As of this very moment, though how much longer we are unsure, Antarctica is the most unsullied region of the planet. Global efforts have taken action to protect this landscape, but many seem to have stayed ignorant of its oceans. With overfishing, pollution and tourism affecting the planet’s remaining virgin landscape, Álvaro Longoria’s documentary Sanctuary charters a year in the lives of Greenpeace, scientists on the continent and two familiar faces, as they raise awareness of the efforts to secure a ‘sanctuary’ for marine biodiversity.  

Do you know what gets through to people? What gets them behind campaigns? Penguins. Penguins and celebrities. More than ever, social media ties prestigious performers to a campaign, either hindering or accelerating the outcome. Time-lapsing over a year, Sanctuary follows Javier and Carlos Bardem as they venture south into Antarctica – for nothing captivates an audience like first-hand experiences. General audiences may soon forget the facts covering the decimation of habitats due to over-fishing, but they won’t soon forget Javier Bardem’s trips to the ocean floor in a submarine. 

Briefly touching on celebrity, Longoria examines the effect that attaching a public figure can have on the campaign. Quickly, you can sense the Bardems’ influence, Jessica Poveda’s motion graphics illustrating the increase in signatures and activity encompassing the campaign. Developing, Longoria turns our focus to the courts, the governments and the corporations, bodies which take little consideration of fame. It’s a turning point, which offers a narrative flow to the documentary. Not solely a piece on proposals on safe waters for marine life, nor the Bardems, the film evolves into an invitation for the masses to develop an understanding. 

Choosing not to rely on shock, Sanctuary has a distinct optimism, a welcome change from the usual downtrodden grimness environmental documentaries have. Visually, Longoria chooses to stay away from disturbing images, relying on meticulous fact, accessibility and storytelling mechanics to convey a message. It adds a level of taste; there’s little attempt to strong-arm a position through horror.

Allowing access, Greenpeace is kept at an arm’s length by Longoria, deliberately ensuring his work isn’t seen as an arm of publicity for the group. Sanctuary attempts a level of non-bias throughout – politics are dusted to the side, and as plans fail to secure, there’s still a level head in reporting. Fingers are not pointed, insinuations are hardly susurrated, and in truth, here lies an issue. We fully grasp the intentions of these men and women working to protect these oceans, but we don’t necessarily see an assertive passion. Sticking a little too close to being safe, there’s a habit of generalisation for the audience’s sake, which on the whole, allows for holes in the argument – the last thing the world needs from global warming nihilists.

Unsurprisingly, despite the content and ecological worries, Sanctuary is remarkably relaxing. Synchronising sensational wildlife filming with Marc Blanes Matas’ sound design, a variety of shots are potential calming methods or office space ‘inspirational’ posters. Similar to the lack of shock imagery, Sanctuary’s score fails to resort to cheap build-up music. The score is an undertone, accentuating the mood which images convey, rather than forcing drama.

In a future of Greta Thunbergs, documentaries like Sanctuary have a growing place in cinema. Thankfully, filmmakers such as Longoria respect the weight in the reach their message can obtain. It’s a soothing piece, which instructs at an approachable level – offering enough humour, adorable feathery friends and some strikingly lit camera work to captivate activists and the general public alike.