Humankind’s penchant for continually pushing the limits of creativity, science, and physical achievement never ceases to amaze me. You will find a shining example of this powerful predilection in the diminutive French free diver, Julie Gautier. Gautier was born on Réunion Island, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. She is a champion free diver, dancer, model, and filmmaker. I recently came across a video combining all of her talents, which she produced in 2018 for International Women’s Day. In Ama, Gautier pays hommage to the strength and resilience of women in a spectacular underwater performance.
A Breathtaking Career Path
Gautier is the product of a mother who taught dance and a father who worked as a spearfisher and free diver. She began diving competitively at the age of 18. Nine years later, in 2006, she broke the French female record for the deepest free dive, plunging unassisted to a depth of 65 meters (213 ft). A year later she broke her own record, diving to 68 meters (223 ft).
Around that time she met her personal and professional partner, 4-time world champion freediver, Guillaume Néry. The two began producing underwater films together. You may be familiar with one of their more well-known projects in the United States, an underwater video that they shot for the song Runnin‘ by Naughty Boy and Beyoncé in 2015.
The Making of a Masterpiece
For years, Gautier says, she thought about tackling a film that would feature underwater choreography. She hoped to produce a personal portrait that would evoke strong emotions from the viewer, pain as well as joy. Gautier engaged the help of French ballerina and choreographer, Ophélie Longuet. The resulting underwater dance solo that sprang from their collaboration is magical.
Once a dance was established, Gautier needed to find a venue in which she would be able to film. Natural environments, while beautiful, could not offer clear enough water to be able to discern facial expressions. Gautier also hoped that while watching the film, viewers would forget that she was even in water. She wanted to produce moments that gave the impression that she was flying.
Gautier and her film crew, close colleagues with whom she’d worked for years, eventually chose a spectacular dive pool in Italy, called Y-40 Deep Joy. With its thermal waters and record-breaking depth of 131 feet, Y-40 is a safe and comfortable location to train divers and create underwater films.
In the film, Gautier is dancing at a depth of 10 meters (33 feet). Keep in mind, as you watch, that she produced this entire dance without using any scuba gear. With the help of a weight to speed her descent, she would start from the surface of the pool, dive 10 meters down, perform a portion of the dance and then ascend for air and a short rest. Her film crew remained underwater in scuba gear. One crewmember estimated that he utilized 12,000 liters of air while Gautier used 200 liters for the same time period.
An Hommage to Women
Gautier released her film, Ama, on March 18, 2018, International Women’s Day. She describes Ama as a present to women, a work that touches on their strength, suffering, resiliency, and accomplishment. The title of the piece refers to an honored band of Japanese women who earn a living by free diving for shellfish. This ancient sisterhood dates back more than 2000 years.
To undertake such an occupation, Gautier says, requires great strength and above all cohesion among the women divers. These qualities are of great importance to Gautier who relies heavily on the other members of her dive team. The concept is transferable to women as a whole. “It’s imperative that we keep an open dialogue between us,” Gautier says. “Prioritizing exchange, mutual support, and sharing rather than staying closed within ourselves and focusing on our problems.”
Without further ado, below is Gautier’s spectacular film. I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.
- Youtube, Making Of “Ama”, a film by Julie Gautier
- Plongez, JULIE GAUTIER REND HOMMAGE AUX FEMMES DANS SON NOUVEAU FILM, AMA
- International Ocean Film Tour, JULIE GAUTIER: “I AM A HUNTER, IF I DON’T HUNT FISH, I HUNT IMAGES.”
- Suitcase, Into the Deep: In Conversation with Fearless Free Diver Julie Gautier
- International Women’s Day, Homepage
- Y-40 Deep Joy, The deepest thermal pool in the world
- Amusing Planet, Ama: The Freediving Fisherwomen of Japan
She is extraordinary. I thank you for sharing. Love, Micheline
You’re welcome Micheline. Glad you could stop by. FYI: Canada was one of the countries that featured Gautier’s Ama on International Women’s Day.
Beautiful! Thanks for sharing
I love doing posts like this one Emma. In part, I hope that they show American readers, who may not take time to follow events outside of the US, that there are many exceptional people and places beyond our borders.
The Japanese diving girls were a large part of Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice. Yes, that’s trivia; but, if you say it with enough emotion it gets promoted to “film history”…
Missed that one. Who played Bond?
Yes. The athleticism is over-the-top. Gautier said one of the challenges was keeping herself anchored—not drifting—and keeping as many bubbles out of each shot as possible. My guess is she has a few more red blood cells than the rest of us.
Gautier must have the lungs of a triathlon athlete. Maybe it seems a coincidence only to me, but just prior to watching her dance 33 feet underwater, I watched a video of açaí berries being harvested near the top of 50 foot palm trees. Sadly they often use children to climb the trees, as adults are too heavy for the spindly plants.
Thanks for your comment Jim. In doing this post, I learned that the lungs of free divers are more developed than in average people and they have more red blood cells. There are other ways in which their bodies have adapted to deep dives. For example, their metabolism slows way down.
Sending kids to the tops of trees to gather berries? That is sad. Do you know how they use the açaí berries?