Editor’s update: Since this interview was published, Pepe Arcos released the finished documentary online. To view “Pressure” on Vimeo, visit www.vimeo.com/seadragons/pressure.
Although he grew up around the Mediterranean and has always had a strong affinity for the ocean, Pepe Arcos has only recently been making a name for himself as an underwater filmmaker. His professional journey began in graphic design and visual communication, and it was only after a decade running his own design studio that he was inspired to bring together his love of freediving and passion for creativity. Now dedicating his time solely to photography and filmmaking, he is still guided by the power of design, as he describes it, to “understand beauty and balance.”
These are the elements that are central to Pepe’s latest film, Pressure, a documentary that takes you on a journey inside the life and mind of a man that wants to redefine the limits of the human body and mind. As Pepe tells DPG, the project is not only about freediving challenges and competitions: “It is about overcoming the mental barriers as well as the difficulties of being a minority extreme sport with little or no support or attention from the media.”
The poster for the film captures the mood
DPG: What are the biggest challenges you face when filming on breath hold?
PA: Freediving and filming give you unique freedoms in terms of camera movements, allowing you to think more creatively about cinematography. Of course, the big challenge is being a very skilled freediver and being ready to hold your breath with almost no preparation. During filming, I might be following a freediver with my camera or I might be directing them, but I always have to focus on my camera settings, make everything fit with my diving time, and breathe up with them.
Because freediving with my camera is so mentally draining, my dive times are greatly reduced. I can usually shoot for a minute or perhaps up to 1:40, and pushing it any further is tough. In normal freediving conditions, without the camera, I can do twice that time with no problem at all!
Miguel Lozano emerging from a dive below 120 meters—almost 400 feet
DPG: As you are swimming quickly towards the surface, you naturally experience a rapid change in exposure. What are some of the techniques you use to compensate for such a dramatic shift in light?
PA: I have various camera presets for different conditions or effects. The example you’ve given is the biggest challenge, and I have to forego some manual control and sometimes let the ISO go to “Auto” to adjust for the excess light. But usually I try to find a compromise exposure setting, thinking about coming from low-light conditions to brighter conditions—but it’s always tricky!
Shooting without scuba gear gives you a different freedom of movement
Santiago Jakas, Miguel’s coach, heading for a training session in Tulamben, Bali
DPG: When you are filming a freediver going for a record, what do you do if they black out? Is there anything you wouldn’t show in your final edits?
PA: Filming Pressure with Miguel, for example, I can be 100 percent confident because we have four safety divers around him for the final meters to the surface to ensure everything is under control. Blackouts or other accidents are delicate topics in freediving, and we don’t like to show it, unless its just for education proposes.
DPG: What do you do to make sure your own safety is in check, so that you don’t get distracted by filming, and ultimately have a shallow water blackout?
PA: I’ve never blacked out in my life, even when I was a competitive freediver chasing serious depths. But filming is hard, I have to admit—long sessions, no proper breathe up, and a finning technique totally adapted to my camera movements that does not encourage efficient oxygen consumption. When I’m doing one-to-one sessions and I feel that we need to push a little bit harder, I have to be sure that my buddy comes up before me, and we have discussed how to proceed in the case of an emergency. Plus, my camera is on a leash—so it’s impossible to lose it!
The concentration moments before a deep dive
The last breaths before descending into the blue—for around 4.5 minutes
DPG: How is filming going so far? Anything behind-the-scenes insight you can give us on its progress?
PA: The days are progressing smoothly and the atmosphere is very personal. Miguel has decided to keep the project just between us, in order to avoid expectations and distractions. We do the same routine every day: training at the freediving platform, two warm-up dives for him and a deep dive following his progression. If everything goes okay, then there’s two days for resting. Rest days are followed by two stretching sessions and low activity, controlling diet, and staying very focused. But Miguel keeps it very lighthearted, so it’s not quite as sober and serious as it sounds! I also record some of our conversations and conduct interviews to hear what’s going through his mind.
My biggest challenge has been getting topside shots and preparing my housing really quick to jump in the water and not miss anything, which can be stressful. After we’re done, I still have to get through a list of topside shots around the area and some time lapse shots. The hardest part is capturing the intimate atmosphere that has been created around this world record attempt. I also have to make sure I don’t miss shooting anything—which is something I’m always worrying about!
Critical moments on the way up: Safety freedivers maintain a vigilant eye
DPG: What do you hope people will take away from watching the film?
PA: I decided to undertake this project because I realized how hard it is for Miguel to handle everything by himself—training, expenses, organization—with pretty much no support like you get in other sports. Also, few people understand what competitive freediving is all about: People just get the results, the numbers, the records, not the story behind the sport. I really admire people who confront the personal challenge of taking all of this on, and I hope my film will bring some light into the sport, making it less about “numbers and records” and more about the human story.
The team behind a world record attempt: organizers, coach, safety divers, judges, and staff
To get a glimpse of Pepe’s new film Pressure, check out the teaser video above. The premiere of the film is screening at the ADEX Singapore Film Festival. You can find out more about the filmmaker and his films at www.pepearcos.com.
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