And the Sea Took Us

And the Sea Took Us. Marwella is a tiny fishing community on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, and there's nothing very special about it. It is only one of the hundreds of villages destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunamis of December 26, 2004. On that day, the town lost all of its industry, most of its buildings, and a quarter of its population. Outside help was needed. That's why William Prosser was able to make his movie. And the Sea Took Us was not supposed be a real documentary. Prosser is a surrealist painter from California who just happened to volunteer as a relief worker, and one gets the impression he brought his video equipment to Sri Lanka on a whim. It wasn't until Prosser got back to the States that a friend told him he had the bones of a decent feature film. His friend was right. Although the amateur origins of And the Sea Took Us are obvious throughout, they help a lot more than they hurt. Devoid of flourish or flash, the movie allows its subjects room to breathe and speak for themselves. Even Michelle Phillips' gorgeous narration — the only overtly professional part of the production — is respectfully reserved, taking a back seat to the rough-and-tumble images captured by Prosser's camera. And the camera captured some pretty incredible things. American media outlets did no justice to the grievous wounds inflicted by the tsunamis, but they are seen very plainly in And the Sea Took Us. They're shocking, but Prosser's movie isn't especially sad. Rather, the film is cautiously optimistic, capturing the rising spirits of the people in and around Marwella as they work with friendly strangers to put their lives back together. It's pretty rare to see such unabashed goodness on film — hospitals getting reconstructed, the fishing industry being restored, people smiling and laughing and being decent to one another. One could gripe that the images of kind Westerners helping the poor natives smack of noblesse oblige, but that would be cynical. The people of Marwella are anything but. (Sunday, November 12, 3:15 p.m., Cinema Paradiso; 65 minutes.)

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