As someone who has travelled over 5,000 my wheelchair, I am always up for an adventure. However, even my extreme sense of adventure would be challenged to the max aboard the Infinity, a 120-foot hand-built sailing ketch that is, when it comes down to it, on a "never ending voyage of nomadic exploration." In the film Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World, we are taken one such journey as the Infinity leaves New Zealand in early February 2014, during the iciest year on record in the Southern Ocean, on an 8,000 mile Pacific crossing to Patagonia that includes a stop in Antarctica.
Filmed by Nico Edwards, a mostly self-taught filmmaker and wanderer himself, Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World is perhaps most surprising by its casual, spirited nature in which the tribal spirit of the crew of 16 is perhaps even more powerful and inspiring than the many adversities they faced along the way including a hurricane of ice in the Ross Sea, ever increasing mechanical and flooding problems, the tearing of every sail that they had, and a journey that somewhat unintentionally took them further south than any other sailing vessel in 2014 despite the fact they were traveling in a non-ice-reinforced boat that was built by hand in the 1970's and despite the fact they had an almost non-existent budget and, if we're being honest, may have broken a few regulations along the way as they travelled places where I'm pretty sure permits and insurance are required. Along the way, they also joined in with the Sea Shepherd, the radical environmental group, for a vital mission against Japanese whalers
After a successful festival run that included several prizes including a special jury commendation at Durango Film Festival, Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World is available on iTunes, Vimeo and on DVD. As a fun little note, the Sea Gypsies website proudly proclaims that it's available in 46 and 77-minute editions and, if you really want to commit yourself, there's apparently a 12-hour cut of the film available.
In case you're wondering, I watched the 77-minute version. I'll admit I'm a bit curious about the 12-hour one.
The Infinity is led by Clemens Gabriel, an intriguing man whose family often joins him for these adventures but, in this case, they're left behind due to the extraordinarily high risks involved. Gabriel seems to be a guy whose entire being is fueled by these high risks, normalcy doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary, and he practically personifies calm within the storm. He's surrounded by a crew that seems incapable of living a life outside of risk, though Nico Edwards, the filmmaker, does seem to be the one who periodically looks around with a non-verbalized "What have I gotten myself into?"
Sea Gypsies is at its best when, like Clem, it's at its most challenged. While the film has been gussied up and had its sound mix nicely edited, in some ways the film's varied musical selection works against the adventurous spirit evident throughout the film. I found, at times, that I was wanting more time learning about the souls of these young men and less time listening to musical transitions. In essence, Sea Gypsies is as much about this crew as it is about what this crew endured, a fact brought to the forefront nicely toward the end as one crew member shares eloquently of surviving the seemingly unsurvivable and being left with nothing but the realization of beauty and beautiful memories.
Indeed, that is much what the experience of watching the film is like.
For more information on Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World, visit the film's website linked to in the credits where you can also find out about watching the film for yourself. For those into nature docs and/or simply docs that show the best of the human spirit, this is one adventure you won't want to miss.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic