In shark documentary "Near Miss," Point Reyes Station diver appreciates undersea quiet

03/27/2019

It’s meditation—the slowing of time and the absence of sound—that Ron Elliott, a Point Reyes Station resident who has had hundreds of encounters with white sharks while free diving off the Farallon Islands, is seeking. One such encounter is documented in a 12-minute film, “Near Miss,” that debuted last week at the International Ocean Film Festival in San Francisco. Describing his encounters with great whites, Mr. Elliott says, “There’s no sound. It’s silent. There’s a lot of movement but no sound.” He adds, “That’s what life is about for me: it’s experiencing the moment. There are no other thoughts beyond that. That’s why I do it.” A retired commercial sea-urchin diver, Mr. Elliott started diving off the Farallones more than a decade ago. His white shark encounters range in the hundreds, but he says he doesn’t keep count. Usually, they are peaceful, but sometimes he gets a bump; a handful of times, he has received a more serious warning. Last October, shortly after jumping off his boat, Mr. Elliott spotted a 17-foot female great white coming straight toward him—not backing off as many before her had done. Mr. Elliott offered up his camera to fend off the attack, but the shark’s mouth ripped open his right hand and forearm. He climbed back on his boat before the shark circled back, and radioed a research vessel that he knew was close by. He was airlifted to Stanford University Medical Center and later had surgery to repair the damage to his nerves, muscles and tendons. “I get scared,” Mr. Elliott says in the film. “But then again, that interests me too. I feel alive. But I don’t feel invincible, either.” Most of the film’s underwater footage belongs to Mr. Elliott, but Josh Berry, an Olema native who directed the short, went out with him a few times to capture other aspects of his practice. Mr. Elliott narrates the film, which, despite the title, lacks the suspense one would anticipate. Instead, the viewer gets a sense of the quiet Mr. Elliott covets. Mr. Berry, who now lives in Daly City and works as a cinematographer for a software company, developed an interest in sharks while surfing off Point Reyes. “Giant, wild beasts are close by and very present and we have no idea. They are so good at staying still,” he said. Yet the odds for an attack are low, Mr. Berry said, even for people like Mr. Elliott who spend time in known feeding grounds. “We have this deep fear of being eaten alive from millions of years of evolution, but that fear is unfounded,” Mr. Berry said. “Sharks aren’t here to hurt you.” A screening of "Near Miss” will start at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 19 at the Dance Palace Community Center. Tickets will be available in advance at nearmissfilm.com and at the door.