Unexplored – The story and challenges behind the dive
By Rannva Jormundsson
Tech diver and fourth element account manager
There are two types of people who watch films – those who “just” watch it and get submerged (pun intended), and then the ones who think about the bigger picture – how it came about and how it was made.
I am the type person who watches and immerses myself in the story – which is also why I never watch horror films. I never wondered about the challenges and trials of getting a film put together… until I was in one.
I have been involved in some film making before, but this has been the first ever project where I have been on screen “talent” and then it’s in the area I love the most – diving.
Besides the obvious worry – am I good enough for this? – I was also SUPER excited about being part of a project like this. The chance to be an ambassador for cave diving and to encourage more women to become tech divers was too good to miss, and on a personal level I was going to be diving with my favourite dive buddy Maria Bollerup in caves in Mexico. By the end, I would end up with a film that I can scare my mum with and show my grandkids one day. Vain, I know – but come on… it’s pretty cool to have one of your adventures on film!
But since I have never done a project like this, I had no clue what to expect. I knew we would be filming for three days and have an extra spare day… and we would be cave diving!
Our director, videographer and cave-diver extraordinaire Natalie Gibb owns and runs her own dive shop on the Yucatan Peninsula called Under the Jungle, where she has been training other cave divers, taking people cave diving and even finding new caves for the last 10+ years. Natalie had been location scouting before we arrived and had found the perfect cave. For safety reasons, we would not be diving a cave that had never been dived before, but it needed to be relatively unknown and definitely one that had not been explored by myself or Maria.
Tortuga cave was picked because it had a lot of variety in terms of beautiful decorations in the fresh water part, an amazing halocline along with some beautiful tunnels in the salt water part; it was an easy cave to dive and to navigate; it was quiet and we were never disturbed by other divers; and it had a bad-ass entry.
Natalie gave us a map of the cave, as she had laminated each of the shots she wanted to do on each dive so she could show us mid-dive where the next part was going to be. These proved essential, as Muppet 1 and 2 (me and Maria) kept forgetting what we had to do next, as we just very having the time of our lives, swimming around in a beautiful, lit up cave.
All we really had to do was to follow Natalie. When she had found the spot she wanted to shoot, she placed Start and Stop markers on the line, and then Maria and I just had to swim in between these two markers, enjoy the view and try to do pretty fin kicks.
Organisation was key and Natalie started the shoots at the furthest part of the cave away from the entrance, and then we worked our way back out – thus minimising deco requirements and distance to swim back out. This might be obvious to regular “actors” but to newbies like us, it was a stroke of genius!
Natalie also ensured that on the first day, the distance into the cave wasn’t too far. This gave us a day to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings (and each other!), and then slowly build up the distances and the depths over the next dives and days.
We were joined by “The Sun” – light man, Rory O’Keefe, who literally lit up the entire system! It was just mind-blowing – I have never dived a cave that was lit up like this, and you never imagined how big and decorated some of these big rooms are.
We had two more people on this project that we could not have done without – the first was our wonderful safety diver Jan Schmid, who was always lurking in the corner and looking out for us, and always seemed to appear out of nowhere when needed – either for help or entertainment. And then there was the invaluable Hector, who helped us with all our tanks and kit to and from the dive site (as well as in-water snacks) and he made sure everything went smoothly and we had everything we needed.
Having a rebreather for a shoot like this was really great, as Maria and I could really take in all the views and have a bit of a chat and a sing, whilst Natalia and team put up lights for us and did all the prep. Not sure they appreciated mine and Maria’s rendition of The Beach Boys ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ but they were very polite about it!
Mid-filming, when you are put on the spot, you inevitably feel self-conscious and make mistakes that normally you wouldn’t make. At one point in the film, Maria had to put a cookie on the line and I had to signal ok with my torch. Easy peasy, you would say, right? WRONG! Whether it was because I was tired, because I was overexcited or just plain overthinking it, I just could not for the life of me get my buoyancy right and kept either bumping in to Maria or sinking below the line – at one point I wasn’t sure if the water around me was boiling of my sheer and utter embarrassment.
Finally, if you look at that part of the film, you will see Maria is alone – because I am an idiot.
Doing a film shoot like this was so cool as it really showed, me at least, a whole different world in diving. Looking at things with the lens in mind was new to me as I have never got into underwater photography (This is on purpose, as I would like to eat something else other than instant noodles for the next few years).
Doing this film, once again emphasised my love for cave diving, the team work that goes into making a project like this and gave me the utmost respect for all other underwater filmmakers out there.
I would like to thank Natalie Gibb, Rory O’Keefe, Jan Schmid, Hector and of course Maria,for making this an experience I will never forget. And I would also like to thank the manufacturers Fourth Element, Apeks, IQsub and Paralenz for making this project possible and for making epic gear