Against the Tide Sundance 2023

Sundance 2023: Against The Tide Review

Director Sarvnik Kaur’s gripping portrait of two Indigenous fishermen in India is an inspired humanist take on the David versus Goliath story. Against the Tide recounts the devastating effects of climate change on the lives of these individuals. The situation is, to say the least, desperate and if there was ever a call to action, here it is.

Against the Tide is the story of how two old friends face the pressures of a dwindling fish supply in their ancestral waters. Rakesh and Ganesh were both raised to honour and maintain the tradition-based way of life of the Koli people. Their culture revolves around a particular way of fishing which is, unfortunately, becoming untenable.

Kaur’s command of the verité style of filmmaking is quite simply stunning, mainly in the way that she mingles her subjects’ everyday realities with key cultural rituals in the community. This gives us a vivid insight into their lives and into their unique perspectives.

It helps that the team behind Honeyland is responsible for editing this film. One can detect a similar kind of lyrical weave here. But Kaur deserves much of the credit for her inspired stylistic choices.

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The film’s backbone is structured as a series of conversations between the two friends. Their casual chats become increasingly tense as it becomes evident that less conventional, more invasive methods must be employed to capture even a fraction of the fish they caught before. The tension mounts as Kaur sets up increasingly complicated compositions for her shots—adding an unnerving rhythm between and within each frame.

What’s particularly striking is that Against the Tide is poetically poignant while maintaining a clean, direct approach. Like the newborn Koli infant that is tossed in the air at the very start of the film, the film insists on a bold awakening.

We hear the ritualistic voice chanting to the child to be without fear. It’s as if that same chant demands that we face the future boldly, to confront this problem without fear and with urgency. Against the Tide is a searing climate change warning for us all.

Against the Tide is screening as a part of Sundance 2023’s World Cinema Documentary Competition.

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