Posted: 05/17/2008


Under the Sea with Al Giddings


by Jef Burnham

Premieres nationwide June 2008 on PBS (check your local listings).

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This documentary chronicles the career of Emmy-winning, underwater cinematographer Al Giddings. From his meager beginnings being paid $35 for a picture of three fish over a rock, Giddings has become one of the most famous, innovative and influential of all underwater cinematographers.

Before underwater cameras were available, Giddings invented and constructed his own underwater cameras, creating intricate casings for existing above-water cameras. His impact on the underwater world and its studies certainly didn’t end there. Eventually, his footage introduced scientists to a community of sea life that survives not from the heat of the sun, but from geothermal emissions from the ocean floor. He even built a relationship with Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, in order to pave the way for important cancer research involving sea sponges.

There are so many things that come to mind when watching Giddings’ footage, but you would only think I was exaggerating or using clich? phrases for lack of imagination. The narrator says it best, “To say that Al Giddings’ underwater images are stunning would be quite an understatement.” His camerawork flows beautifully alongside the sea life as though he were a fish himself. It is no surprise that he appears to be at home in the sea, as it is estimated that he has spent more time underwater than anyone else.

Giddings’ work gained him a fast reputation and it wasn’t long before he was off to Hollywood. Ultimately, a program he did on the Titanic for 60 Minutes inspired James Cameron to make his blockbuster film, which he worked on with Giddings (it was, in fact, their second collaboration).

This is just a tiny glimpse into what is covered in the documentary. Giddings has had an extraordinary career and his work in natural history photography really must be seen, especially some incredible footage he took of the gathering of 2.4 million jellyfish.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.

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