Jaimen Hudson: From Sky to Sea follows WA’s own Three-Eyed Seagull (and Warg-of-sorts) who operates a drone from the confines of his wheelchair to capture oceanic wildlife footage and share it with hundreds of millions of people worldwide. A motorcycle accident at the age of 17 left our subject with injuries that have so far prevented him from getting back into the waters of Esperance that he loves so dearly. To make up for the fact that he couldn’t just hop into the ocean, Jaimen took up drone photography and videography in 2015 and amassed a huge following of fans who connected with his incredible imagery of a whale in a sea of dolphins, and a lone paddle boarder being visited by two mammalian marvels. The view from above made being grounded a little easier to deal with. Jaimen’s goal now is to become the first underwater cinematographer with quadriplegia, and Emmy-nominated wildlife filmmaker (and family friend) Leighton De Barros is on board to help make his dream a reality. But the sea is a cruel mistress – will she recognise Jaimen after so many years apart?
Everything about this documentary feels local and at the same time (to someone estranged from the ocean for as long as I’ve been) strangely foreign. Familiar red dirt and turquoise water is captured in sweeping drone footage and scored by Sean Tinnion’s original music, which has a Fremantle-family-band quality that I absolutely loved. Then a horde of dolphins surf the waves as purple storm clouds roll in, displaying colours I didn’t even know existed in nature (let alone Western Australia.) It’s clear Jaimen misses the frivolous ocean play before the hard times, and his regular spot on the aptly-named Observatory Beach allows him to immerse himself in the ocean – to a point.
We discover that Jaimen’s entire world is a marine world. Family photos reveal that he truly was a water baby – toddler Jaimen is held by his gloriously moustachioed father while fishing on a boat out on the open water, and his mother taught him to dive, qualifying him for scuba at the age of 12. The family business is a diving and tourism company, where Jaimen works during the day fitting people for scuba gear and giving tours of Esperance via boat. Working in the industry distracted him from the fact that his friends were still out motorbiking and surfing – he could still be involved in some capacity and the ability “to hate going to work 9-5 every day like everyone else” gave him purpose. But it’s been twelve years since the accident, and proximity to the ocean is no longer enough.
Jaimen’s ambitions at first seemed pretty outrageous to me but he has done several things that he (or probably anyone) would never have expected, including starting a family of his own. He jokes early in the film about the hit his sex life took after the accident – “chicks don’t really want to have sex with the skinny wheelchair kid” – but he doesn’t say it with self-pity in mind. Jaimen’s sense of humour is incredibly frank and at his own expense (he uses an excellent descriptor for a certain body part), and his ability to alleviate the viewer’s concern is very endearing. It might be what nabbed him his beautiful, yoga-practicing Canadian wife Jess, the best cheerleader a person could ask for.
A wife and family seemed off the table to Jaimen, but suddenly he’s marrying Jess on a rock overlooking the ocean, and they’re welcoming a bouncing baby boy into the world. They tell Jaimen’s parents they’re thinking of naming him Captain Van Hudson – they laugh, but it’s not a joke. At first I rolled my eyes and envisioned a Star Trek character (or adult entertainer) sporting this moniker. But then I understood the gravity of the name; this child has to be bloody excellent at all things oceanic. If he’s not beating Jaimen’s scuba diving age, there’ll be hell to pay.
I’ve watched this film twice so far and had quite different experiences with each viewing. During the first, I felt like a witness to somebody’s pipe dream. Jaimen’s injuries seemed very ill-suited indeed for what he is trying to achieve – he requires a lot of help to film, and the closest he actually gets to his underwater goal throughout the length of this documentary is snorkelling while assisted by two instructors. He lacks the lung capacity to be able to eject, should any seawater get into his snorkel. If he gets flipped off a boat because a whale gets too close, it’s game over.
It seemed unfathomable to me that a father-to-be (Jess is pregnant while he is in training to dive) would risk all he has just to be able to film underwater. I could hear Albert Brooks’ voice in my head saying with exasperation “you think you can do these things but you just can’t, Nemo”. I became angry at myself, both for comparing a man’s very real plight to that of an animated clownfish with a dicky fin, and to be thinking the kinds of things that John Locke’s naysayers vocalise (I’m re-watching Lost – no judgement please.) I stewed on this feeling for a few days, and then I watched the film again.
Upon second viewing I finally understood the haste in Jaimen’s efforts. It’s about more than just a desire to film whales and Great Whites – he needs to be able to pass on his legacy to his son. If he can’t get up in the middle of the night to help Jess with a crying baby, he can at least teach his son the value of the ocean and the wildlife it houses by being there with him in the water. And if the name is any indication of marine aptitude, Captain will be diving in the next few years – Jaimen needs to be prepared for that.
When I finished this film (the first time) I immediately compared it to Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher, a doco detailing a man’s relationship with one lovely lady octopus over the space of a year, and the impact that witnessing her life cycle had on his own life. Both films are about the power of the ocean, and both films pushed me further towards getting back in there. That film’s exquisite visuals, storytelling and emotional heft left me a bundle of tears…for the night. Then I went about my life, appreciating octopuses a bit more.
From Sky to Sea is a much more contained film but I think the impact of its story is a lot more lasting. It is not flashy and its storytelling is simple, so if you’re a fan of documentaries with expertly timed twists and turns to heighten the drama, you may be disappointed. I couldn’t help feeling that it was Jaimen’s personality and similarities to my own life that I connected with, more than the film itself. It’s possible Leighton might be too close to it all – he’s known Jaimen since he was four years old, and has Jaimen’s family to answer to should anything go wrong. The pressure on him to keep Jaimen safe seems to outweigh anything else, and it sometimes makes the film seem a little anticlimactic. There are some beautiful aerial shots of whales, dolphins, seals and salmon but it’s no Blue Planet II. Ultimately though, I think that is the point: Jaimen cannot provide that footage (yet.) I really hope there is a follow up documentary where Jaimen is not cockblocked (sorry but there’s no other word that encompasses the frustration) by some diving ‘expert’ who’s never met him. A story of this magnitude deserves a fitting ending.
Jaimen’s need to be in the ocean is something I would’ve dismissed a year ago. I used to share Anakin Skywalker’s sentiments about sand, and as a ghostly woman of English and Irish heritage I really didn’t feel like the beach was made for me. I’ve since discovered the fun of wearing flippers (or ‘fins’ as they’re called now – who decided that?), and I’m starting to get the appeal of willingly entering the domain of prehistoric beasts just for a little frolic amongst the waves. I think this film is the final push I need to transform me into a certified mermaid (or at least my favourite pitiable animal, the blobfish.) 7/10
Jaimen Hudson: From Sky to Sea premieres on closing night at the WA Made Film Festival on March 14 at Palace Cinemas Raine Square, and Event Cinemas Innaloo are holding a Q&A session with Jaimen on Thursday March 18.