Wild and Scenic Film Festival - A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean is an epic global adventure following a documentary filmmaker and a world record free-diver as they travel the earth discovering the shocking impact plastic is having on our oceans and the marine animals that live there. They investigate how our addiction to plastic is impacting the food chain and how that is effecting every one of us through new and developing human health problems. The expedition leads the two adventurers to unusual scientific discoveries, heart-breaking truths and important solutions to one of the biggest problems confronting mankind.

Interview with Writer/Director Craig Leeson


Congratulations! Why did you make your film?

The film is the brain child of producer Jo Ruxton and executive producer Sonjia Norman. They came to me in 2010 with concerns about reported vast amounts of plastic sailors were finding in the North Pacific Gyre. Because of my deep interest in the oceans and my documentaries on ocean topics they asked me to look at beaches, wind lines, surfing spots, diving locations and other oceans regions for plastic and see what I could find. Up to that point, I hadn’t noticed anything. Plastic was such a part of my life it had become invisible. But once I started looking for it, it was everywhere. From large pieces to micro plastics. There wasn’t a beach, ocean, dive spot, rock pool or oceans location which didn’t contain plastic.

I realised that if someone like myself, who uses the ocean every day for work and leisure, didn’t realise what a problem this was, then how could anybody else. When Jo returned from an expedition to the North Pacific Gyre with scientific results estimating 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean, I knew we had a problem. We questioned what was happening in the other four gyres on the planet. No one could tells us. There was very little science that explained how bad the situation was, what effects it was having on marine life and how that affected our food chain. So, we decided to take a very large risk and go and find out for ourselves. Our first was a passion shoot for me. I had wanted to film blue whales since I was a child and document their movements. We had an opportunity to do this in Sri Lanka. When we finally found the whales, we also found a large floating slick of plastic where they were feeding. For me, that was all I needed to begin the quest.

A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean

Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?

The film is an issues-based film, but I wanted to appeal to a wide audience so the idea was to take the audience on a global adventure, to film whales, dolphins, sea turtles, to see people and cultures on tiny islands in the pacific ocean, to peer in to the lives of scientists, fishermen, free divers and the like. We filmed in 20 locations around the planet in four years. The film is basically a series of expeditions linked together. On the way we document the problem of our plastic existence and we demonstrate the effect it’s having on marine life; how micro plastics are being eaten by plankton and getting in to the base of our food chain; how plastic attracts toxins in the ocean which release in to fish and bio accumulate passing up the food chain till it reaches us. And the human health consequences of this.

Act three is devoted to looking at solutions so people understand that as individuals there is a great deal they can do to reverse the 8 million tonnes of plastic that enter our oceans every year. The advanced screenings of the film have had a profound effect on our audiences with many making immediate lifestyle changes. I hope this carries through to all who see the film.

How do personal and universal themes work in your film?

They are very much inter-related. I have a personal interest in documenting whales. In the film, when I find the blue whales I also find this large slick of plastic and I wonder how this could be affecting these filter feeders - animals that cannot tell the difference between krill and plastic. Likewise with free diver Tanya Streeter. Her love of the ocean means she wants to give back, to protect it because ultimately a healthy ocean means her children will have a future. We take a look at villagers in Fiji burning plastic to cook food; people in Tuvalu - an island being swamped by climate change - who discovered plastic in 1978 and are being consumed by it. We look at scientists studying seabirds, rescuing turtles, investigating fish: all have a personal story to tell that contributes to an overall picture. A picture that is shocking. And then we look at how this is affecting populations around the world. We now know that plastic causes all sorts of human health issues. These are becoming critical in many places. 

A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean

How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?

Documentaries are very difficult to script out perfectly before you begin shooting, particularly when you are working with elements such as animals, seasons, weather. We had a very comprehensive script, but we also didn’t really know what we’d find. We knew what to look for though. Some shoots, the animals didn’t turn up and we had to improvise. We filmed in many extreme locations and some of those we experienced extreme weather - In Tuvalu for instance we were stranded for ten days because of a massive cyclone that approached the island, just missed it but hit Fiji. We ended up with such incredible footage it became difficult to edit the film down. Many sequences that I personally loved didn’t make the final cut because we just didn’t have the room for them in 100 minute feature. I hope we can utilise these sequences in other projects.

What type of feedback have you received so far?

I always expect very subjective opinions to the films I make, because everyone is different and has a different view of the world. But I have not yet received one negative comment about the film. We have had incredible reviews by the media, from science journals like the Lancet to the New York Times, to Variety. And in their reviews they touch on the importance of the science, the importance of the adventure and the need for solutions to provide people with hope - all elements I was determined to inject in to the film to open it to as wide an audience as possible to produce the biggest effect. And at an audience level, we’ve all had people come up to us and thank us for changing their lives. Many have said they went straight home and cleaned their homes of plastic.

One woman who worked in PR said it almost caused her a divorce because her husband couldn’t understand why she had become so obsessed with ridding her life of plastic. We’ve had invitations to present at the Smithsonian Institute and at John Kerry’s One Ocean conference. We’ve presented at science institutions, schools, and corporations around the planet. We have support from major banks who want to take the message to their clients and even from large beverage and bottling companies looking for alternatives to their plastic packaging. I am constantly amazed at the reach of the film.

A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean

Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?

I don’t think the feedback has surprised me because I felt so profoundly moved by what I’d seen that I knew if I could capture that and present it to others they would experience what I did. We have been duped by the concept that the most durable product ever made is disposable. It isn’t. And that makes me angry. I see that anger in the audience. What has surprised me is the range of the feedback, from corporations to banks to governments to school children to remote village fishermen on islands off Indonesia. Everyone enjoys the film, feels moved by it and feels empowered to act. And that’s what we set out to do.

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?

As Dr Sylvia Earle says: “If you don’t know you can’t care, but if you do know you can act.” I want as many people as possible to see the film to understand the problem and how it affects their future and more importantly the future of our children. I think this is one of the most pressing environmental issues confronting humans right now. If we don’t reverse our plastic addiction we will kill the resources we rely on for our existence.

Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?

Everyone of those people you mention. As I mentioned, if I didn’t know about this problem before I started this project I could hardly expect somebody who isn’t immersed in ocean activity to know about it. So, we have to create awareness first and foremost and then we need to change government policy and legislation on how we use plastic. It is a toxic substance and needs to be recognised as such. That means we need the film distributed as widely as possible to get as many eyeballs as possible. The film cost a lot of money to produce and the Foundation set up to continue the work of the film needs funds to market the film and to continue its global education and science campaigns. We need funds to continue this work and to share the results for everyone’s benefit.

What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?

I want to start an entirely new discussion on how we treat the ecosystem we rely on for our survival. The earth is largely a blue place. The oceans provide us with most of our protein, our medicines, our oxygen and our water. Without healthy oceans we will perish very quickly. We need to recognise this and start preserving food stocks, create marine parks where other species can repopulate, stop toxic pollutants from entering the ocean and our food chain and understand that some assets are beyond monetary value. We are the only species that knowingly pollutes its own food source. Other animals work towards keeping the ecosystems they live in healthy. Humans however act like passengers. The reality is the earth is an island just like Tuvalu. We have no where else to go.

A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?

A recent study by the Centre for Disease Control in the US found that over 92 percent of Americans have plastic chemicals and toxins associated with those plastics in their bodies and their children aged from 6 to 11 have twice as much. This is causing all sorts of endocrine disruptive disorders. Do we really want our kids starting their lives with a toxic download like this?

What are the key creatives developing or working on now?

I’m working with several key producers on presenting a new TV series on big global issues and the solutions to solving those issues. I’m also looking at a documentary idea investigating climate change and how it’s affecting mountains and extreme environments.


Interview: January 2017


 We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us?  More info: Carmela


A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean is an epic global adventure following a documentary filmmaker and a world record free-diver as they travel the earth discovering the shocking impact plastic is having on our oceans and the marine animals that live there. They investigate how our addiction to plastic is impacting the food chain and how that is effecting every one of us through new and developing human health problems. The expedition leads the two adventurers to unusual scientific discoveries, heart-breaking truths and important solutions to one of the biggest problems confronting mankind.

Length:  99 minutes

Director:   Craig Leeson

Producer: Jo Ruxton, Adam Leipzig

Writer:  Craig Leeson

About the writer, director and producer:
Craig Leeson - Journalist and Filmmaker,  Craig is the fourth generation in his family to work in the media business. He began his career in newspapers before moving to radio and television, now CEO of Leeson Media International.

Adam Leipzig -  CEO of Entertainment Media Partners, an American film and theatre producer, film executive and author. He supervised such films as March of the Penguins, Dead Poets Society and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Jo Ruxton - Advocate for marine conservation, worked for WWF in Asia before joining the BBC to work on underwater wildlife films before deciding to leave the BBC and make 'A Plastic Ocean'.

Key cast:   Craig Leeson, Tanya Streeter

Funders:  Principal Funders,  Adessium Foundation, Hemera Foundation, Duales System Deutschland

Made in association with:  Plastic Oceans Foundation

Where can I see it in the next month?  

Information on our website, theatrical screenings and download information

A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean