Becoming Cousteau is Liz Garbus’s new archive-heavy documentary about filmmaker and underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
When one thinks of 20th century explorers or adventurers, a few names come to mind: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Robert Ballard, and yes, even James Cameron. The French adventurer stands out above them all. In fact, it felt like he was a household name when I was growing up. it’s truly hard to believe that next year will mark 25 years since he died. As we figure out how we can protect this planet, he is someone who we can look back to when it comes to ideas. Below the sea, however, he was a pioneer when it came to exploring so many wonders. Oscars, two television series, books, the list goes on and on. This film is no Wikipedia page but I’m sure there’s no shortage of information if you want to learn more.
Liz Garbus lets Jacques-Yves Cousteau tell his own story. There are no talking heads appearing on camera but there are some present-day interview. Overall, Garbus draws on over 100 hours of audio. The video footage itself is all archival footage drawn from some 550 hours of footage. There’s a lot of footage from before he came a household name. A part of me does wonder if this is a pandemic project. But anyway, who was he as a person? I mean, we know who he was in terms of his exploring and adventuring activities. The thing I love about this film is that Garbus isn’t afraid to address his flaws during the 93 minute runtime. I’ll have more on this in a moment.
The idea of underwater filmmaking may seem very common in this era. I mean, we expect a new documentary from Disneynature every April around Earth Day. Speaking for myself, I will never not be amazed in wondering just how they got the footage. Without Cousteau, such documentaries might not exist. The programs may be a dime a dozen these days but only because he made it cool to watch them. In doing so, he inspired a whole generation and then some.
Even though we know him because of all the fun environmental activities, he wasn’t perfect. He helped oil companies when it came to underwater oil drilling. Your mind is blown, am I right? While he went onto inspire a new generation of environmental conservationists, his crew is guilty of killing creatures. This isn’t really something you think of when it comes to the man now, is it? Garbus isn’t afraid to touch on this material and it speaks to her abilities as a documentary filmmaker. To not touch on it would be like writing a definitive biography and leaving out some pertinent information.
The timing of this film could not be more important. There is a growing climate crisis–look to the massive flooding left in Hurricane Ida’s wake. The climate crisis will almost certainly affect our own shorelines. Cities, sadly, will sink below the oceans at some point. This will happen–this isn’t a matter of if but when! Cousteau was among the first to deliver the warning signs–it would result in ABC dropping his series. This is truly unfortunate! PBS would also drop his show. Together with his crew, he was there to witness the warming sea waters, dying coral reefs , and melting glaciers. Chicagoans along the shoreline are witnessing the impact from Lake Michigan, too! We cannot ignore the warning signs.
Many of us grew up knowing about Jacques-Yves Cousteau but Becoming Cousteau is going to inspire a new generation of environmentalists.
DIRECTOR: Liz Garbus
SCREENWRITERS: Mark Monroe & Pax Wasserman
FEATURING: Jacques-Yves Cousteau