Award-winning documentary filmmaker and marine biologist Mike deGruy dedicated more than three decades to filming Earth’s oceans and sharing his love for the water with the world — a love he first discovered growing up on Mobile Bay.
Last week, the Port City joined the Dauphin Island Sealab in celebrating his storied career as an underwater cinematographer with a viewing of “Diving Deep: The Life and Times of Mike deGruy” — a documentary his wife and filmmaking partner, Mimi, made following his untimely death.
“This film is a celebration of Mike’s life, but I also hope it will draw attention to what he couldn’t finish,” Mimi said. “I hope it leaves you with a great sense of how everything we do ultimately impacts the ocean, and I hope you think about how we can promote education, exploration, understanding research and efforts to protect the ocean.”
“Diving Deep” takes viewers on a journey from deGruy’s childhood as a little boy catching critters on the Mobile Delta into his career as a marine biologist and acclaimed filmmaker. However, as he mentions in “Diving Deep,” deGruy’s plan wasn’t always to make films.
In fact, one of the first films he made was purely for fun. When he and a friend went on an excursion to catch nautilus off the coast of Hawaii, deGruy just happened to bring his camera.
“I thought, wait a second, I can make movies about the animals I’ve been learning about … maybe I should just be a filmmaker and teach to the millions rather than hundreds,” he says in the film. “So, I literally came back from that trip, quit school, never told anyone I didn’t know what I was doing and just started making films. I just kept doing it and doing it, and eventually, I got better, I started getting paid for it and now it’s the only job I’ve ever had.”
Throughout “Diving Deep,” those who worked with deGruy say he routinely jumped into the ocean with that same fearless zeal throughout his career – whether he was filming underwater volcanic eruptions in Hawaii or killer whales preying on seals in Patagonia.
It was that fearlessness that made some of deGruy’s footage so remarkable and made him such a sought after cinematographer. His groundbreaking work on the acclaimed BBC and Discovery Channel series “The Blue Planet: Seas of Life” won both Emmy and BAFTA awards.
DeGruy worked with Academy Award-winning director James Cameron on the “Last Mysteries of the Titanic.” He was also filming the Mariana Trench with Cameron in 2012 when he and filmmaker Andrew Wight died in a helicopter crash near the coast of Australia.
After his death, Cameron called deGruy “one of the ocean’s warriors” — a man who “spoke against those who would destroy the sea’s web of life.” It’s that side of her husband that Mimi focuses on in the second half of “Diving Deep.” In the film, she says deGruy was forever changed by the effect the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill had on the Gulf Coast he loved.
His first reaction, of course, was to start filming.
“Mike was desperate to get down to the coast. He recognized the spill was growing into one of our country’s worst environmental disasters,” she says in the film. “He really wanted to tell the story, but he couldn’t find anyone willing to fund it. So, he just grabbed his camera and went.”
Following the spill, deGruy moved back to Mobile with his family, and after securing some grant funding, he was able to use his cinematography skills to document things like coral reefs and other systems irreparably harmed by the oil and chemical dispersants like Corexit.
It proved some environmentalists’ worst fears, and according to Mimi, caused her husband great personal distress. In a scene near the end of “Diving Deep,” deGruy is seen standing on the water’s edge in Bayou La Batre. There, he laments the disparity between the money big oil companies spend exploiting the ocean and what scientists have to study it.
“I ask [scientists], ‘how much money do you need,’ and I hear figures like $100,000. That’s a lot of money, but not compared to the insane amounts of money that corporations spend pulling oil out of the environment,” deGruy said. “They’re spending billions exploiting and destroying the very habitats that we don’t even understand yet because the scientists don’t have $100,000.”
More information about deGruy’s work and “Diving Deep” can be found at divingdeepmovie.com, and the trailer can be seen below.
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