, but to each other.

Blue is the new green

The audience was greeted by Chief of Sustainable Development at the UN, Francyne Harrigan, who oversaw the evening’s proceedings and opened with a reminder not only of the timely nature of the screening, but of the Conference itself: “the UN Ocean Conference next week represents a vital opportunity to sound the alarm as to what will happen if we continue to take more from the ocean than it can afford to give”.

Ciné-ONU was delighted to welcome a number of participating dignitaries to introduce the film and the importance of its subject. Ambassador Randi Charno Levine, US Ambassador to Portugal, praised the strong turnout of the 500-person audience as a beacon of hope for future ocean action, remarking that “the strength and diversity of this audience shows that one message is resonating; that the public also recognises the importance of the oceans and their protection”.

Ambassador Randi Charno Levine, US Ambassador to Portugal, addresses the audience.
Ambassador Randi Charno Levine, US Ambassador to Portugal, addresses the audience.

Her optimism was shared by Under-Secretary-General and United Nations Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares, who drew from his longstanding work with ocean advocates such as Sylvia Earle the lesson that “this is a moment of urgency, but also a moment of possibility”.

Next to take the floor, Deputy Mayor for Culture, Economy and Innovation of City Hall Lisbon Diogo Moura summarised the ambitions of both the film and Conference in his assertion that “blue is the new green”, sharing his conviction in the role Lisbon has to play in a new global chapter of ocean conservation: “we believe that Lisbon can be a pioneer as a European hub for the blue tech economy”.

Drawing the introductory portion of the evening to a close, CEO of Oceano Azul Foundation Tiago Pitta e Cunha offered an important reminder that “unfortunately, ocean action is not near climate action yet”, further reiterating the importance of forums such as the UN Ocean Conference as vehicles to “place the ocean war at the centre of discussions and economic and political priorities”.

A profound and important issue

An image of the panel discussion following the screening. From left to right: moderator Francyne Harrigan, Joshua Zeman, Ana Brazão, Pamela Kiambi, and Afonso Castanheira.
The panel discussion following the screening. From left to right: moderator Francyne Harrigan, Joshua Zeman, Ana Brazão, Pamela Kiambi, and Afonso Castanheira.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Joshua Zeman, director, writer and producer of ‘The Loneliest Whale’; Project Manager at the Oceano Azul Foundation, Ana Brazão; UNEP Plastic Tide Turner Champion from Kenya, Pamela Kiambi; and the President of Mestres do Oceano Associação and creator of the art installation accompanying the screening, Afonso Castanheira, also known as Sea Groove. Francyne Harrigan moderated the discussion.

Reflecting on one of the major themes of the film, Joshua Zeman shared his own route into exploring the effects of ocean noise pollution on marine life: “we didn’t make the film because of ocean noise pollution; the issue arose out of the film. These animals, can’t escape, they can’t turn off the sound that we make. It became a profound and important issue for the film.”

He spoke, too, of the unique challenge of pursuing a seemingly impossible quest: “why do a search when they say it’s a needle in a haystack? There’s a futility in it all, and there’s a beauty in the futility. In a lot of ways, it feels like what we’re up against with big corporations, billions of dollars and countries that don’t listen to us. Yet, in the smallest of actions, trying to find one whale in the entire ocean, you can do something.”

A call to action

Picking up where CEO Tiago Pitta e Cunha left off, Oceano Azul Foundation Project Manager Ana Brazão summarised the organisation’s ethos: “we focus on bringing the ocean to everyone because we understand that the ocean belongs to no one”. She drew particular attention to the large-scale changes needed to follow through on international commitments to improve ocean health: “we understand that marine protected areas alone, without changing our extractive-led economy, are not enough. We must work alongside the economy and replace the current model with a circular, regenerative economy.”

UNEP Plastic Tide Turner Champion from Kenya Pamela Kiambi spoke powerfully of the importance of giving youth advocates a voice in global forums such as the Ocean Conference, remarking that “often, young people are left out and not listened to. An important call to action is to have young people on stage with their ideas and solutions. We have a desire to act and we must do so.”

An image of Desminke the whale, an art installation accompanying the screening created by Afonso Castanheira, also known as Sea Groove.
Desminke the whale, an art installation accompanying the screening created by Afonso Castanheira, also known as Sea Groove.

The audience were treated not only to the spectacular art installation that greeted them as they entered the cinema, but to insights from the creator himself, Afonso Castanheira, who fashions all of his work from plastic discarded in the ocean. As he put it, “unfortunately it cannot be recycled, so the best thing to do is to try to use the garbage that comes from the sea to help people understand how much waste comes from the fishing industry”.

15 years of success

A final thanks to all speakers, partners and the audience following the panel discussion.
A final thanks to all speakers, partners and the audience following the panel discussion.

Ciné-ONU would like to thank all of the speakers and the audience for their contributions to an inspiring and insightful discussion on a highly important topic, and our partners the US Embassy in Portugal, Oceano Azul Foundation and City Hall Lisbon for a successful screening.

Now in its 15th year, Ciné-ONU has grown exponentially to screen over 260 films, and to date has reached over 120,000 people throughout Europe.

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