Guardians of the Strait

Navigating the world's most dangerous waterway

Guardians of the Strait Since classical times the Bosphorus has been a waterway of critical geo-political importance. Now, more than 50,000 ships a year navigate the treacherously narrow strait, carrying oil and other pollutants through the heart of Istanbul. Crowded with tankers, commuters, fishing boats and cruise ships, the bottleneck is an accident waiting to happen. This beautifully crafted doc explores how its people tirelessly keep the stretch open and safe.

“Leave immediately! Leave immediately! Nihat Captain's tanker, 274 meters, engine problem!”. As it travels through the Bosphorus, a vast tanker loaded with crude oil suffers from a mechanical failure. Control operators urge surrounding vessels to divert, whilst those on the boat try everything they can to manoeuvre their way out of disaster. Yet Captain Nihat remains calm. “If you panic in these situations, you make more mistakes”.

The Bosphorus, a narrow strait in Istanbul, marks the boundary between Europe and Asia. The frontier between empires and cultures for over a thousand years, its waterways have been a constant locus of activity and exchange and excitement. As with ancient Constantinople, so too with modern Istanbul: now as then, the strait provides the city with its lifeblood. But the strait’s function is evolving: ancient activities such as fishing continue to exist, but must now share the waters with floating restaurants, cruise ships and tankers. For Ogze, who commutes over the Bosphorus every day, the changes haven’t taken away from the strait’s appeal. “It’s beautiful to travel by sea. It’s the best thing…It doesn’t matter how I am, when I feel the sea air everything else disappears."

Yet Ogze’s idyll is under threat: every day, thousands of huge cargo ships and tankers pass through its waters. What was once “the river in paradise”, is quickly becoming “one of the world's principle choke points”. And with 50% of ships preferring not to pay a small fee to take on a local pilot to help them navigate, the risk of a collision or accident is increasingly high.

With accidents happening once every day and a half, the fear of catastrophe looms over local residents. “We have a common fear here in the Bosphorus”. They recount stories of friends killed in their beds by tankers ploughing into water-side homes, whilst others are still haunted by the horrors of a collision in 1994, which caused a fire to burn on the Strait for six days.

Despite heavy traffic and pollution many Istanbulites still see the Bosphorus as the jewel of the city. For Captain Saim, a shipmaster, the dangers of the Bosphorus are matched only by its majesty, “For me, Istanbul and the Strait is heaven on earth.”

LaurelMelbourne International Film Festival – Official Selection
LaurelAnkara International Film Festival – Official Selection

The Producers

Claire Jager: Writer/Director/Producer

Claire Jager is an award-winning writer, director, producer and content originator as an independent program-maker and a broadcaster. She’s worked across drama and documentary development and production holding senior positions including Commissioning Editor for Documentaries at SBS Television; ABC –TV Executive Producer, Documentaries, and ABC Natural History Unit; Documentary Investment Manger, Screen Australia; Documentary Manager, Film Victoria; and Head of Factual at Artist Services.

Samantha Dinning: Producer/Camera

For the past nine years Sam has worked in a range of positions within local feature film and TV
production, script development and for federal funding agency Screen Australia. Supported by Screen Australia, in 2013 Sam spent
four months in London where she worked under the guidance of Producer Lee Magiday and as part
of the development team at Element Pictures (The
Oscar Nominated Room , 2016) The Lobster (Jury
Prize, Cannes 2015), and
upon returning to Australia began work as an external development assessor for Screen Australia
and Screen Tasmania.

Melanie Sandford Ase: Editor

Melanie Sandford is one of
Australia’s most experienced
documentary film editors
having worked in the industry
for more than 30 years. Her
work includes; An Imaginary
Life – David Malouf
Golden Spire USA), Myths of
(Winner Gold Medal
Human Relations NY U.S.A),
Australians At War (AFI
nomination for Best Editing). In
, screened at TIFF, Busan
and Leipzig. Melanie also edited the multi award winning Stories From the Stone Age and
The Passionate Apprentice .

Making The Film

From the outset there was nothing conventional or easy about shooting this film. A different culture, a different language, very little money, a bare-bones all-female crew of five shooting on all manner of boats, the worst snowstorm in 30 years, horrendous Istanbul traffic and an environment of political instability and

After receiving initial development funding from Screen Australia (which funded our initial research trip) we were fortunate enough to secure production finance from a Turkish philanthropist, who saw the importance and timeliness of making the film. In this way the film was unconventional – made outside the system – and as a result we were allowed a rarity - a tremendous amount of creative freedom in our approach. We returned in November 2015 to complete shooting over 4 weeks, this time with an expanded team – from Melbourne, production manager Hylton Shaw, from Munich our German colleague Ines Schneider who took on 2nd camera and our translator Duygu Erucman, a young Turkish woman – originally from Ismir – now living in Northern California.

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