Ambitious Blue Ocean Film Festival splashes down in Monterey.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
It will begin Tuesday, Aug. 24, with Bruckner Chase going for a swim. From Santa Cruz to Monterey. An estimated 12-hour trip without a wetsuit, landing at Coast Guard pier. It’s unsure if he will even make it, but the symbolic stunt is intended to attract the Peninsula’s attention to the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit, which will unfold exponentially over the following six days, unpacking its stuffed contents of films and photographs, symposiums and lectures, mixers and workshops, and other activities that revolve around the water from which Chase will emerge.
BLUE aims to “promote, honor and share films that inspire people to protect our oceans and the life within.”
It’s a simple premise. Our oceans are being depleted of their resources and poisoned by the planet’s most successful animal – humans. But that might be hard to tell from our limited vantage point boating on its surface or gazing from the shore. Out of sight, out of mind.
“Scientists are realizing that the best way to get their work out is a visual medium, with entertainment and science,” festival director Arlene Burns says.
The films put the ocean’s treasures squarely in our line of sight and load our memory banks with images and information that make its incomprehensible vastness come alive, in visceral action shots, weirdly beautiful deep-sea scenes, gawkingly breathtaking panoramas and sobering reports of malfeasance.
Bolstered by its twin functions as film festival and summit of leading ocean explorers, scientists and conservationists – its inaugural launch last year in Savannah, Ga., attracted 4,000 attendees – BLUE is primed to make a splash.
The films will span 19 categories and infinite depths, from the artistic and meditative, to the technical and empirical, to the dramatic and groundbreaking.
The list of films, which will be judged for winners in their categories – The Cove won top honors last year – has grown as fast as a baby blue whale’s weight gain (about 200 pounds per day, FYI) from 60-plus a few months ago to a current 80-plus. They’ll keep the screens flickering at Golden State Theatre, Cannery Row IMAX, Osio Cinemas, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey History and Maritime Museum.
Two highlights: a documentary on Southern Louisiana culture, SOLAS (4:15pm Thu, Osio), with the filmmaker talking about the oil spill and his recent visit; and Disneynature’s OCEANS (6pm Thu, Golden State Theatre) – a follow-up documentary to its monumental EARTH – a limited-entry, hot-ticket item featuring speaker Don Hahn, the film’s executive producer.
Pacific Grove-based award-winning photographer and filmmaker Bob Talbot’s entry, Ocean Men (11am 2:30pm Sat, IMAX), centers on competitive freediving champions and former friends Umberto Pelizzari of Italy and Pipin Ferreras of Cuba. It segues from one stunning shot to another, with an undercurrent that highlights our primal connection to the ocean.
“For nine months before we’re born, we live in water,” the narrator says.
For a single dive, Ferreras says, he trains for 10 months. Some of the best competitive “apnea” divers can hold their breath for eight minutes, their hearts slowing to 14 beats per minute. It’s literally breathtaking footage, with the divers swimming among groupers, dolphinfish and reef sharks, whom Pelizzari considers friends. But it’s extreme business.
“Many of my friends have died freediving,” he says.
Local underwater photographer Bryant Austin, in addition to staging a show of his large-format whale photos at Monterey History and Maritime Museum (11am-5pm daily, starting Wed), is the subject of the film In the Eye of the Whale (1:30pm Sat, Maritime Museum). His own subjects of choice, though, are his beloved whales.
“The first picture of Earth was taken with a Hasselblad,” he says. “That started the environmental movement, when people could see Earth as this fragile little blue marble. It’s something I want to recreate, with the same technology, with whales.”
His freediving dance with the massive mammals is a communion of two living beings connecting and communicating on a level that we may not yet have a name for. And the accompanying soundtrack – “Breathe” by Telepopmusik and “Olsen Olsen” by Sigur Ros – is meditative aural bliss.
“Each dive by all these filmmakers and photographers is an exploratory dive,” says renowned National Geographic photographer David Doubilet, whose exhibit opens Tuesday at Portola Hotel. “That’s what makes it so incredibly exciting. It’s a joy and a challenge.”
The challenge took the life of esteemed colleague Wes Skiles several weeks ago during a dive. The joy will be apparent in the content and the atmosphere of the festival.
“Our first duty, as filmmakers and photographers,” Doubilet says, “is to makes these images live and breathe and be full of excitement.”
The range of films adds layers and depth to our conceptions of the ocean. They include Sherri Goldberg’s 22-minute Acid Test: The Global Challenges of Ocean Acidification (4pm Fri, IMAX); National Geographic’s local focus in Big Sur: Wild California (10:45am Sat, Maritime Museum); the BBC’s two one-hour Life entries promise reliably high quality stories of sea creatures (4pm Sat, Osio; 1pm Thu, Maritime Museum); Bess Manley’s Slime, Snot and Guts is a children’s category finalist that’s screened in a block of children’s films (1:30pm Sat, Osio); Rupert Murray follows investigative reporter Charles Clover, who exposes the ocean-damaging practices of “politicians and celebrity restaurateurs” in The End of the Line (12:30pm Thu in English, IMAX), which shows in a block of Spanish-language films at 6:15pm Thursday, at Osio; and Mark Shelley, executive producer of Monterey’s own Sea Studios, will screen his Strange Days on Planet Earth in a block of films 4pm Friday at IMAX with filmmaker Q&A to follow.
Two numbers you may have seen: Ultimate Wave Tahiti (11am and 6pm Fri, 5pm Sat), which features champion surfer Kelly Slater, and Under the Sea 3D (2:30pm and 6:30pm Thu; 1pm and 7:15pm Sun) have been playing at Cannery Row IMAX for months. One you may not have heard of: Yao Ming – Shark Fin Soup (12:15pm Sat, IMAX), starring the former NBA All-Star.
And sprinkled among the bigger films will be uploaded Google film shorts and unpolished, charming and earnest shorts by local kids from Marina’s Olson and Marina Vista, Seaside’s George C. Marshall and Salinas’ Cesar E. Chavez elementary schools.
One little activist narrates his drawings of an encounter between a shark and a plastic bag: “‘People are [littering], not me,’ said trash.
“‘Excuse me,’ said shark, ‘but you are killing my food’…
“‘Let’s fight,’ said trash.”
While the film festival portion of BLUE uses artistry to inspire the conservation impulse in festival-goers, the conservation summit portion takes a more direct approach. The vast roster of special guests is spread between BLUE’s main venues, Portola Hotel and the neighboring Monterey Conference Center.
Stacked up throughout the day from Wednesday to Sunday, the summit puts forth panels and presentations by leading ocean experts.
Fulbright scholar and California Academy of Science adjunct Dr. Wallace Nichols will give a talk titled “Eye Opener: Oceanphilia” (8am Wed, Portola). Nichols will be followed by a keynote presentation from Doubliet (4-4:30pm Thu, Golden State Theatre), and a panel that assembles Sea Studios’ Mark Shelley, Aquarium Vice President Mike Sutton and Greg MacGillivray, the IMAX filmmaker of Everest and The Living Sea (3-5pm Sun, Golden State Theatre).
After heady talks like “Gulf Oil Spill: Tragedy to Turning Point” by Dr. Carl Safina (3-4pm Sat, Conference Center), local executive director of the Plastic Pollution Coalition Daniella Russo’s “Plastic Pollution” panel (noon-12:45pm Thu, Golden State Theatre) and Aquarium CEO Julie Packard’s keynote presentation (5:30pm Fri, Aquarium), the summit will present the Making Waves Award to the famous Cousteau clan at Golden State Theatre’s Blue Carpet Awards (6-9pm, Sat), at which Paula Cole will perform, and the winning films will be awarded. The afterparty streams down Alvarado to bring life to the Maritime Museum.
The breakout Ocean Policy Forum (9am Thu, Conference Center), in play as of press time, will include confirmed panelists U.S. Rep. Sam Farr and California Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado, while it seems gubernatorial candidate and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown is the one that got away.
The line-up of high-powered sponsors testifies to the urgent mission and powerful appeal of this festival. The Aquarium has been working so closely with the small but agile BLUE team, they are practically partners. It was at the Aquarium that co-founders Debbie and Charlie Kinder officially announced the relocation of the festival to Monterey. Platinum sponsor Cannery Row Company is strategically positioned to mobilize its roster of merchants that populate the Row, American Tin Cannery and Steinbeck Plaza. The pool goes deeper: National Marine Sanctuaries, Amphibico, Code Blue Foundation, Monterey’s Light and Motion, the Monterey Conference Center, the city of Monterey, Sanibel Sea School, Oceana, National Geographic, the Weekly, KION-46 and so on.
And that’s not even counting the power players on BLUE’s advisory board, like Stratton Leopold, former Paramount Pictures executive vice president of production; and Charlotte Vick of Google Ocean, the Google Earth counterpart that maps the world’s seas in 3D. Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, also on the board, received Time magazine’s first Hero for the Planet award, and won a prestigious TED Conference Prize in 2009 – all in a day’s work for the National Geographic explorer-in-residence and former head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who delivers a keynote 4:30pm Friday at the Conference Center.
The whole affair winds down with the evocative “Beach Wrap Party” 6:30pm Sunday at Del Monte Beach.
Most of the weight of pulling off BLUE sits on the shoulders of its core organizers: co-founders Debbie and Charlie Kinder, festival director Arlene Burns, Debbie’s assistant Christine Mallia and a handful of others.
They inhabit two storefronts in Cannery Row’s Monterey Canning Company building – the same one that houses Sly McFly’s – where the staff toils for up to 14 hours a day.
During a recent visit, no one betrayed any strain or tension from the gargantuan task facing them. The atmosphere was breezy, even, with only take-out lunches sitting atop of desks and dark crescents under the eyes hinting at the hectic schedule they’ve ramped up to; last week Debbie Kinder emailed the Weekly the latest copy of the schedule at 11:30pm.
“We’re all wearing too many hats,” she’d said earlier.
But the pay-off could be enormous – for Monterey, for attendees and for the ocean and its inhabitants, not least of which are the humpback whales which, weeks ago, could be seen in abundant numbers launching themselves out of the waters of Monterey Bay, breach feeding huge gulps of plentiful krill, and cruising within eyesight of the greens at Cypress Golf Course. They are a big reminder of why all this is happening.