The group also partnered with Time Warner Cable for the event, in honor of Time Warner Cable’s Indie Film Month, which Indiewire has been highlighting over the past several weeks (for more go here). The partnership involved a contest which resulted in the winner, Los Angeles resident Angie Melchiade, flying to New York for five days to help assist Zeman and Grenier prepare for their grand expedition. Her name will be included in the credits of the film and she received a $2,000 gift card to use on film equipment.
The Lonely Whale’s story has resonated with audiences, too. People seem to identify with his lonesomeness; they’ve shared news of him via social media, painted pictures, written poetry and songs and created memes. What does 52’s story say about us? “Animals and people alike need to have connection with their own species,” said Grenier. The calls of 52 have been recorded for years, but he has never encountered human beings in the flesh before—so what happens if the team eventually tracks him down? “Group hug,” joked Grenier. Actually, there are laws preventing much contact between people and marine life. “We’re gonna look to the scientists,” Grenier said, “because they can bring back important information to educate us, so we know how to do a better job at reducing ocean noise pollution.” The team will attempt to acoustically “tag” 52, so they can monitor and study his abnormalities.
The project has an additional, broader scope: to put a focus on ocean conservation and the health of marine wildlife, specifically the problem of ocean noise pollution. This form of pollution is one of the most harmful threats to marine mammals in existence, particularly whales. The causes are man-made: sonar blasts from military exercises, seismic air guns from fuel exploration and commercial ships crossing the seas. The growing total of human-caused noise in the ocean is detrimental to sound-sensitive creatures, who can suffer hearing damage when exposed to loud noises, in addition to other physical and psychological injury.
Funding a project like this one isn’t easy (nothing like this has ever been attempted before) and the Lonely Whale team have a Kickstarter page to raise money. “You would not believe how expensive it is to fund this expedition,” said Zeman. “The food, the gas, we’re talking about going really far out there in the ocean.” Eight to 12 crew members will be crammed onto a hundred-food boat, sailing hundreds of miles off the Pacific coast over the course of a month. “But I’ve never made a film that was easy,” Grenier said. “Even if the movie is bad, 5% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m humbled and in awe that it got done. It’s relentless pursuit that gets it done.
Could Whale 52 be happy on his own? That’s a very “human” and urban response, to assume the whale wants his space, said Zeman. “It’s not so much about whether the whale has human feelings—it’s about whether humans have human feelings!” Grenier added. “Do we care enough about what’s happening to whales, the oceans, marine mammals?”
Zeman and Grenier agree that seeing people connect to this story has been uniquely powerful. Ironically, people seem better able to connect with each other via the metaphor of the mysterious beast, who has experienced the most profound solitude of us all. Unbeknownst to 52, thousands have already heard his calls in Times Square and thousands more will read about him in the days to come. “Being in Times Square is interesting, because the film is about noise pollution,” said Zeman with a laugh. “Here we have this one lonely whale with a singular call in the middle of Times Square. It warms my heart.”