Until recently, as a result of overfishing, the people living on the southwest coast of Madagascar, known as the “Vezo” (which means: to live with the sea) were on the edge of losing their ability to survive and feed their families. The Vezo are semi-nomadic fishers who depend exclusively on the marine environment for their food, livelihood and cultural identity. Octopus is a major cash crop for the Vezo, but until recently stocks of octopus and fish were in precipitous decline due to overfishing.
In the short film, Vezo the 14 year old daughter of a Vezo family, Narcia, tells the story of their survival in the style of a fable. In simple and poetic terms she describes how things were before she was born, and then what happened afterwards. She begins: “Before I was born people used to say: go out with a boat and you will come back with a boat full of fish. Go to the reef and you will come back with all of the octopus you need.” She goes on to explain that when she was born villages were growing in size, families were getting bigger and there were more mouths to feed. As a result, the fish and octopus began to dwindle. Then scientists, who had heard of their plight, came to Madagascar and worked beside them. The Vezo learned how to rotate their fishing grounds, avoid hunting octopus for a season and how to plant seaweed which would not only become a crash crop for them but would supplement their livelihood, further relieving the pressure on fishing and octopus hunting.
Narcia’s story is told in live action footage filmed on location in Madagascar and also through the magic of sand animation. When she refers to the world beneath the sea, sand animation is used to express the beauty of this underworld as well as the dangers of overfishing. Above water, powerful live action images capture the Vezo fishing, the villages on the coastline, the sea, and Narcia looking straight into the camera as she tells her story.
Narcia’s family and community have learned to survive. But poverty and hunger threatens approximately 500 million people worldwide whose survival depends on small-scale fisheries. By presenting Narcia’s story as a simple fable, the solution to the family’s survival becomes an archetypal lesson that can be applied to other situations of poverty and hunger on coastlines throughout the world.
Sundance Institute, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Hilton Sustainability Award