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In Rising Seas, a Girl Learns to Swim

Jan 17, 2020 | 831 videos
Video by Guille Isa and Angello Faccini

Eight-year-old Dulce is afraid of water. But she has to get over it, her mother, Betty, insists—it’s time to learn how to swim. In their coastal Colombian village, this is an essential rite of passage; Iscuandé is dependent on harvesting piangua shellfish, a type of edible mussel that’s a delicacy in nearby Ecuador. The village’s cockle harvest has traditionally been the province of women, and it’s time for Dulce to contribute. Besides, her mother says, what will happen to Dulce when the ever-rising seawater drowns the village?


The short documentary Dulce, directed by Guille Isa and Angello Faccini, is a coming-of-age story told against the backdrop of climate change. Mangroves around the world serve as a carbon sink, and in places like coastal Colombia, they also help to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels by acting as a bulwark. When the documentary crew initially traveled to Iscuandé, they were on assignment by Conservation International to cover the threats to some 35,000 acres of mangrove forests in the area, which are being destroyed by development and unregulated logging. “No one had any idea we’d stumble on individuals as compelling as Dulce and Betty,” Darrell Hartman, one of the film’s producers, told me.


“The first time we saw Dulce, she was standing on the dock looking at us as we got closer in a boat,” Isa told me. “I thought to myself: Who is this girl? She had this presence—this deep look. We were immediately drawn to her and knew she [would become] our character.”


Isa and Faccini filmed Dulce as Betty taught her how to swim over the course of three emotional days. Faccini set up his camera a measured distance away from his subjects, enabling him to capture the kind of steady, composed shots that are atypical of documentaries.


“We were extremely careful about how we approached the scenes,” Faccini told me. “We tried to be as invisible as possible and let the performances find their own rhythm.”


“[Documentary] films are about relationships—about how comfortable the people you are shooting feel with you having a camera pointing at them without being judged,” Isa added. “It is about trust and respect.”


In many ways, Dulce is a microcosmic story about the great existential threat of climate change. Her fear of swimming mirrors the anxiety that’s being felt around the world, especially by younger people and those who live in and depend on fragile coastal ecosystems.

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.