Young people have always been on the forefront of change. Nowhere is that more evident today than in the fight for climate change. With names like Greta Thunberg and Haven Coleman leading the charge, people are starting to listen. Coming out of this year’s Sundance Kids section is Blueback, an environmental fable centered on a mother and daughter living and protecting the wildlife in one of Australia’s bays. Jumping around in time, Robert Connelly’s film looks at how activism can shape one’s self and one’s relationships.
When we first meet our lead, Abby (Mia Wasikowsha), she is collecting samples underwater from a dying and bleached coral reef. As she returns to her research boat, she receives a call that her mother, Dora (Radha Mitchell), is not talking and is close to death.
As she makes the journey home, we get glimpses of her backstory and her childhood growing up on the bay. Always interested in the environment, Abby spends her days with her mother on a small motor boat making sure local fishermen like the eccentric Macka (Eric Bana), are not destroying habitats. While on one of their adventures, her mother throws her into deep water where she first encounters a wild blue groper that grows fond of Abby over a few visits. She decides to name the fish Blueback.
The film is grounded by Abby’s relationships to her mother, the bay, and to the fish itself. Connelly, who co-wrote the script with the 1997 novella’s original author Tim Winton, takes the pacing agonizingly slow, trying to let these various relationships build before they converge. Though quiet and beautifully shot underwater, the personal journeys of these characters aren’t compelling enough to be engaging for long periods of time.
Connelly and the cast shot the snorkeling scenes in the water using a puppet as the stand-in for Blueback. Created by the Creature Technology Company, you have never seen a fake fish look this real before. With its own personality and specialized movement, the resemblance is uncanny and brilliantly edited together by the visual effects team. The time Connelly spends in the water is easily the best part of the film.
Blueback is both coming-of-age story and environmental fable and therefore, carries a sense of sentimentality. It is quiet and not overbearing, but with a film this slow paced, it’s hard to imagine anyone, let alone a child, being able to sit through it.