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Haulout (2022)

The word “Haulout” refers to the movement of walruses in the arctic from water onto land. With the way in which the world is changing, the threat to these mammals grows at an exorbitant rate. In the Russian Arctic, as the ice caps melt, a scientist, Maxim Chakilev, sits and waits for this crazy natural phenomena to occur in front of him. He’s been tracking the movement of the walruses for a decade now, trying his best to understand them and help them however he can.

Haulout is hard to stomach. There’s no way that you can sit back, watch Haulout and not feel some level of sadness; there’s no way that you don’t feel the pressures that Maxim faces throughout the duration of his study. As the film plays out viewers are subjected to up-close-and-personal footage of the aforementioned walruses as they trample one another and suffer in the process. The reality is that these images are heartbreaking.

Haulout uses fear to get its point across–but interestingly enough, it’s not aggressive. It constantly lets viewers know that the things happening around the world, whether we believe it or not, affects us and others. Rarely in this short documentary is dialogue used to express the things taking place–and that’s a power move in my opinion. What this says to me is that Directors Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva are confident that the product that they are putting out will be effective–and that they have no need to go over the top. The images are used to express their point, and viewers get it. Haulout is effective without doing too much.

Another thing about Haulout that’s incredibly interesting is the fact that much of the film plays out more like a narrative than a documentary. I think viewers are able to tell that Haulout is, in fact, a documentary–but it looks different. The images are crisp, and it looks like something that may have been constructed in Hollywood. This both works and it doesn’t. This works because it gives viewers an immersive look at Maxim’s story, and it creates a connection between the subject matter and the viewer. What it does to hurt the film, however, is make it look like aspects of the film are fabricated in order to appeal to an audience. There are few things that I hate more in regard to a documentary than when it’s written in a way that will hopefully allow it to appeal to viewers rather than simply letting it play out and having viewers form their own opinions. While I have some concerns about the future generations, I do believe that viewers are often intelligent enough to form their own opinions if they are given the opportunity. When things are being forced down our throats, or it feels like we are being manipulated it can make a documentary challenging–and to a degree Haulout is an example of that.

Haulout got some recognition at this year’s Academy Awards, where it was nominated for Documentary Short Film–and the recognition is well deserved. It sort of adheres to what The Academy wants to see and hear about, and it finds ways to be unique in a world where most things have been done before. Haulout immerses viewers in this story, presenting them with visuals that one might not typically see in a documentary–and regardless of the fact that dialogue is limited, its message is heard loud and clear. This groundbreaking approach put Haulout on the map, and it’s one of the more interesting documentaries of 2022 as a result.

Directed by Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva.

Starring Maxim Chakilev.




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