Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Peter Young

Peter Young. Photo / Supplied
Peter Young. Photo / Supplied

His work has been all over the small screen on shows such as Hunger for the Wild and Country Calendar. Now, Christchurch film-maker Peter Young has made a big-screen documentary about tooth fish exploitation in the Ross Sea. It explores why it will be disastrous for the world's ecology but also for New Zealand's reputation as a clean, green country. His six-year project - The Last Ocean - screens at the NZ 2012 International Film Festival.

They're catching tooth fish and sending them to restaurants in Europe and the US so rich folks can eat them. Why is this issue so important?

The Ross Sea is the edge of existence. You're seeing nature at its most unadulterated. It's our last great, untouched ocean. It's an incredible mix of unique and stunning landscape. It's on the edge. There is an abundance of wildlife, which you'll find nowhere else on planet Earth. It's our opportunity to protect it.

In making this film, what was the most alarming discovery besides the potential demise of the sea itself?

It's easy to be overwhelmed by what we've lost. But I've tried to focus on what is there - the untouched eco system. But what is interesting is that many people don't even know where this ocean is. We did a vox pop in Cuba St (Wellington) and there weren't many more people who knew where the Ross Sea was than when we did the same thing in New York City.

How do you captivate the public when there is environmental fatigue in the media?

We're at this point where we have the opportunity to make an important decision about what happens to the Ross Sea. What do we want to leave for future generations? When you strip back the politics and the economics, it's that simple.

New Zealand is the closest neighbour to the Ross Sea but is "eco-friendly NZ" the biggest myth of all?

Yes, after "clean and green". We've been trading on that for too long. The world is watching now. We need to show that we can walk the talk. It's difficult for scientists, because many in New Zealand can't talk as openly as someone independent like me.

You follow a group of scientists in the film. How do you translate the science of a story into a narrative people care about - something visceral?

It's about connecting with people on an emotional level and taking them on an unpredictable journey. That's the challenge. Scientists are people too. First and foremost they care deeply - they have genuine concerns. The scientists we filmed are also amazing talkers.

What environment most dazzles you?

I love the edge of anything. I've fallen many times, but thankfully I have very capable people working with me. I'm pretty fearless. I love it when you push boundaries. It forces you to be in the present and so often we live in the past or think about the future.

What was the most difficult aspect of making this film?

Financially it was a nightmare. It was all unpaid. It was a constant battle of a diminishing bank account. I'd discover there'd be some critical part of the story that I'd have to film - usually on the other side of the world. I never thought I'd see the day when it made the big screen.

What's the best job you've ever had?

Making Hunger for the Wild was fantastic. When I was 28 I decided I wanted to work for the Natural History Unit or Country Calendar. I ended up working for both.

What consumer or environmental sin are you guilty of?

Driving my old Land Cruiser. Cameras and lenses. They are my consumer fetishes.

Did you pull out any tricks to tell a more convincing story on the environment? Any cute shortcuts you'd like to declare?

I'm a fan of keeping things simple. Beautiful pictures and great music. I worked with Plan 9 in Wellington and they did the whole score. It creates space for people to think about what we are on the verge of losing.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

I'd be a farmer. An organic farmer. I'm not inherently green. But I've learnt in making this film, the importance of being green.

What untrodden territory would you like to explore?

Club Med sounds pretty good right now.

- NZ Herald

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