Sailing a Sinking Sea

Directed by Olivia Wyatt

Sailing a Sinking Sea is a feature-length experimental documentary exploring the culture of the Moken people of Burma and Thailand. The Moken are seafaring people and one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in Asia. Wholly reliant upon the sea, their entire belief system, education, and economic and physical development revolve around water. Sailing a Sinking Sea illuminates the Moken lifestyle through recorded traditional music, folklore and conversations with the Moken people. Through intimate and dynamic cinematography and audio recordings, Sailing a Sinking Sea weaves a visual and aural tapestry of Moken mythologies and present-day practices.


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  • ★★★½ review by Michael Casey on Letterboxd

    Olivia Wyatt’s ethereal documentary captures a disappearing present in hopes of preserving the past. Living and diving with the Moken — a group of seafarers island hopping between Burma and Thailand — Wyatt gains access to the Moken’s daily lives, rituals, culture, history, mythology and music.

    Sailing a Sinking Sea is a living document of a dying people. The Moken’s way of life is disappearing rapidly due primarily to climate change, though Wyatt smartly does not lay it on the viewers too heavily. Instead, she allows a Moken to recount the story of the five apocalyptic waves that will come and wipe them out.

    Wyatt applies layer upon layer of visual texture and imagery on the viewer, making them painfully aware of what will be gone when the Moken leave this planet. This is documentary making by way of Terrence Malick, and it is effective. With no main protagonists to follow and no talking heads to assign the narration, Wyatt manages to capture a collective voice and a collected vision. The Moken may leave us, but thanks to Wyatt’s anthropology, they won’t disappear completely.

  • ★★★½ review by HollandFocus on Letterboxd

    Billed as an "experimental documentary", Sailing a Sinking Sea really isn't that experimental, but it does make for pretty absorbing viewing. A study of the Moken, a seafaring minority who live on the waters around Burma and Thailand, the film focuses on the connection these people have with the sea. For them, pretty much everything revolves around the water, and we're treated to a vast array of stunning shots and hypnotic tales detailing the lives and beliefs of these nomadic folks. It's engrossing stuff, although at times the film does have a rather soporific effect; the sounds of drums and lapping water and the sight of tropical seas are quite likely to challenge those who haven't had the requisite amount of sleep.

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