Filmmaker Soraya Simi Talks To ASA About Where The Water Takes Us

Soraya Simi is an ocean-minded filmmaker, sailor, and environmentalist. Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, she spent her days exploring the desert, fostering her love for the outdoors from an early age. Now in her final semester at USC’s film school in Los Angeles, Soraya has combined her passion for storytelling with her desire to be close to the ocean, bringing awareness to and protecting the environment through film. Simi is currently finishing up a documentary titled, Where The Water Takes Us, that follows a group of college students on a sailing journey in the Caribbean.

Where the Water Takes Us is a documentary by Soraya Simi that follows the transformation that 20 college students undergo while embarking on a sailing adventure in the Caribbean aboard the Brigantine Corwith Cramer. They were at sea for 40 days, sailing from San Juan to Key West while visiting the USVI, The Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman in-between, conducting ocean and climate change research throughout.

Interview with Filmmaker Soraya Simi

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ASA: Your work suggests that you have a love affair with the ocean, what responsibility have you taken on to help protect the world ocean?
Soraya Simi

Soraya Simi: I intend on devoting my career to making films that illuminate important issues, tell compelling human stories, and hopefully, inspire change. I love capturing images of the ocean and natural world that induce awe and appreciation so that people can see why it matters to protect it.

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ASA: How does sailing play a role in your story?
Soraya Simi

Soraya Simi: Where the Water Takes Us follows me and 19 other undergrad students living on the Brigantine Corwith Cramer for 40 days conducting ocean and climate change research while sailing from San Juan to Key West.

We pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zones and stepped off as different people than the ones who first boarded. This happened in a myriad of ways: from recognition of our own capabilities and seeing what we could handle, to connecting with the shipboard community and working toward a larger purpose, to seeing the impacts first hand of climate change and understanding how urgent this issue is.

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ASA: Would you say that you fell in love with sailing during this journey?
Soraya Simi
Soraya Simi: Definitely. I was already in love with the ocean, and though it wasn’t my first time sailing, it reinforced how it’s such a unique way to interact with the sea and with yourself. It’s a really special thing to have the opportunity to travel by boat and be propelled by wind and water to get to where you want to go. Talk about a good way to reduce carbon emissions!
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ASA: You were on a working research vessel, but were their fun days at sea?
Soraya Simi
Soraya Simi: I’ve never laughed so hard in my life as I did on the boat. After everyone’s safety is made the first priority, then the absurdity of situations (like, oh I don’t know, maybe the whole premise of allowing 20 inexperienced college students to run a 134′ brigantine) is utterly hilarious. So much goes wrong. So many of us couldn’t believe we voluntarily signed up to do this. But once we overcame a steep learning curve, the challenge of life at sea was definitely part of the enjoyment. And, of course, there’s just so much undeniable magic at sea. We sailed with a big pod of humpbacks trailing our vessel as were left Samana Bay, and the baby played with our taffrail log for almost a mile. We showered with a saltwater hose on the deck while trying to memorize constellations overhead. We saw green flashes and shooting stars and phytoplankton sparkling against the ship as the bow sliced through the waves. We did swim calls in the deep ocean, in the clearest and bluest water I’ve ever seen. There was so much fun, so much magic, so much of everything. There is just nothing like being at sea.
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ASA: How does the next generation make a difference?
Soraya Simi

Soraya Simi: I don’t think my generation really has a choice. We either have a planet we can inhabit, with fresh water and food and land and clean air to breathe, or we don’t. It’s really that simple and something no one can ignore or be complacent about. My generation, whether we want to or not, has to be responsible for making a difference.

At an individual level, we need to carefully examine our own consumption and not make any excuses about reducing our negative impact. It’s easy to get caught up in the big picture: to feel disheartened by the larger powers that be that are destroying our planet at an accelerated pace, which is so out of our daily control.

Personally, I try to focus on what I can control daily. I try to always find new ways to cut down on my plastic consumption, to not use products with harsh chemicals, and to pick up trash when I see it. These are small impacts, but impacts nonetheless. If our individual contributions blossom into a communal or generational movement, then that goes from something small to something very, very big.

We just need to really push ourselves and not tolerate excuses.

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ASA: What did you learn while sailing with 19 other undergraduates that you would have never expected?
Soraya Simi
Soraya Simi: There is no such thing as mindless time at sea. Every waking moment, you’re doing something: sailing the vessel, conducting research, eating, sleeping – the deepest sleep of your life – or just sitting quietly and watching the waves crash against the bow. Life at sea is exhausting because you’re constantly moving, but everything you do is rich with purpose. None of us wanted to re-connect to our phones once we got to Key West, partially because it was daunting having to face explaining what we’d been through to “land people” (as our captain calls them), but also because none of us wanted to go back to wasting time in front of screens. We felt so much more connected to ourselves and each other without those distractions.
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ASA: What is the role of the everyday sailor when it comes to protecting our oceans?
Soraya Simi
Soraya Simi: As people intimately involved with the ocean, the wind, the tides, the weather, we should be the first ones to notice change. It is our responsibility as people deriving pleasure from these places to take care of them. We should document change as we see it, not be shy about speaking up on what we don’t like and what we would like to see change, and, most importantly, not wait for anyone’s permission to take the first step. Pick up floating debris or trash. Cut plastic out of your life as much as you can. Reduce how much seafood you eat. Introduce young people to sailing. Get someone else to fall in love with it. If the ocean has given you so much, what can you do in return?
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ASA: Are you optimistic about how much you can do to raise awareness about the health of the ocean?
Soraya Simi

Soraya Simi: I am optimistic about the power of “awe”. Think of the last time something really swept you away. Was it a view? A song? The way something tasted? Well, I get that feeling every time I’m near water. It’s visceral and inexplicable. As an artist, what I try to communicate first and foremost is the way I feel about the space around me. I strongly believe that stories told the right way can have the power to inspire audiences and offer them a reason to care. If you can connect on an emotional level, then you’ve hit on something core to our universal identity, and can then build on that shared value together.

But the trick is to first make people feel something.

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