In her wordless short film The Tide Keeper, Alyx Duncan makes a statement on longevity of trash and the comparative mortality of humans. It portrays a nightmare symbolic of the dangerous reality that humans face–one that humans have caused.
The film starts off with a shot of a plastic bag resting on a puddle of water on the rocks of the shore. An old seaman, played by the filmmaker’s father, Lee Stuart, is then seen picking up trash along the shoreline. He looks wistfully out at the sea, as if lamenting the pollution beyond his field of vision.
When the seaman goes to sleep that night, his dreams–or perhaps nightmares–seem to come to life. A miniature ship sails out of the darkness and into the moonlight on a sea of blankets. It sails down to the floor and out of the bedroom to meet other ships and even some airplanes. All the while, the old man sleeps, albeit a bit restlessly. It is a curious and charming scene, at least until the background music becomes more unsettling and ominous.
Slowly but unexpectedly, the bedsheets start to tangle up the old man, restraining him with the help of other items from his house such as rope, twine, and even a plastic bag seen from the first few seconds of the film. There are no spoken words, but the intended message is still clear: while we humans will eventually die and waste away, the things we leave behind will outlast us, polluting our world and speeding up our own demise.
The film is based on the life of Duncan’s father. Lee Stuart is an anthropologist and an environmentalist, concerned with ecology. This film speaks to his worries about the possible future: that the world we are destroying with pollution will eventually destroy mankind in return.
The film is profound, thought-provoking, captivating, and chilling. The music and lighting create an eerie yet moving ambiance, driving home the point of how unsettling this all should be, not just the film itself, but the message it is trying to send. It sparks a very necessary conversation about the state of the planet and the consequences that our actions now could have on future generations.
The puppetry used for moving the props–most of which which came from Stuart’s house–around looks phenomenal, albeit a bit choppy at times. It’s hard to believe that all of this was done with a minimal budget; it was mainly ran on support from Duncan’s family and crew. Duncan said in an interview with Vanessa McMahon that having a low budget and using items already lying around aligns with her father’s belief in minimal waste and low environmental impact.
The film is truly a masterpiece, deserving of the various awards it has won. In 2014 it won the International ShortWork Award at the Whistler Film Festival and the Best Animated Short at the Warsaw International Film Festival, and in 2015 it won an award for Best Film in the Show Me Shorts Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Award for Best Short Film at the Pacific Meridian International Film Festival of Asia Pacific Countries, and the Jury Award at the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival.