USING PENETRATOR FINS FOR AN INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM
We sat down with filmmaker and freediver Nays Baghai to have a chat about his latest project Descent, how he combines freediving with filmmaking, and of course, why he loves Penetrator Fins!
Nays is an independent filmmaker and underwater cameraman based in Sydney, Australia. He graduated from Australia’s national film school AFTRS in 2018, and his short films have screened at several international festivals. His first feature film, Descent, is now screening at the Sydney Film Festival, and is a finalist for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award. He has also shot and edited numerous videos for businesses in the corporate and diving sectors. As an underwater cinematographer and photographer, Nays is a PADI-certified Master Freediver and Master Scuba Diver, and can dive up to 40 metres below the surface - both with and without tanks.
Below is his story, please join us in congratulating and learning more about Nays Baghai.
Penetrator Fins: I know that you have been using our fins now for the last two years. What is it that you enjoy about them, and how did you find they helped you while filming?
Nays Baghai: At the time I bought your fins, I was completely fed up with my plastic long-bladed Mares fins and the dreadful lactic acid buildup they precipitated. I was looking for a brand of carbon fins that was affordable, comfortable, durable, and accessible within Australia. A few of my freediving friends were kind enough to let me try their own pairs of Penetrator Fins in the pool, and it didn't take long for me to decide which brand I was going to go with in the end! [laughs] I promptly ordered a pair of soft naked carbon Penetrators not long after, and was instantly impressed. Two years later, my love for them hasn't wavered one bit! With socks on, these fins fit my feet absolutely perfectly, and the smooth blades mean that I can kick far more effortlessly, and stay in the water for longer. The fins also fit perfectly inside my fin bag (which I use extensively for local and international travel), and go well with the black Cressi wetsuits I dive in.
I used these fins throughout the entire principal photography process of Descent because I knew how appropriate they were for the kind of diving we were doing. When we were shooting in Milford Sound, New Zealand, my job as the director was to communicate back and forth between the scuba diving team at 15-18m and the freediving team and dry crew at the surface. That meant doing hundreds of dives a day through a rather dense halocline, where the 9°C murky freshwater layer on the surface slowly morphs into the crystal clear 12°C saltwater layer. The physically and mentally exhausting nature of it all meant that I got an earlier urge to breathe than usual, so it was a huge relief I knowing I had a pair of speedy carbon fins to propel me back to the surface. Without them, my legs would never have survived the long days of shooting.
PF: Let’s go back to the beginning - what got you into freediving and documentary filming?
NB: I think it all started when I was a seven-year-old marine biology nerd, and watched The Blue Planet for the first time. When I saw the official behind-the-scenes documentary that showcased underwater cameramen filming schools of hammerhead sharks, that's when I declared that I wanted to be an underwater filmmaker when I got older. As I grew up, my passions for freediving and filmmaking brewed separately, and they didn't really collide with each other until I was 18 years old.
When I was in film school, a university classmate had asked me to help her film an underwater scene for her project, and the scene required me to freedive to get the shots. As soon as I clicked the shutter button while holding my breath deep in the blue, it was if something else had clicked inside of me - that's when I knew the time had come, and that freediving and filmmaking would drive my life. The love for documentary filmmaking grew organically from being drawn to dozens of untold real-life stories that I wanted to explore as a filmmaker.
PF: What is your favourite memory from your freediving cinematography journey so far?
NB: Obviously that first dive I mentioned will always have a special place in my heart, but I think my favourite memory has to be the day I dove next to the Sydney Opera House. Two years ago, me and three other freedivers were doing some depth training a few kilometres outside of Sydney Harbour. During the session, I unwittingly dove to 30m while filming one of my buddies descending along the line, which was a PB for me at the time. After we were all done, the captain of the boat had this crazy idea to get a shot of his monofin juxtaposed with the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I was initially against it because of the risks of boat traffic and bull sharks, but my inner daredevil, coupled with a sprinkle of peer pressure, got the better of me. Minutes later, we found ourselves in pea-soup vis, trying to get the shot before we ran into trouble. After five takes, I got the shot just in the nick of time, and we sped out of the harbour while blasting Hypnotise by The Notorious B.I.G., cackling with pure joy. The icing on the cake was when Alexey Molchanov himself personally reached out to me via Instagram and asked if he could pay to use the final image for Molchanovs marketing. It was one of my proudest moments as an underwater cameraman, and definitely something I will fondly treasure for the rest of my life.
PF: Who are your biggest influences in the freediving world?
NB: As far as freediving filmmakers go, Daan Verhoeven is the obvious number one answer because of his sheer creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, and also because his camera equipment is nearly identical to mine! I also really like Julie Gautier's work as an underwater camera operator - the way her camera moves so smoothly through the water still baffles me to this day.
There are also many athletes who've influenced me substantially both as a freediver and as a person. I really admire Anna Von Boetticher's resilience and self-certainty, along with her ravenous appetite for new challenges. Kirk Krack is also a huge role model for me, not only because of his innovative and career-driven mind, but also because he's at the forefront of introducing freediving into the film industry. I love how Stig Pryds, Adam Sellars and Elisabeth Mattes apply themselves towards ensuring freediving is a relaxing, meditative experience, and it really shows in their laidback, friendly personalities. I also really admire Alexey Molchanov, Gus Kreivenas, and Bilge Çingigiray for their discipline and how they take their work seriously without being self-serious.
PF: Have you had any bad experiences or setbacks during your time freediving?
NB: I’m lucky I haven't had any blackouts or squeezes, but I did have the misfortune of rupturing my eardrum during my beginner freediving course. We were never properly taught equalisation during those two days, and it didn’t help our open water session was in a cold, dark, murky estuary. When the pain shot through my ears, I became extremely dizzy and surfaced in a state of panic. I was out of the water for a whole week, but what was strange was that as my ear was recovering, songs I'd listen to that were usually in pitch now sounded out of pitch, and vice versa. I'd be curious to know if other freediving musicians have ever noticed or experienced this. My left ear still occasionally acts up here thanks to that accident, but luckily, I can still comfortably frenzel equalise to 40m if need be.
The coast of New South Wales can also get quite rough at times, and I've had several dives that have left a really bad taste to the point where I would take a break from diving. However, given how we’ve all had to practice social distancing and self-isolation, I've become a lot more appreciative of the conditions and dive sites we have here. I'm now less likely to whinge about bad vis, shallow depths, and large waves, because a lousy dive is better than no dive at all!
PF: If you could dive and film anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
NB: God, what a cruel question to ask, given the travel restrictions we’re all facing! [laughs] Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas is the obvious top choice for me both as a cameraman and a freediver.
Diving in 200m deep water directly from the beach with no current, waves or thermocline sounds absolutely divine, and it looks so stunning both above and under the water. It’s also not too far from some excellent shark diving spots in the Bahamas.
However, there are quite a few other places on my wishlist that are also competing for the top spot! The sinkholes of Mount Gambier and Tulum look absolutely stunning in terms of the lighting and water clarity. Southern right whales are one of the animals I want to film the most, so a trip to Peninsula Valdes or Western Australia would be nice. Some other destinations that I’d love to shoot at include Socorro, La Paz, Dominica, Truk Lagoon, Tasmania, the Poor Knights Islands and Japan.
PF: If you had to give some advice/inspiration to those wanting to get into freediving, whatwould it be?
NB: If I had to summarise the most important thing I've learned, it would be this - numbers are overrated, while relaxation is underrated. Whether you're a competitive or recreational diver, the whole point of freediving is tapping into a meditative flow-state and enjoying the dive as best you can. If you're diving just for numbers and aren't afraid of the risks that can come with freediving, the outcome will be inevitably disastrous. As Adam Stern once said, a relaxed three-minute static is more impressive than a stressful five-minute static! I would also encourage new divers to familiarise themselves with the mammalian dive reflex (MDR).
The MDR is a physiological response we share with whales, dolphins and seals as aquatic mammals. It means that whenever your face is submerged in cold water without facial equipment, your heart rate will drop substantially. During my master course, I remember watching my heart rate go from 120bpm to 60bpm on the oximeter as I plunged my head into a bucket of iced water. If you're diving recreationally, allow yourself to do one dive with your mask off, and watch what happens to your relaxation levels.
PF: What can we expect from you in the future?
NB: My full-time job is now expanding my new film Descent into a larger series. We have optioned 12 characters for future episodes, and I've started conversations with potential backers. Now, it’s just a matter of being patient. I'll also be writing a book about the characters' stories at the same time, which is something I'm eagerly looking forward to as a storyteller. I've got a few other long and short-form projects on the horizon, but right now, it's just a waiting game to see what happens with COVID-19.
PF: Thank you for your time, Nays!
NB: My pleasure. Thank you guys for having me!
The Sydney Film Festival is on now and running virtually, use the link below to get straight to the good stuff! And make sure you check out Descent!
Nays can be reached at www.naysbaghai.com or to see more of his work just head to www.facebook.com/runningcloudproductions/
Photographs supplied by Nays have been photographed by (in order): Roya Baghai, Daniel Williams, Nays Baghai, Eero Heinonen.
Fins worn by Nays Baghai: T300 Naked Carbon Fibre Fins