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IDFA 2020: Silence of the Tides

22 November 2020

Time, tide and the magic of Dutch light         Silence Of The Tides by Pieter-Rim de Kroon

Pieter-Rim de Kroon doesn't take half measures. When the veteran Dutch documentary maker starts a new project, he will throw himself into it with absolute, unswerving commitment. That is why he spent 16 months on the road, shooting in the most unforgiving conditions imaginable, while making Silence Of The Tides.

The film (world-premiering in the IDFA Competition for Dutch Documentary, produced by Windmill Film and supported by both the Netherlands Film Fund and the Production Incentive) is about the Wadden Sea. This is the largest wetlands and intertidal system in the world. It stretches from the northwest tip of the Netherlands to the west coast of Germany and the northern part of Denmark.

"I've had this fascination for years about this tidal process," the director explains of what pulled him into making the documentary in which he observes the different seasons on the Wadden, keeping a close look eye on the wildlife and the human beings drawn to the sea-shore.

De Kroon himself visited the Wadden Sea many times as a child. He also went back several times during his film career to work on different projects. He still goes there for family holidays.

Every six hours, he notes, the tides change from high water to low water. It's an immutable law of nature but the filmmaker couldn't help but ask himself why this happened. He saw the process as being akin to breathing - inhaling and exhaling. 

Life and death, day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter. Migrating birds, swarms of tourists who come and go. De Kroon could see the similarities between all of this activity and the rhythm of the tides, and he wanted his way of filming and editing to replicate the "breathing cycle" that he spent so long observing.

During his research for the film, de Kroon met a famous Dutch scientist, Vincent Icke, who is a Professor of Astrophysics at the Leiden Observatory. Icke told him that he had just finished a research project on Saturn's moon Titan and had observed the same tidal processes there. The big difference was "that we are not talking about water, as on planet Earth, but about fluid methane."

No, de Kroon is not religious but he's not an atheist either. "In the middle of nature, I truly believe there is some kind of unexplained magic in the cosmos and around us."

Viewers at special previews of the film have talked to the director about the near mystical experience of watching Silence Of The Tides. Given the effort it took to make the film, the director is happy to accept the compliment. "We were shooting for almost two years," he says. De Kroon describes himself as an outdoors man who loves to be out in nature. "You can give me three days in a studio but then I really have to go outside again," he jokes.

The documentary was shot with state of the art equipment, shot in 4K full frame format on prime lenses and Dolby Atmos. Like his award-winning documentary Dutch Light, this is intended as a big screen experience, and he went out of his way to make it in as cinematic a way as possible. "I developed a style for this film which I call radical observation - put the camera in a situation and don't mess with it, don't move it." He didn't want any handheld camerawork or tracking shots. His idea was to stick it on a tripod and to keep it stable. "The moment you start messing with the camera, you feel the presence of the camera," he warns.

Pictorially, the documentary is astonishing. Whether birds, seals or jelly fish, yoga teachers, country postmen, butchers or farmers, icy landscapes or underwater scenes the director gives every shot in his film both majesty and lyricism. There are no voice-overs and dialogue is kept to a minimum.

Ask why he included human characters alongside the animals and the director explains that he is fascinated by the relationship between humans and nature. "The people we choose, they are related in one way or another to their environment; they are related to the tidal processes."

Besides, he adds, of all the creatures he observed during the making of the documentary, the humans were by far the weirdest. "It's definitely not a nature film...the humans are the most fascinating specimens operating, living and acting in this area. We behave really strangely - much more strangely than all of the animals you could find!"

For further reading: 
-> SEE NL Magazine Online, November 2020 / IDFA Doc issue 
-> Line-Up Dutch Docs At IDFA 2020 
-> Watch: Showreel Dutch Documentaries IDFA 2020

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