Thursday, September 13, 2012
It was, without hyperbole, a whale of a show.
In 2010, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit doused the Peninsula in waves of events, washing up treasure upon treasure of ocean culture and science on our shores. It stretched out over Peninsula venues like Golden State Theatre, Monterey Bay Aquarium, the then-Cannery Row IMAX, Portola Hotel & Spa and more choice spots. It brought more than 80 films, running continuously throughout the five days. It lured teeming, concentrated masses of attendees, guests and spectators – 5,000 of them – including ocean filmmakers and photographers, oceanographers, conservationists, famous figures, scientists and film executives.
Version two will be even bigger. “BLUE” (and yes, this time the all caps is appropriate) is gearing up for its return Sept. 24-30, and it promises 100-plus films and more venues. The attendees this year count members of the Cousteau family dynasty (Jacques’ grandson and granddaughter), a member of a royal dynasty (Prince Albert II of Monaco), ocean conservation royalty (Dr. Sylvia Earle) and just maybe filmmaker royalty (James Cameron).
From morning to night, the events fit into four main areas: a conservation summit of panels, keynote speakers and talks; a big film festival culled from 667 entries from 24 countries; industry get-togethers and workshops; and marquee events.
Sarah Sponaugle, the film competition director (far from her only job for the festival) and daughter of BLUE CEO and Executive Director Debbie Kinder, has been part of BLUE since its birth in Savannah, Ga., in 2009. She observes expansion across geographic borders, professional arenas and attendance.
“We’ve grown internationally,” she says. “We’re reaching out to dignitaries from all professions and areas. It’s amazing to see how quickly people have bought into our idea and mission of empowerment and knowledge.”
Quickly is right. The Savannah festival opened with a screening of Disneynature’s Earth and awarded The Cove the Best of Festival honors before the film went on to win the Academy Award for best documentary.
“Savannah was absolutely amazing,” Sponaugle says. “It was right after the economy crashed and we were rather scared. [But] that week of the festival was an amazing kind of organic, energetic alliance. It was really cool. [All] of these very different types of personalities of people from all over the world.”
But Savannah wasn’t Monterey. In October of 2009, a delegation led by Bill Dourous and Dan Basta of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Pacific Grove filmmaker Bob Talbot, former film executive Kate Miller and others took BLUE co-founders Debbie and Charlie Kinder on a tour of the Monterey Peninsula and its venues, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Hopkins Marine Station and Sea Studios. The venues, the peninsula, the science, the history and the people all sufficiently impressed the couple, and BLUE migrated here for its 2010 iteration.
It was impressive. Ocean dignitaries, including members of the Cousteau family and Paramount Pictures executive vice president of production Stratton Leopold, roamed the Aquarium and Monterey Conference Center, sharing ideas about everything from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to legislation to underwater camera cases. Parties and awards galas, like the BLUE Carpet awards ceremony at Golden State Theatre, lit up venues at night. People wearing the red beanie caps made famous by Jacques Cousteau kept popping up. Good times.
This year’s will be 20 films (and a couple of days) larger than the first. The Aquarium hosts this year’s awards dinner and gala. The marquee events that end each day of the festival and summit on a high note are more exclusive, though Saturday’s cleverly and opportunistically named 50 Shades of BLUE Eco-Fashion Show and Benefit Auction is a reasonable $25 for a fun night (Dr. Sylvia Earle and Fabien Cousteau will be among those modeling clothes). The first marquee event comes 6:30-9pm Monday, Sept. 24, in Carmel, actually – an opening night ceremony at Sunset Center in honor of Sea Otter Awareness Week with Earle, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, Katie Pofahl and Mark Shelley. The latter two are star and producer, respectively, of the film to be screened, Otter 501. Another one happens 6-7pm Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Portola Hotel & Spa; a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuaries. The biggie, though, is Friday, Sept. 28, the BLUE Carpet awards ceremony at Golden State Theatre (7-9pm) which segues, in the form of a procession marching down Alvarado, right into a gala at Museum of Monterey (9pm-midnight).
The industry events have a business and technology bent, and for that there’s a whole cadre of savvy people coming. Craig Adkins of RoundU360 is a videographer who was on the forefront of 3D camera technology, and is helping to pioneer the next realm – 360-degree video. One panelist, Corinne Bourdeau, president and founder of 360 Degree Communications, was involved in The Cove; Bottle Shock, a 2008 comedy about the 1976 Judgment of Paris in which California wines trumped French wines in a blind taste test; and the Sundance award-winning film Fuel, about the ramifications of the world’s dependence on oil. She’ll be presenting on how to distribute documentary films.
“Some of the companies and [media] networks are coming for filmmakers to pitch [ideas] to them,” Sponaugle says. Those companies include Nat Geo TV, NHU Africa, Animal Planet and Discovery. “The next version of things in 3D has been the talk of the town lately. Everything’s going very digital. Making the experience more real, interactive, like you’re there.”
Google is holding a class on how to use Google Ocean called “Leveraging the Lair for Public Good.” Other industry events include “How Epic is the Epic Camera.” There’s a mentor series with Didier Noirot, Brian Skerry and Doug Allan, and a commissioner’s insights series with KQED, Kip Evans and others.
The conservation events are the broadest, buttressed by influential organizations like the Plastic Pollution Coalition, which is helping BLUE remain plastic-free, and distributing weighty information like a summary of scientific findings from The Ocean in a High CO2 World Symposium scientists. A “Leveraging the Power of Celebrity” panel takes place, maybe not coincidentally, the same Thursday as Prince Albert’s keynote address on biodiversity and climate change, among other things.
But it’s the power of films that will probably appeal to the most people. They are all documentaries (except for a 3D reissue of Finding Nemo and a marionette puppet short film created by Jim Henson’s daughter), from shorts to international features, more than 100 of them, playing concurrently and sometimes more than once in several venues. The films start Monday with two worthy, award-winning encore screenings: Bag It and The Cove. The rest cover all manner of topics, including sushi, plankton, pollution, sharks (lots of sharks), reefs, otters, acidification, aqua-farming.
Also featured: A lineup of 3D films at Cannery Row XD. Sea Rex 3D visits dinosaurs in prehistoric time. The Last Reef features awesome cinematography and looks at biodiversity around the world. Ocean Voyagers, narrated by Meryl Streep, follows a mother whale and her calf on their first migration.
Because the films are judged, they are programmed last, with two, three or four films slated in blocks of like topics so viewers get a mini-film fest with each admission ticket. More than 25 of the film blocks will have Q&As with the filmmakers.
Sponaugle, who says she’s seen all the films, says one of the standouts is Island President, a documentary that follows Mohammed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, in his quest to get the United Nations to help with global warming and to get an agreement signed by all the Western countries to reverse or curtail its impact.
“At our current rate, [the Maldives] is going to be our first environmental refugees [due to] rising temperatures of the sea,” she says. “It really shows the power of one.”
James Cameron, responsible for two of the highest-grossing movies of all time (1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar), recently set another record, which if you’ve seen his 1989 The Abyss, about a deep sea recovery team that recovers something no one expects, will sound familiar. Earlier this year, the Canadian and National Geographic explorer completed a deep-sea dive in a submersible into a part of the Marianas Trench called Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth (7 miles down in complete darkness).
Faced with a two-hour dive and surrounded by 16,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, Cameron was the third person to ever complete the depth of the dive and the first to do it solo. He shot 3D film footage while down there, so we have that to look forward to someday.
But that sort of reverse summiting only caps a career of filming and producing documentaries in and about the ocean, including Volcanoes of the Deep Sea and Expedition: Bismark, and helping create underwater equipment and submersibles. He truly has ocean water on the brain. For it all, he’ll be the recipient of BLUE’s Lifetime Achievement in Ocean Filmmaking Award.
As to whether it means Cameron will attend to personally pick up the award, Sponaugle says, “We don’t have a signed contract. We’re hoping he will.” They’re also honoring Capt. Don Walsh, the first man to go to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and staging a tribute to two National Geographic filmmakers killed in a helicopter crash in Australia in February. Emmy Award-winning American cinematographer Mike deGruy and Australian Andrew Wight, writer and producer of 3D film Sanctum, “Australian cinema’s biggest box office hit of 2010,” according to Associated Press, both worked with Cameron. “They were my deep-sea brothers,” he told the AP, “and both were true explorers who did extraordinary things and went places no human being has been.”
It’s a reminder that the beauty and understanding that these filmmakers, photographers, scientists and conservationists explore and bring to us, to enjoy in the comfort of our homes, schools and theater seats, occur in places of the planet that are pristinely wild and potentially harsh. It’s sometimes the price of chasing the big game of the ocean.
The BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit takes place Sept. 24-30, in various locations throughout the Monterey Peninsula. For information, tickets and passes, go to www.BlueOceanFilmFestival.org