The journey of ALBATROSS began in 2008 as a collaboration with my friend, activist/photographer Manuel Maqueda. Studying the newly-emerging issue of ocean plastic pollution, we learned of a stunning environmental tragedy taking place on a tiny atoll in the center of the vast North Pacific Ocean. We immediately began planning an expedition there, and on our first trip to Midway Island in September of 2009, we and our team photographed and filmed thousands of young albatrosses that lay dead on the ground, their stomachs filled with plastic. The experience was devastating, not only for what it meant for the suffering of the birds, but also for what it reflected back to us about the destructive power of our culture of mass consumption, and humanity’s damaged relationship with the living world.
On our second trip to Midway, the project’s focus began to evolve, as we met the live albatrosses singing and dancing by the hundreds of thousands all over the island. Returning to Midway a total of eight times over four years, we experienced the birds’ beauty, grace, and sentience more and more vividly with each trip. We learned to attune ourselves to their body language, so that we could film them up close without causing them anxiety. They allowed us to witness their most tender moments at astonishingly close range, as the mated pairs snuggled and built their nests together, their babies hatched from their eggs, and the fluffy chicks waited alone for their parents to return from their foraging trips to sea. The poetry of the albatross revealed itself layer by layer, as my team and I were gifted with intimate footage of every stage of their cycles of life, death, and birth.
Through this journey, I held to a principle of emergence that served as the creative foundation for the project. I wanted to experience the birds on their terms, imposing as few human judgments or preconceptions on them as possible. With this intention, I avoided scripting any aspect of the film in advance. The trips were approached as open-ended creative explorations, with no story or agenda in mind. Each day on the island, my team and I filmed and photographed whatever felt most interesting and beautiful, without judging our subjects’ relevance. Usually we focused on the albatrosses, and we also turned to different subjects: fairy terns, the sea, the forest, a passing storm, or the island’s omnipresent crumbling military infrastructure, never knowing whether that day’s work would be used in the final film. I saw my directorial role as being the steward of an empty vessel, into which a yet-unknown story would arise spontaneously. This approach was challenging for everyone, including the project’s financial supporters, who maintained intrepid patience with my non-linear and unpredictable process. Ultimately this philosophy allowed something to birth itself that could not have happened any other way.