Q&A with director Peter Young – ‘The Last Ocean’

Peter Young, one of New Zealand’s leading nature cameramen, heads a conservationist case against the relentless fishing in the Antarctic Ross Sea in his documentary The Last Ocean. The movie is showing nationwide as part of this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival.

We asked Young a number of questions about his film and the issues it explores.

FLICKS: Hello from Flicks. How are you doing?

YOUNG: I’m still in the thick of it – you’d think after six years of working on this film I could have finished it a bit sooner than one week before it hits the big screen! I’m very tired but very excited. I can’t wait to see it on the big screen and the first time I’ll see all these pieces come together is on the opening night. It’s looking fantastic, I’m immensely proud of all the team.

What should people expect from The Last Ocean?

Expect to fall in love with one of the most special parts of planet Earth and then expect to be surprised and shocked when you see what New Zealand is doing down there.

What are you trying to convey with the film?

The film is about the race to protect Earth’s last untouched ocean from our insatiable appetite for fish. The film shows the courage of one man standing up for what he believes (US ecologist Dr Dave Ainley) and the power of many to create change. It’s a perspective piece not a balanced piece – but I do respect the position that others have on the issue – the fishing industry and the New Zealand Government – I just don’t agree in what they are doing.

Could you share your strongest memory from filming?

Christmas day at Cape Bird Adelie Penguin Colony. Snowing, hundredths of thousands of adelie penguins feeding their young. Noisy, smelly but utterly fascinating. As a cameraman it’s one of those places where you have to take a deep breath and a good look around before deciding exactly which one of the thousands of great shots you will actually take.

The Last Ocean
Like this one.

What first drew you to the issue of Ross Sea fishing?

It started with a knock at the door – out of the blue. I was a freelance documentary cameraman and a Colorado nature photographer John Weller turned up inviting me to join him on a trip to the Ross Sea. John had read a scientific paper written by Dave Ainley about the Ross Sea being our last untouched ocean and he wanted to film and photograph it. No money – just a free trip down to the Ross Sea. I said yes – for the simple reason that I had been there before and I had always wanted to return.

Twenty years prior I had worked in the Ross Sea for four months as a dish washer. I knew I wanted to return but I didn’t know how I would get there. John provided me with the answer. We’ve been working on The Last Ocean together alongside Dave Ainley every since.

What thoughts about Aotearoa came to mind when you are on Ross Sea or in Antarctica?

My first thoughts of Aotearoa weren’t pleasant ones. I thought “What the f*ck is New Zealand doing fishing down in this pristine environment?” New Zealand has a long running and strong connection to the place. Those thoughts and the questions that followed are what started my journey and what have ended up as this documentary.

If you could make a film about anyone living or dead who would it be?

The Fox Boy – the small Maori boy who was kidnapped by Europeans, educated and returned to fight for his people’s rights. New Zealand’s colony history is fascinating.

What was the last great film you saw?

When a City Falls. So much human spirt and anyone who’s lived in Christchurch for the past few years will know why.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Measure your success by how well you enjoy your peace.

What are you thinking about doing next?

Taking some time off… until the next knock at the door. I just can’t help myself.