World premiere for Cayman-made movie

Wildlife photographer Ellen Cuylaerts is the star of a documentary made by her husband, Michael Maes.
A poster for the movie, which features the tagline, ‘How to make an ordinary life an extraordinary experience.’

Facing fears, from swimming with sharks to talking to a room full of strangers, is the inspiring theme of a new documentary by Cayman Islands-based filmmaker Michael Maes.

Mr. Maes made his first feature-length movie,

“Epiphany,” about his wife, Ellen Cuylaerts and her battle to overcome her fear of water to become a noted wildlife photographer.

The movie, which premiered at the Vail Film Festival in Colorado last weekend, is also about Mr. Maes’s and his children’s struggle with social interactions as a result of high-functioning autism.

“It is mostly about Ellen, who many people in Cayman know is a world-renowned wildlife photographer,” said Mr. Maes, who lives in North Side.

“It is about struggles she has overcome and how she has guided and shepherded her family, her children and her husband, through the social aspects of life.”

The story aims to shine a light on the issue of autism, as well as sending a powerful conservation message.

Focusing on Ms. Cuylaerts and her family’s encounters with the natural world, it features footage of her and her children swimming with tiger sharks, whale sharks and other exotic sea creatures.

Michael Maes shoots footage of a tiger shark for his movie, 'Epiphany.' – PHOTO: ELLEN CUYLAERTS
Michael Maes shoots footage of a tiger shark for his movie, ‘Epiphany.’ – PHOTO: ELLEN CUYLAERTS

Mr. Maes said the story aimed to transcend those themes to show how even the most elemental fears, like a fear of sharks, can fade when we confront them.

“It is very raw and honest,” he said. “It is a personal story but ultimately everyone can relate to it because it is about personal growth and healing.

There is a conservation message behind it but it is also about looking at yourself, how you can grasp your life and change things in your life.

“Epiphany is about facing your inner fears and getting in charge of your own life. Regardless of the environment, be it sharks, be it autism, many people will relate to the core of the story.”

The movie took two years to shoot and features locations across the globe, from the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas to Mr. Maes’s home country, Belgium.

After four months in post-production, the film premiered Friday in front of an audience of around 100 festival goers and movie business insiders.

Mr. Maes, who has high-functioning autism, prefers to be behind the camera, rather than in front of it. But he confronted his own anxiety to take part in interviews and question-and-answer sessions about the movie.

“I was very nervous but the reception was all positive. This was the first totally dispassionate audience we had shown it too. Most of them didn’t know much about sharks and were amazed by some of the things they saw.”

He said the movie was a team effort and had taken the hard work, skill and dedication of a number of talented people to complete.

It will be shown at film festivals in the U.S., and at special screenings in Ascension Island and Singapore over the next month. A Caribbean premiere is planned in the Cayman Islands, though a date has yet to be confirmed.

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