Sailing a Sinking Sea

With original music by the local experimental band Bitchin’ Bajas, this documentary looks at the Moken tribe, coastal fishermen of Burma and Thailand who, believing a vicious mermaid forced them to become nomads, hop around the Mergui Archipelago and live almost entirely off the sea. There are no talking head interviews, though testimonials from the Moken play over impressionistic images of their day-to-day life; the most mesmerizing sequences occur underwater, where fishermen swim with the same agility and grace as their prey. The way director Olivia Wyatt shoots scenes of domestic life and ceremonial ritual is reminiscent of Jean Rouch and Robert Gardner (who’s cited in the credits), but her mixture of 8mm film, consumer-grade video, and high-end digital formats challenges traditional ethnographic form. In Thai and Moken with subtitles.