New documentary takes a deep dive into the life of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau

Most of the kit used by Cousteau had to be invented handout (Photo Credit: COUSTEAU SOCIETY/AFP)

Most of the kit used by Cousteau had to be invented handout (Photo Credit: COUSTEAU SOCIETY/AFP)

to be a costume, Which hits theaters in the United States this Friday, traces the man’s extraordinary life through archive footage and interviews, and was compiled by double-Oscar nominee Liz Garbus.

“I grew up in Cousteau, and I grew up watching his shows … and my feeling was that I saw this hero from my childhood again, that there were aspects in his life that I didn’t know for sure, Garbus told AFP in Los Angeles.

Garbus sifted through hundreds of hours of footage – much of it never released to the public – to capture a taste of the underwater life.

“Cousteau was a filmmaker and because his imagery was so important, I wanted our audience of today to be immersed in that imagery,” she said.

Born in 1910, Cousteau never planned on becoming a diver. His initial focus was on the sky.

But at the age of 26, just after starting his training as a pilot at the French Naval Academy, a serious car accident left him unable to fly.

During his convocation, he was advised to take up spear fishing. It was a piece of advice that would change his outlook on life forever.

Calypso was a converted minesweeper (Photo Credits: AFP/FILE)

Calypso was a converted minesweeper (Photo Credits: AFP/FILE)

“As soon as I put my head under the water, I understood; I felt a shock: a vast and utterly virgin domain to explore,” he said.

That exploration required a more complex kit – a kit that didn’t exist. So Cousteau invented it.

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s “slightly crazy” sketches, he borrowed a regulator designed for car engines and, with engineer mile Gagnon, produced the self-contained diving suit that is the basis for those still in use today. .

“I didn’t want to pipe, I wanted to be completely independent”, he says.

After World War II, he conducted the first expedition on “Calypso”, a converted minesweeper that sailed for the Red Sea in 1951.

And wherever he went, his cameras were also there thanks to his diving suit and waterproof camera housing he developed.

The footage he brought back was the first glimpse many people had of the vast underwater world.

While Cousteau’s modern conception is that of a crusade environmentalist, that was a period in his life that came later.

Like countless contemporaries in the post-war years, Cousteau showed no real ecological awareness of using explosives to bring fish to the surface.

Cousteau's life was one of evolution;  From a future pilot to a diver to a filmmaker, to an environmental warrior (Photo Credits: Patrick Hertz/AFP)

Cousteau’s life was that of evolution; From a future pilot to a diver to a filmmaker, to an environmental warrior (Photo Credits: Patrick Hertz/AFP)

To finance “Calypso”, they also began prospecting for oil, discovering reserves in Abu Dhabi in the process.

“I think I was gullible… but I didn’t have a penny!”, he would later plead for environmental protection after his conversion.

‘Sea in trouble’

In the 1950s, Cousteau produced the silent world, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1956 and the Oscar for Best Documentary the following year.

Garbus says he was furious to see his films classified as “documentaries”, insisting that they were “real adventure films”.

Over the next decade, he left cinema to move to television with a series of documentaries on underwater life, the first of its kind.

He was never completely at peace with the medium, but he recognized that it had benefits – especially as his consciousness grew about the need to preserve the natural environment.

“While it’s an aesthetic sacrifice, it’s also a way to reach millions of people faster,” he said.

These “movies are no longer about cute little fish but about the future of mankind.”

Cousteau was the only non-politician in the official photographs of the 1992 Earth Summit Omar.  (Photo Credit: Torres/AFP/FILE)

Cousteau was the only non-politician in the official photographs of the 1992 Earth Summit Omar. (Photo Credit: Torres/AFP/FILE)

As a pioneer in the field of ecology, Cousteau was sounding the alarm to the US Congress in 1971 about the “sea in peril”.

By the late 1980s, he was telling anyone who would listen about the dangers of global warming – long before the mainstream woke up to the damage humanity was doing to the planet.

Such was his influence that at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, Cousteau was the only non-world leader in the official picture.

Says Garbus, “What Custeau was able to do is because of all the love that has been created over a few decades, to translate that love and respect into an important message … There is no one person today who has that power.”

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