In Montclair, residents seem to show affection for all animals. Whether it’s dogs, cats, rabbits or even deer and foxes, there is a conscious effort to care for and protect them. 

For people like marine expert Patrick Dykstra, his affinity for animals reaches well past those that can be domesticated. At the Montclair Film Festival on Oct. 23, Dykstra premiered his documentary “Patrick and the Whale.” The premiere was in partnership with The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey, which raffled off a giant stuffed whale and provided whale-themed snacks and photos for the audience. 

The documentary follows Dykstra to such places as Dominica, Portugal and England as he takes the viewer through his time photographing sperm whales and trying to gain a deeper understanding of one of the largest mammals in the world.

Originally from Colorado, Dystrka received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, then went on to receive his law degree from New York University. Before falling in love with the oceans and their inhabitants, he worked as a corporate lawyer on Wall Street. 

In the film, he says that he used his corporate job to fund his real passion of photographing whales. 

“I wasn't a great lawyer – I  took a lot of vacation,” he said jokingly.

It was when he was on one of his many vacations that his marine videography career took off. While on an excursion to photograph killer whales, he decided to challenge himself and create video instead. He posted the video on a media platform, and within a day he received a message from a researcher at the BBC asking if it could buy the footage to include in a show.  

“I can’t send you the footage now because I’m in Dominica swimming with sperm whales,” Dykstra told the researcher. 

But what he thought would be a hurdle resulted in an even bigger opportunity for him. The BBC also needed video of sperm whales, which allowed Dykstra to start diving deep into his love of whales and videography. His work appeared in the award-winning documentary series “Blue Planet II.” 

Now he is able to revel in his own film, in which he is both star and cinematographer. Though the documentary follows the relationship between Dykstra and the whales, he believes that the whales are the real stars of the film, so much so that he says the film should be called “The Whales and Patrick.”

In the film the audience is introduced to Dykstra and two sperm whales, Dolores and Can Opener. Dolores and Can Opener are not only physically larger than life but also have large personalities. There are multiple times throughout the film where Dykstra shows the emotional intelligence that the animals possess. 

In one scene, when Dykstra meets Dolores for the first time, she approaches him in a curious, childlike manner and even goes as far as to imitate movements that he makes, like rolling over in the water. 

Though he has no formal training, the scenes that Dykstra captures in his movie would make you believe that his cinematography is a form of Hollywood movie magic at play. He essentially gives the audience a taste of a day in the life of a whale. 

Viewers see the whales sleeping vertically in a circle and the whales migrating. Dykstra even goes as far as to get footage of Can Opener when she goes to hunt a giant squid in water that is too deep for humans. 

In the buildup of their relationship, Dykstra earns Can Opener’s trust enough to attach a camera to the side of her mouth. This camera shows the deep, dark seas where bioluminescent animals swim past Can Opener as she searches for her next meal. 

Dykstra leaves viewers with a deeper understanding of these gentle giants, who have their own language, relationships and means to life. He told an audience member about the impact that the animals have on his human relationships. 

“I think certainly as I've gotten closer to them and spent more time with them, it's made me a much gentler person,” he said. “ When you have these kinds of experiences, it's pretty hard to get really upset if someone cuts in front of you in traffic or you're in a long red light because you know, there's so many amazing things in the world that fill your soul with so much joy.” 

More than anything, Dykstra wishes that his documentary will raise awareness of the animal that he’s loved since he was a child.

“My hope for anybody who sees the film is that they come away with a greater appreciation of the ocean, of its inhabitants, of whales and our human impacts on all of those things,” he said.