#REVIEW Mermaids

Mermaids, directed by Ali Weinstein, is not only a fascinating glimpse into the world of mermaids, figures of legend and lore, but a touching homage to the women who embody the mythical aquatic creatures.  Mermaids are half-women, half-fish.   They are women from the waist up and fish from the waist down.

The film has many layers which gives the film a certain depth and situates it within a cultural framework, past and present.   It references mermaid legend and lore that spans time, place and ethnic groups.  Most recent examples include Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved fairytale “The Little Mermaid”, Hollywood’s 1984 mermaid film Splash starring Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks, and Hollywood’s 1948 film, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.

The documentary examines a sub-group of women who engage in cosplay and/or mermaiding.  Most specifically, it explores the motivation of a select group of mermaids which includes Cookie, Julz, Rachel and Laurie (mother and daughter),  and Vicki.  The embodiment of the mythical aquatic creature helps many of them move past trauma and life’s difficulties, and find their authentic selves. By the way, cosplay is the contraction of the words costume and play and refers to the art and practice of dressing up as a character from a movie or book.  The development, and the availability of the monofin, the tail, has made it possible for these women to dress up in the likeness of their favourite character.  We also have glimpses of mermen in the film.

The documentary features the mermaids of The Dive Bar in Sacramento, California, a bar lounge with mermaids performing in a themed tank.  It includes current and past mermaids of Weeki Wachi Springs, who perform or have performed theatrical shows from a underwater theater with glass windows.

For some of the women, in particular the mermaids of the Huttington Beach Mermaid Meet up, cosplay offers a way of expressing themselves, and a sense of community.  For  the mermaids of Dive Bar and the current mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs Amusement Park, in Southern Florida, it provides them with a livelihood.   And for some, as we see with Cookie, Julz, Rachel, Laurie, and Vicki, it gives their lives meaning and purpose.   Regardless, the psycho-dynamics change when these women wear their monofin.  They are transformed.   They are playful, joyful and full of life. Wow!

The documentary shines a light on these extraordinary women who are deserving of our admiration for their devotion and commitment to their mermaid persona and for letting us experience the myth of legend and lore.

The director weaves together many visual elements to create a fascinating and insightful film about mermaids and intimate portraits of Cookie, Julz, Rachel, Laurie and Vicki.  The film makes use of underwater photography, archival footage, still photographs, first person interviews, and editing techniques to create a dignified film.

When you think of it, who hasn’t dressed up as their favourite character as a child and/or as an adult for Hallowe’en, or for a costume party or to attend a Comic-con convention.  I have, for example, don a Santa suit on many an occasion to entertain school children at Christmas parties but I don’t necessarily identify with the Santa figure.  But for the women in the documentary, the mermaid character encapsulates a longing, a desire, and a way to see and express themselves.  The mermaid persona engages them on many levels.   Is it  a hobby?  Is it a lifestyle?  Well, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

I highly recommend Mermaids for the film explores the fascinating world of mermaids and the phenomenon of cosplay.  Perhaps, it will inspire you to find your own favourite character to embody.  I confess that it has got me thinking.

Mermaids releases at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on July 14th. 

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