Felicia: The Life of an Octopus Fisherwoman

It is often too easy to paint the picture of biodiversity-rich countries like Madagascar as locals destroying their environment and money and conservationists from the outside saving the wondrous flora and fauna that these countries have. But there are also other important narratives that focus on the struggle of local people to preserve their cultural and biological heritage while at the same time being able to provide their families with food, shelter, and ultimately a better life.

To communicate and raise awareness on the complex drivers of resource exploitation and biodiversity loss in Madagascar, the short documentary film "Felicia: The Life of an Octopus Fisherwoman" tells a story about the connection between social and environmental justice in the southwest coast of the island. A region traditionally inhabited by the Vezo people, the Velondriake (meaning “to live with the sea”) archipelago is home to thousands of spirited fishermen and -women, whose artful way of life is increasingly threatened by poverty, cultural loss, and political marginalization.

To tell this narrative, this film sheds light on the life of one Malagasy woman, whose story can provide a first-hand account on the vicious relationship between poverty and environmental degradation in Madagascar and beyond. After losing her father at age 13, Felicia turns to the sea as a means for sustenance, even when migration, commercial trawling, and socio-cultural fragmentation make small-scale fishing operations an increasingly challenging way of life. Like many Malagasy people, Felicia continues to harvest scarce resources not out of ignorance but out of necessity.

Felicia’s life story, filled with hardships and setbacks, also reveals the resolute temperament that characterizes her and many other women in Madagascar: a steadfast willingness to keep moving forward in the face of adversity, a disposition to keep making the best out of some of the most challenging situations.

  • José Carlos Pons
  • José Carlos Pons
  • Samba Roger
  • Felicia Rafenomanana
  • José Carlos Pons
  • Samba Roger
  • Felicia Rafenomanana
    Key Cast
  • José Carlos Pons
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Environmental, Development, Community, People, Africa, Madagascar, Ethnographic, Culture
  • Runtime:
    11 minutes 11 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 1, 2020
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - Georgetown University
  • 2020 Jackson Wild Media Awards
    Jackson Hole
    United States
    Special Jury Finalist/Honorable Mention
Director Biography - José Carlos Pons

José Carlos Pons was born and raised in Toluca, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City, and so he was exposed to the link between poverty and environmental degradation from an early age.

As he grew up, an interest in environmental justice led me him to work on conservation and social development projects in his own Mexico, Argentina, Haiti, and Madagascar. Thanks to these experiences, he developed a critical eye for understanding people and some of the most pressing environmental issues that afflict us all today.

"Felicia," his debut film, is thus the product of this vision combined with a passion for storytelling and photography - which he has been fortunate to possess for as long as he can remember.

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Director Statement

Telling the story of Felicia was important for me for two main reasons:

(1) Because exploitation does not know of political walls or species boundaries. Humans are just another species in the kingdom of life—if humans want to protect their environment they must start with our own kind. As the story of Felicia shows, vicious cycles of poverty and degradation often keep people in rural communities tied to diminishing stocks of natural resources for their subsistence. Until these people have more economic and political alternatives for their development, society cannot expect them to protect the environment as they would like.

(2) Because visual storytelling can bring truth and justice to reality. At any point in time, global issues (overfishing, climate change, migrations, etc.) are affecting the lives of millions of people on the ground. For me, the main source of power and beauty of documentary filmmaking lies in revealing how local lives and visions are connected with broader issues. By doing so, and with luck, we may uncover some truth and thus the possibility of bringing some justice to reality.