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Against the Tide: Sundance Film Review

Against the Tide shows the effects that climate change has on the Koli fishing community in Bombay as two friends navigate the ever changing waters.

The sun rises over the coast of Bombay, the sky glistening with a tinge of pink. Boats line the shore full of fishing nets, spears, baskets; everything you would need to catch whatever the tide brings in that day. When there’s fish in the sea, there’s plenty of fishing to be done to feed the whole family. Communities in Bombay are reliant on traditional methods of fishing. This is especially so for the Indigenous Koli community, who have passed down specific teachings through every generation of Koli fishermen to make sure families never go hungry. It’s also a great source of income for the fishermen. Others are learning to use more modern methods after expanding their knowledge and leaving India behind for a short while to study elsewhere before returning to Bombay to fish again.

Pollution and weather act as barriers to fishing. Not only does it become unsafe to be out in the water in decade old boats, but the amount of fish in the sea is declining at a rapid rate. Prawns and lobsters are easier to catch during a monsoon, but is it really worth it to go out on the treacherous sea and potentially risk your life? Against the Tide explores a close bonded friendship between Ganesh and Rakesh as they navigate the waters of Bombay, wondering how the declining rates of fish in the sea will affect them in the near future.

Ganesh was educated in Scotland, where he studied finance and dreams of going back one day. Ganesh fishes the sea with modern methods and believes in using the ever-increasing technology of the world to help him. His exploration of different cities around the globe means he’s open to new ideas. Rakesh, on the other hand, uses his father’s boat and the generational knowledge passed down through the Koli fishermen. Small fish make up the majority of Rakesh’s catch, unlike Ganesh’s which vary in size due to his contrasting fishing methods. This difference of opinion could put their friendship at risk as neither want to change their ways. The money that both men earn out at sea allows their families to live comfortably enough to never worry. However, when money starts to become an issue for everyone who relies on marine fishing, it’s only a matter of time before ways must change.

loud and clear reviews against the tide film movie 2023 sundance festival
A still from Against the Tide, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

If there’s one word to sum up Against the Tide, it’s ‘engaging’. The conversations in which Ganesh and Rakesh have in their downtime are ones I could listen to for hours. As far as documentaries go, Against the Tide is perfect. You care about the characters and genuinely want to find out where their real-life choices lead them. Questions are asked and answered effectively without loose ends. There’s no cliffhangers or shocking twists, but instead you have authentic people whose jobs and families’ lives are on the line. Climate change is not a joke and is something to be taken with utmost importance. Director Sarvnik Kaur has lived next to the Koli community and has experienced this story firsthand. Kaur has established trust, and most importantly, friendship with the Koli community whilst developing this authentic story.

Cinematographer Ashok Meena delivers such powerful imagery for all 97 minutes of Against the Tide. The incredible sunsets and sunrises are captured faultlessly. The gorgeous shot of both Ganesh, his son Dharya and Rakesh sitting on the boat in the dry dock whilst the Indian flag waves in the wind has to be one of the most captivating shots of the year already. As the credits roll, you know you’ve just witnessed something so special and enduring.

Against the Tide isn’t about deciding whose side you’re on. It’s about watching the outcomes and consequences of every choice that Ganesh and Rakesh make. Kaur points out that it’s nothing to do with making a film about “who is good or bad” but instead making a film about “two intelligent, honest and hardworking young men”. This message assuredly comes across throughout the film’s runtime. Ganesh and Rakesh care so much about their jobs that they want to do everything in their power to continue working the ways in which they have grown to love. Both of their end goals are the same: live happy and healthy lives with their family at the forefront. Against the Tide is a requisite for any documentary lovers or climate change activists.

Against the Tide premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2023, and will be released in select US theaters on November 24, 2023.

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