Writer, Filmmaker and Adventurer
Writer and filmmaker Jon Bowermaster's most recent documentary – "SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories" has been making the rounds of film festivals and conferences since the fall of 2010. Begun two years earlier and focused on the lives of Southern Louisianans whose lives depend on the sea, its filming concluded with the BP spill in the Gulf making it evermore relevant. His most recent book is OCEANS, The Threats to the Sea and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide. An anthology of original essays by some of the world's most intriguing ocean thinkers and doers, the book is companion to the new Jacques Perrin/DisneyNature film OCEANS, which both came out in the U.S. on Earth Day April 22.
The latest films from Jon and his team continue to garner praise. "Terra Antarctica," documenting a six-week long exploration of the Antarctic Peninsula by sail and sea kayak won "Best Ocean Issues" award from the Blue Ocean Film Festival; "What Would Darwin Think? Man v. Nature in the Galapagos" was awarded "Best Environmental Film" at the Vancouver International Film Festival. A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, his 2007-2008 Antarctic expedition was the final in his OCEANS 8 project, which over the past decade has taken him and his teams around the world by sea kayak, including expeditions to the Aleutian Islands, Vietnam, French Polynesia, Chile/Argentina/Bolivia, Gabon, Croatia and Tasmania. Seeing the world from the seat of a sea kayak over the past decade has given Bowermaster a one-of-a-kind look at both the health of the world's oceans and the lives of the nearly 3 billion people around the globe who depend on them.
His reporting on the relationship between man and the sea continues with his blog – "Notes From Sea Level" (www.jonbowermaster.com) and at The Current (www.takepart.com/news/blog/current) - giving him a daily forum for continuing the conversation with a growing audience.
Author of eleven books and producer of a dozen documentary films, when not on the sea Bowermaster lives in the Hudson Valley of New York.
- How did you decide to become a writer?
I’m very fortunate in that I figured out at an early age, 15, that I wanted to be a writer. Initially I imagined being a sports reporter; what could be better than going to a ballpark, having a hot dog and a beer, and getting paid to write it up? But I tried it for a couple years when I was in University, at the “Des Moines Register” and … it was incredibly boring. Same story, week after week. I guess being a sports columnist would be okay, but you’d have to pay your dues for twenty years before getting such a job.
- What were your first jobs?
- I’ve worked at daily newspaper and national magazines and, for five years, ran an alternative weekly that I started with two friends in Iowa. In the early 1980s I started dabbling in television, doing everything from producing industrial films for insurance companies to high-end television commercials and documentaries for public television. In 1987, I published my first book (I’ve written ten to-date), about a very powerful and successful governor.
- What was your first National Geographic assignment? How did you make that connection?
- My first assignment for National Geographic was to cover a seven month long crossing of Antarctica by dogsled. In 1986 I had befriended polar explorer Will Steger – he had just returned from a historic dogsled adventure to the North Pole – and when he was negotiating the rights to the story of his TransAntarctic expedition he introduced me to editors at the National Geographic Magazine who vetted me during a long morning meeting and a two-martini lunch (at a time when that was still done, and long before I’d had a martini).
- What are some of the most interesting stories you’ve reported in the past 20 years?
- Roaming East Africa with Peter Beard for the bulk of six months. Shacking up at the end of a mud road in Nicaragua, with a happy gang of Sandinistas. Traveling Chile north to south and back again during the 1990s, just after Pinochet had left office. Having a front row seat to changes in Antarctica during the past two decades. And more and more and more … I’ve had the good fortune to publish two collections of non-fiction stories – Alone Against the Sea and Wildebeest in a Rainstorm – which I flick through often just to remind myself how lucky I’ve been to see the world and travel it with a wide-ranging cast of characters.
- How many countries have you visited? What is your favorite place in the world?
- Which begs the question of how many countries there are in the world. Something between 195 and 200 (not counting all the various territories, disputed lands, etc.). I’ve probably been to 80, which means I’ve barely seen a third of the world and I’ve been traveling hard for twenty years. It’s a big planet! As for favorite, it’s impossible to say. I’ve liked all of our expeditions and most of the places I’ve seen. Since 2002 I’ve been to French Polynesia many times, which suggests those islands and their culture say something special to me.
- What was your most dangerous adventure?
- Any time we’ve been in the kayaks on cold water. I’ve watched guys jump into 29, 30 degree seas just to experiment and within seconds seen panic grow in their eyes as they realize that immediately their bodies are not responding as they should. Hypothermia is a sneaky and dangerous thing. I’m convinced too that I lost my good friend Barry Tessman to cold water in a kayaking accident in the Sierra’s of California in 2001, thanks to cold water. So we treat it very, very carefully.
- How many oceans are there? Have you seen them all?
- Our OCEANS 8 project took us around the world by sea kayak one continent at a time; its name derives from the seven continents plus Oceania where we mounted expeditions. There are not, of course, eight oceans. If you dig out your National Geographic Atlas you’ll find five: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern Oceans. But I subscribe to the One Ocean Theory. Spin a globe and notice that all of those five oceans are connected. With seventy one percent of the globe covered by ocean it’s amazingly egotistic that we call it Planet Earth … shouldn’t it rather be … Planet Ocean?
- What are your biggest concerns about our ocean?
- Everywhere we’ve gone over the past decade, during our explorations of the planet’s coastlines and oceans, we’ve seen evidence of a trio of environmental issues impacting all of the three billion people that live near the oceans’ edge: Climate Change. Overfishing. Plastic pollution. It doesn’t matter if you live on the coast of Vietnam or Gabon, Chile or Tasmania, all of those issues impact you.
- What’s your most recent film and where can we see it?
- We are just finishing a big, beautiful high-definition film about our explorations of the Antarctic Peninsula, called TERRA ANTARCTICA. And simultaneously we’re editing two others, about man’s impact on the Galapagos and man’s relationship with the sea in Louisiana.
- What's Next?
- We are still out there exploring that relationship between man and the sea and upcoming 2009 filming expeditions will take us to the Maldives, Seychelles, the Marquesas, Tokyo, Croatia and more. So … stay tuned!
- National Geographic Society “Quest for Adventure” Lecture (2008, 2004, 2002, 2001), Washington, D.C.
- Royal Geographic Society, London
- The Explorer’s Club, New York
- Aspen Institute, Aspen, CO
- National Celebration of Teaching and Learning, New York
- American Museum of Natural History “Polar Weekend,” New York
- Golden Gate Institute, San Francisco, CA
- Adventures in Travel Expo (Seattle, Washington D.C., New York, Chicago)
- Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival, CA
- Santa Barbara Ocean Film Festival (“Best Television Series” award), Santa Barbara, CA
- Macy’s, New York
- REI, Seattle, WA
- Norwegian Tourism Board
- Croatia Tourism Board
- Cigna Insurance Annual Meeting, New York
- Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, Banff, Canada
- Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, Telluride, CO
- San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, San Francisco