Drowning in Plastic Puts Pollution Crisis in Focus

Drowning in Plastic director Tom Watt-Smith and Maria Ishak, VP of sales for North America at all3media international, talk to TV Real about the documentary that examines the epidemic of plastic-waste pollution in the Earth’s waters.

Plastic is one of those everyday materials that people may think little about while using, but the ramifications of its widespread usage (and slapdash disposal) are becoming hard to ignore. The documentary Drowning in Plastic, produced by Raw TV for BBC One and sold by all3media international, brings this issue to the forefront.

Drowning in Plastic was inspired by the BBC series Blue Planet II, which highlighted the mounting issue of plastics in our oceans. “The team at Raw TV worked with the BBC to create a 90-minute film that would further investigate the devastating effect of plastic on marine life around the world and the solutions that might avert this environmental disaster,” explains Watt-Smith.

“The scale and ambition of the project were enormous,” he continues. “To tell the true story of plastic in our ocean we had to follow the ‘marine plastic superhighways’ around the world—from the Arctic to Indonesia, Australia to the U.S. and Europe. In each location, plastic takes a different form, marine life is affected in different ways and solutions are unique to the region. To film in ***Image***remote locations with majestic wild animals needed extra investment from all3media and China Global Television Network (CGTN).”

In late January, all3media international struck a deal with CGTN for the worldwide premiere rights for the doc outside of the U.K. CGTN, a co-producer alongside BBC One, will air Drowning in Plastic as part of its news and current affairs Big Story strand in more than 100 markets across Asia, Africa, the U.S., Latin America and Europe.

“Our partnership with CGTN was an important one for a number of reasons,” explains all3media international’s Ishak. “First and foremost, we wanted to ensure the story had as wide a reach as possible; being a global network, CGTN was the perfect one-stop shop. Furthermore, the deal itself is non-exclusive, and following the premiere on their network, all3media international will have the opportunity of selling it into individual territories, further increasing distribution and viewership on this important and timely matter. Secondly, through their financial support, we were able to complete the production at the ambitious level that is needed for such a documentary, which was vital in being able to deliver a show that clearly highlighted the global issue of plastic pollution.”

Wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin fronts the documentary, revealing the full-scale impact this pollution has already had, and exploring ways the environmental disaster might be averted and whether science can offer a solution.

“In comparison to other environmental disasters like climate change, ocean plastic research is in its infancy,” says Watt-Smith. “There is just a small band of very dedicated and inspirational scientists leading the charge. Dr. Jennifer Lavers has been studying flesh-footed shearwater birds on a tiny island in Tasman. These birds, by weight, eat more plastic than any other animal living on or in the ocean. Dr. Amy Lusher works in the Arctic trying to discover how far plastic has traveled up the marine food chain by analyzing the stomach contents of tiny plankton as well as the poo of massive apex predators like walruses.”

There is also a growing number of young engineers and inventors looking for solutions to the crisis, he adds. “David Christian from Jakarta has devised an ingenious alternative to plastic made from seaweed, while Boyan Slat has built a hugely ambitious ‘Ocean Cleanup’ system, the world’s longest floating man-made object that he hopes will collect thousands of tons of plastic already floating in our seas.

“Over nine months of filming, wildlife biologist and presenter Liz Bonnin met these experts (and more) on a global travelogue that took her to some of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth,” Watt-Smith says.

While the message of conservation at the heart of the doc is an important one and the findings can feel rather devastating, the filmmakers were careful to present the topic in a way that was compelling and digestible for the everyday viewer. To accomplish this, Watt-Smith says it was “vital to get the right mix of stunning marine life in unique locations, shocking images of plastic waste and inspirational characters. It was also key not to ‘preach’ to or overwhelm the audience with heavy science (a turn-off on both counts). The aim was to get a balance of hard-hitting scenes as well as solutions so the viewers are not left feeling ‘all is lost’ after 90 minutes.”