Editor’s Note: “Mission of Mermaids is scheduled to screen twice: Saturday, May 26, Nugget Theatre and Sunday, May 27, High Camp (Telluride Conference Center), 9:30 a.m.

“Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above. There dwell the Sea King and his subjects. We must not imagine that there is nothing at the bottom of the sea but bare yellow sand. No, indeed; the most singular flowers and plants grow there; the leaves and stems of which are so pliant, that the slightest agitation of the water causes them to stir as if they had life. Fishes, both large and small, glide between the branches, as birds fly among the trees here upon land. In the deepest spot of all, stands the castle of the Sea King. Its walls are built of coral, and the long, gothic windows are of the clearest amber. The roof is formed of shells, that open and close as the water flows over them. Their appearance is very beautiful, for in each lies a glittering pearl, which would be fit for the diadem of a queen.

“The Sea King had been a widower for many years, and his aged mother kept house for him. She was a very wise woman, and exceedingly proud of her high birth; on that account she wore twelve oysters on her tail; while others, also of high rank, were only allowed to wear six. She was, however, deserving of very great praise, especially for her care of the little sea-princesses, her grand-daughters. They were six beautiful children; but the youngest was the prettiest of them all; her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea; but, like all the others, she had no feet, and her body ended in a fish’s tail…”

And so begins “The Little Mermaid,” a fabled story, 1836, by Hans Christina Anderson. Would that that world of undisturbed underwater beauty and fish life still existed. But it does not. Or at the very least, that beauty, that life, is threatened. Which is why documentary filmmaker Susan Rockefeller made her latest movie, “Mission of Mermaids,” among the 80 or so featured films at the 34th annual Mountainfilm in Telluride, Memorial Weekend, May 25 – May 28, 2012.

“Mission of Mermaids” (MOM) is a short film celebrating director Susan Rockefeller’s relationship with the ocean. It’s both a poetic ode to the seas and a plea for their protection and her most personal work to date. In association with Oceana, the documentary explores ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution, and challenges viewers to rethink how they relate to their global waters. The key message of the film: in order to be healthy and replenish, the ocean needs rest, just as the mermaid in the many variations of the myth needs time on her own, away from her human companion, to be herself, free in a sea free from debris.

Subtitled “A love letter to the ocean,” “Mission of Mermaids” uses the archetype of the mermaid, a mythical creature, evocative of the ocean’s beauty and mystery, to bring the audience into the intimate world of the seas, rekindle an appreciation and love for them, and awaken the audience to the urgent need to respect and care for them before it’s too late.

“Mission of Mermaids” honors the women and men who live from and for the seas—artists, activists, performers, divers, fishermen, and sailors. And all of us who have dreamed on beaches, reveled in the ocean’s waters, or nourished ourselves in her depths. The film  includes internationally renowned ocean activists such as actor Ted Danson, scientist Daniel Pauley and model/performer Hannah Fraser. “Mission of Mermaids” both honors their work and recognizes them as spokespeople for the changes we all need to make on behalf of our oceans.

The message of “Mission of Mermaids” is simple and straightforward: We must take responsibility for our oceans by taking immediate action to save them. In keeping with this, the documentary is a low carbon-emission production. Comprised of “found” footage from YouTube videos, scanned images, and archival, licensed, or donated footage and music, the film has a gritty, guerilla aesthetic that reflects Susan’s long-term engagement in innovative, organic, and less materialistic practices.

Susan Rockefeller’s spin on the documentary:

“Ever since I was a child I’ve felt connected to water: lakes, rivers, streams––I love to jump in and swim around. But it’s the ocean where I go for rejuvenation, revelation, and solace.
“A few years ago I co-produced a film called A Sea Change which was the first documentary about ocean acidification. Encouraged by its success, I wanted to bring more people into the conversation so I designed a line of jewelry inspired by our seas. I wore a mermaid pin to the opening event for Oceana. When asked about it I explained that I needed to believe in the existence of the mermaid because of what she stands for: Mystery, hope, and a connection between the human world and the one of the ocean.
“Impressed with her fortitude and realizing that her presence was following me everywhere, I felt compelled to make a documentary about the mermaid. Half human and half fish, as well as a cross cultural symbol, she seemed the perfect medium to explore the interdependent nature of man and the sea.
“‘Mission of Mermaids’ is my most personal documentary to date. I wrote and narrated the story with the belief that by bringing myth and science together we could awaken to our connection to our waters. And by doing so, be inspired to protect what is precious––our ocean”

Susan Rockefeller is a documentary filmmaker whose in-depth look at critical issues in our world has won top awards at national and international festivals. Recent efforts include producing and directing the HBO documentary, “Making the Crooked Straight”, which originally screened at Mountainfilm in Telluride. Because of the film, Dr. Rick Hodes won the Moving Mountains Prize in 2010 (which goes to the subject of the film, not the film itself).

“Mountainfilm is an extraordinary festival to be a part of, as it educates its audience about critical environmental, cultural and conservation issues, which are issues that impact the entire human race,” adds Susan. “I was very honored when my last documentary, ‘Making the Crooked Straight,’ won a Mountain Spirit Award, so when it came to introducing ‘Mission of Mermaids’ to the festival circuit, Mountainfilm was a top choice. The event resonates with the mission of hope and rejuvenation that I am presenting with this highly personal documentary.”

For a preview of “Mission of Mermaids,” watch the trailer.

Photo credits: Hannah with the Fish courtesy of David Warth,

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