The Life Oceanic with Dr. Till Dietsche

Till Dietsche is the curator of CineMare International Ocean Film Festival. Photo: Marco Erhardt

Dr. Till Dietsche is a man who does it all. Exploration, film, and the ocean are three of his passions in life, and he combines them in multiple forms. Hailing from Kiel, a harbor city in Northern Germany where he curates the CineMare International Ocean Film Festival, he now travels between there and Tainan, Taiwan, where he is a longtime resident. During his time on the Asian continent, Dietsche has become a PADI certified diving instructor, a university professor of both German and film, and a lifelong student of the oceans of the world. In the twenty years since first getting his dive certification in Thailand he has spent his time diving into and documenting the seas as a way to raise awareness and gain empathy for the ocean and the life within it.

In his words, “I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to live in a place that’s not by the ocean, nor do I intend to find out.”

Upon arrival in Thailand, he noted two important things that stood out in a life-changing way, “Christmas doesn’t need to be cold, and under the surface of the sea lies a world full of wonders.” These factors have kept him in warmer climates by the water ever since. That said, you hear from this writer enough, I’ll let him do the talking.

Deepblu: What are your favorite ways to experience the ocean?

Dr. Till Dietsche: Diving puts you in your place, which is not at the center of the universe. The increased pressure squeezes all unnecessary baggage out and concentrates you to the core of your existence. Diving is meditation, simply breathing underwater makes me happy.

One of my favorite moments is dropping in at a site without visual reference points, when in any direction it’s just endless blue.

I’m certified PADI instructor. The amount of marine live I’ve witnessed disappear from the oceans in my lifetime is mind boggling. As a diver and as an ocean film festival curator, I feel I’m in the fortunate position to channel my energy towards creating awareness for the state of our oceans.

What was your first experience working in film? 

I made my first short film in university. The internet was still a bit in its infancy, so all the platforms we have today didn’t quite exist yet. When I couldn’t get the short film into any of the bigger film festivals, a friend and me decided to create our own film festival, which we called the “Pub Short Film Festival Kiel”, because we ran it at our local pub. It was quite a success, people queued up outside in the snow, inside it was so packed there was no more room to stand.

The festival ran infrequently for about 10 years, depending on when I was back in Kiel. Organizing film events is something I really enjoy. Six years ago some friends and I started the 39 Hour Short Film Contestival, which created a bit of an impact in the filmmaking scene here in Taiwan.

How do you stay involved? 

The 39 Hour Short Film Contestival had been created as a means to bring together filmmakers from all over Taiwan and beyond, irrespective of their nationality, gender, age, or background. It attracted a fair mix of students and some industry professionals who actually make a living in film.

It has turned first-timers into filmmakers, and reignited the passion in some who were on the brink of giving up on film. New filmmaking crews were formed, and friendships were made. I personally have met some amazing people, with some of whom I’ve since spent long days on remote film sets in the cold and the rain and the mud, as well as really nice settings of course.

Yet, I guess it’s always the more difficult ones that stay with you for a lifetime. The Contestival has also led to the founding of the Cinemaformosa International Filmmakers’ Cinema and Research Association Taiwan.

You’re a professor in Tainan, Taiwan. What brought you there? What subjects do you teach?

Originally curiosity brought me to Taiwan, and the idea of learning a language fundamentally different from mine. To me and many of my fellow immigrants, it’s not so much what brings you here, but what keeps you here, which is ultimately the hospitality of the Taiwanese people.

When I came back to Taiwan a little more than 10 years ago on a research trip for my PhD thesis on identity in contemporary Taiwanese cinema, one of the first people I met was Liao Pen-jung, the cinematographer of Tsai Ming-liang, one of my research topics. Since then I’ve taught German as well as film history and aesthetics at various universities around Taiwan. Currently I teach documentary filmmaking for science projects at my alma mater, the University of Kiel.

What led to the creation of CineMare International Ocean Film Festival?

People who are passionate about something tend to gravitate towards one another. Most of my friends are either ocean people or film people, some of them both. The CineMare International Ocean Film Festival was established in Kiel in 2016. It is the child of many parents, one of them is Daniel Opitz, the founder of the Ocean Mind Foundation.

CineMare wants to excite the people for our oceans and further their connection with the sea. We believe that understanding the value of our mostly blue planet is the first step to protecting it. Only as we appreciate our mostly blue planet, will we truly start taking action towards its conservation.

The film festival’s main aim is to create a joint platform for ocean conservation, marine research, art, and water sports through the medium of film. We feel that we have struck a nerve with the people as well as the city. The Lord Mayor of Kiel has been the festival’s patron since day one. The 3rd CineMare International Ocean Film Festival Kiel will be held from October 24-28, 2018.

Do you participate in other film festivals?

Filmmakers from all over the world send us their films through filmfreeway.com/CineMare. In addition, my colleagues and I actively look for films at other festivals. CineMare is a member of the Green Film Network, the international body of film festivals dedicated to the environment and conservationism. Among the network we share thoughts, ideas, and new trends, as well as recommend films to one another. This summer I will have the honor of joining the jury at the 7th Deauville Green Awards in France this year.

CineMare has recently formed a partnership with the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, where we presented award winning ocean films from Germany on March 9. In October the festival’s director Ana Blanco will travel to Kiel for a screening of films from the IOFF.

What are some of the more peculiar subjects you’ve seen in films over the years?

As a film scholar, jury member, and curator, I watch a lot of films every year. What interests me most are new aspects or perspectives to a topic, an angle from which I haven’t looked before. I have the greatest respect for dedication, persistence, and skill.

Lionfish – New Pirates of the Caribbean, by underwater cinematographer Ulf Marquardt was in part shot at 3000 frames per second and won the audience choice award at CineMare last year. The festival opened with Bon Voyage by Marc Wilkins, a fiction film on a Swiss couple sailing from Europe to Africa. En route they discover a shipwreck full of refugees, too many to fit onto their boat. They are faced with a Catch-22, with no morally sound way out. The dilemma and inevitable human disaster left a lasting impression on our audience.

What issues would you like to see getting better exposure in film?

I think films about the ocean are slowly getting the exposure they deserve. One of our core tasks as an ocean film festival is creating empathy. If an audience can’t feel the message, they won’t get involved. One of the cinemas at the CineMare International Ocean Film Festival Kiel is a planetarium, where we screen 360° Fulldome films in 3D. Immersive media is finally seeing a breakthrough. More and more aquariums are slowly moving away from the concept of captive marine mammals on display towards virtual domes in which the audience can, for example, experience a three-dimensional humpback whale at arm’s length – an adventure that changes you forever. One of the pioneers in this field is our partner the Ocean Mind Foundation.

Is there anything else you’d like to share before we go?

While movies themselves may not be able to change the world, people who watch movies definitely can! That belief is what keeps us at CineMare going. Sometimes getting involved may seem too overwhelming, too big a task for a single person – yet it’s not. Change is not about that one heroic last battle, it’s about changing behavior patterns. The plastic bag that I don’t use today will not strangle a sea turtle tomorrow. The plastic straw that I don’t use today will not land in the stomach of a seabird tomorrow.

Join us! Get involved! You are not alone!

Thanks for talking to us!

Again, if you’d like to get involved with the experience of the CineMare International Ocean Film Festival, click here! 

  • Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor