Behind the scenes with festival filmmakers: Matt Stoecker, 'DamNation'

When we heard that the team behind our Opening Night Premiere, DamNation, included local underwater photographer Matt Stoecker, we had to include him in our 'behind the scenes with local filmmakers' series. In these photos you see Matt with with wetsuit and underwater housing, just after diving and filming for DamNation below the former Elwha Dam on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. You can meet Matt along with DamNation filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummel at our Opening Night screening of DamNation, May 29 at the Aquarium of the Bay. Matt Stoecker, producer/underwater photographer, 'DamNation'Producer and underwater photographer Matt Stoecker emerges from the icy tail waters below the former Elwha Dam in a scene from DamNation. Photo: Ben Knight.

We asked Matt about the equipment he uses to shoot underwater and why it is important to him. "Filming underwater and topside involves a lot of critically important gear. Underwater, I'm shooting a Canon 5D Mark III in an Aquatica dive housing (as you can see in the photos). I have a large dome port and flat macro port for the housing that let's me use three lenses to cover everything from close aquatic insect shots to wide angle fish eye perspectives (100mm Macro, 8-15mm Fish Eye, 17-40mm). I'm often filming trout and salmon in shallow water so can get away with natural light in some circumstances, but bring back the lost color at depth using video lights. Dive gear is also critically important. In many cases I'm not using SCUBA gear and it really boils down to having a high quality wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, and weight belt. Patagonia's merino lined wetsuits are the most comfortable and highest quality I've found (and most responsibly made)."

Matt Stoecker, producer/underwater photographer, 'DamNation' The former Elwha Dam looms overhead as producer and underwater photographer Matt Stoecker prepares to film Chinook salmon trapped below the impassable wall of concrete in a scene from DamNation. Photo: Travis Rummel.

Matt is inspired to make these films, to connect people to their watershed. "As a scientist and advocate for wild rivers and fisheries, it's critical to be able to share the beauty being seen underwater and relay the challenges and opportunities discovered. I've found that capturing the mysterious underwater world on film and bringing it back for people to see can really change the way they look at rivers and get them more connected and involved. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and I decided to make DamNation to inspire more people to care about our watersheds and to witness the power of restoration when a dammed river is set free. We needed a film to show the destruction dams cause to our rivers and fisheries and the visually explosive removal of a dam and revival of an ecosystem. The timing to make this film was perfect as the three largest dam removal projects in U.S. history were about to start and the movement to restore free flowing rivers is building across the country. Ultimately, we want to inspire people get involved with removing an obsolete dam within their watershed or simply sign a petition to restore our nation's greatest salmon river by removing four destructive dams from the lower Snake River."

Take a look at this short film and see Matt in action doing the thing he loves, restoring habitats for steelhead trout.

You can support Matt's campaign at the national level by signing the DamNation petition to President Obama asking him to Crack Down on Deadbeat Dams and, closer to home, learn about the San Francisco Bay's local dam removal opportunity and petition.

Opening Night Reception & Premiere DamNation

Thursday, May 29,

6.00pm (Reception)

8.00pm (Screening)

Aquarium of the Bay,

Embarcadero at Beach St., San Francisco