Novo Amor shares stunning video for 'Birthplace' that sends a powerful message about our effect on the natural world

Superb cinematography and a performance by free diver Michael Board makes for emotional viewing

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Thursday 14 June 2018 09:52 BST

Welsh multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer Novo Amor has shared an absolutely stunning video for "Birthplace", which is the title track from his debut album.

The video was written and directed by Sil van der Woerd and Jorik Dozy, produced by Sean Lin and New Fronteir Pictures, with cinematography by Nihal Friedel.

Watch the video for the first time via The Independent (above).

The diver in the video is noted professional free diver Michael Board, who performed around 250 free dives to capture the footage, along with the crew who spent around 35 hours underwater in total.

Perhaps even more impressive is the 13-meter long model of the whale, which was made from plastic collected by school children, who received books in return for their donations.

It's an incredibly powerful and poignant message about the effect humans are having on the natural world; encouraging viewers to appreciate the beauty in the music and the video but also consider how their use of plastic is impacting the planet.

Read an extensive Q&A with the directors below:

What led to the idea of this ‘Birthplace’ video having the underlying message of highlighting plastic in our oceans?

We want to make films about stories that matter, especially when those in disadvantage can't speak for themselves. The pollution of our oceans is one of the most important stories of our time. Our oceans are under attack by a growing stream of plastic waste; a rapid growing tumor for which we are responsible. For a while, we've been exploring ways to make a video that touches on this topic. When we heard Ali's music the specific idea for this video came to us almost in a flash.

Is there anything within the song for you that naturally lent itself to this cause?

For us, the title 'Birthplace' says it all. Nature and the oceans are the heaven on earth that we've been given, where we come from. How will we treat it?

How did you devise the narrative for the video and is there anything else you want to say about the narrative, is there any way in which you want to expand on what’s said “on screen”?

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The story unfortunately tells itself. Because it's profitable, companies produce high quality plastics for single use consumption, because there is a lack of education, people throw the plastics away, when it rains, the plastics wash into the rivers who lead to the oceans, in the oceans it remains for hundreds of years. The plastics fall apart into smaller segments. Fish eat it, we eat the fish.

For our video, we focused on the underwater part only, starting with the heaven that unpolluted nature is. Michael, our freediver, represents humanity but also ocean life. He observes nature and co-exists in harmony with it. When we introduce the artificial element of plastic, Michael is overwhelmed, then hurt. Eventually he accepts his fate and ends up in the belly of the whale, which has become an ocean of waste by that point.

How did you come across the locations you’ve used for this shoot?

With our cinematographer, Nihal Friedel, we discussed his many dive experiences around Southeast Asia. Most of our team was also already in or around Indonesia and we started from there.

We filmed in 2 locations. The first was Amed, in Bali, which we chose because our production team found a group of bamboo builders able to build the whale, and Amed features relatively calm waters where we could film the whale in the ocean.

The second location was Komodo, where we filmed all the wildlife. Komodo was relatively close and offers some of the best reefs in the world thus providing the perfect setting for the pristine ocean we wanted to show in the opening of the video . It is also a site that has good chances of seeing turtles and manta rays.

How did you come to work with the people involved?

We feel that somehow it was all in the stars, really. One of Jorik's colleagues at work is underwater cinematographer Nihal Friedel who films wildlife and documentaries all over the world under the banner ‘Nautic Life’. Jorik also has a friend who is an instructor at Zen Freediving, a free diving school in Singapore, whose co-owner has close connections to freediver Michael Board, the lead in our video. Indonesian line producer Bayu Topan, whom we met on our previous video Terraform, also for Ali, knew an art director and group of bamboo builders in Bali, and they connected us to the dive school in Amed.

Is there anyone in particular who’s been instrumental in helping to get an accurate message across about the state of plastic in our oceans?

In a production like this, everyone is instrumental, but especially all the divers echoed a strong sentiment towards the message, as they are confronted with ocean waste every single day. But whoever we talked to, everyone felt the message of this video and it opened many doors. We got a boat, a truck and waste sponsored by different parties who simply wanted to support our message.

How did you come to work with the school children on the idea of exchanging plastic for books? Do you think any impact of this video will extend into their lives?

We felt it was very important that any plastic waste that we use to cover the whale was true waste. At first we tried to sort waste that washed to the shore, but this waste was already broken down into very small parts and they proved to be too small to cover an entire 13 meter whale.

We went to the dump, ordered trash and sorted it ourselves. Discussing the concept of our video with the truck driver who delivered the first load of trash, he told us about a school project in a small village, where the children pick waste in the forest and by the road, in exchange for books and pencils. When we learnt about this, we felt that this example perfectly tackled an important part of the problem: education. We visited the kids and encouraged their project.

In our conversation with the organisation Plastic Oceans, they suggested to include our video in their education package to be sent to school, to offer an alternative starting point for discussing the problem. We hope that through this, many kids become aware of their waste and the impact that it has on nature.

Who built the whale structure and how was the model devised? Can you share any more about the mechanics and the logistics of making this work underwater?

This will be well covered in our making of. First, we designed the whale in a 3d program after a real size humpback whale. We broke this model into 8 segments so that we could make the whale move underwater, and take it apart, move it into trucks, and assemble it in the ocean. Included in the design was a strong spine, that ran to the tip of the nose where we attached a steel cable. Two divers were pulling the cable with 2 underwater scooters.

We needed a lot of force to make the whale move. Inside the whale were 2 more divers who each controlled the flapping motion of one fin. We also equipped the design with two escape holes for the divers, and a mechanism to open the whale's mouth.

We brought the design to Dalbo, an art director on Bali, who moved a small army in a small village to build the whale (there are 25 villagers credited). The whale consisted of non-sinking materials; bamboo and plastic. The bamboo was freshly cut from the forest, and then split and modelled into many thin layers to form a strong structure. The bamboo segments were wrapped with sorted plastic, and covered with fishing nets to which we attached lots of plastic bags and waste which we sourced from the area.

The biggest challenges underwater were buoyancy and the current. Bamboo floats so we made the whale buoyant with plastic bottles that we filled with sand to bring it down in the water. Levelling the segments of the whale was a precise, time-consuming process as they whale preferred to either float or sink. Keeping it weightless in mid-water was a constant challenge.

Another issue was the current. We placed the whale 7m deep in the ocean, just on the edge of a slope down. When the current picked up, the whale, which by then had become a massive volume, was much harder to control. We had a major moment of panic on the first morning of filming, when the whale was taken for a swim, and got pulled down by a lower current and it simply disappeared from sight. Luckily, it stranded on a depth of 30m and we were able to recovered it.

Did you encounter any unconventional challenges with shooting underwater?

Apart from working with the whale, we faced some other challenges:

Our talent, freediver Michael Board, who is the #5 freediver in the world, faced many challenges. Normally he wears a streamlined wetsuit, fins, a mask, a nose clip and a snorkel. But here he had none of that. He had no fins, wore real clothes that soaked up water and that didn't provide any warmth. To get down at all Michael hid a belt with diving weights under the jeans. Michael couldn't wear a mask so he was practically blind underwater. Salt water was constantly stinging his eyes. In the footage we see the turtle or manta ray in great detail. Michael just saw a blurry shape, and often didn't know weather it was coming towards him or getting away from him.

The currents proved another challenge to the entire underwater team. In Komodo they would pick up rapidly and suddenly change direction. On some occasions we decided to just let the current take us and then have the boat collect us wherever we ended up.

On top of all that was the challenge of communication. Obviously it's not like on a normal set, where you can say to the actor or cinematographer, 'look up' or 'slower'. Once the divers go underwater, they stay there for about an hour each time. What we ended up doing was Jorik being underwater with the cinematographer communicating through signals and a waterproof writing board, and Sil snorkeling at the surface talking to Michael each time he came to the surface.

And then there was wildlife... which you can't plan. We spent several dives simply waiting for something to show up. Sometimes we got lucky, sometimes we just got cold.

What do you hope people take from watching this video? What impact do you hope that it has? Both in an immediate sense and in a wider sense too?

We hope that the viewer first falls in love with the beauty of the ocean, that they see that it is perfect. And then we hope to break their heart when we introduce the waste. We used recognisable products like a plastic bottle or a can that we all relate to, in hope that the viewer connects itself to the problem.

If anything, we hope that the viewer sees that what we're doing to our oceans is wrong, and hopefully the viewer becomes more aware of their part in this problem and gets inspired to make a change. To not accept that plastic grocery bags. To bring their own water bottle or cutlery.

To skip on that straw. To pick up some waste when on a hike. To recycle more. To inspire others and spread the word.

Birthplace is released on 19 October via AllPoints Records and can be pre-ordered here.

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