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Dive into the BLUE

News1_DiveintoblueMonterey plunges into hosting the BLUE Ocean Film Festival
Some things just click. Artichokes and butter, Highway 1 and convertibles, back porches and banjos—they go together so naturally it's as if they were made for one another. Destined for inclusion in the list of great matches is a new pair: Monterey and the BLUE Ocean Film Festival (BOFF). This summer, from Aug. 24 to 29, BOFF will be held for the first time in Monterey with the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) as their presenting sponsor, promising a marriage of resources, passions, and goals.

"We've always thought about doing a film festival but the logistics are really daunting—it’s a huge undertaking," says Hank Armstrong, vice president of communications at the MBA. "So to have somebody come into town who wants to do an ocean film festival that we could become the presenting sponsors of was just a great solution."

The festival was previously held in Savannah, Ga., a town known in the oceanic world for Grey's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, which has held its own regional ocean film festival for five years and counting. The BOFF was intended to (and did, for the year it was there) open up the festival in Savannah to a larger national and international audience. So why the move to Monterey?

"I think for trying to have sustainability and build the infrastructure of an event like this you need to be someplace where people immediately understand what you're about," says Deborah Kinder, CEO/executive director of the BOFF. "Monterey is such an epicenter for all things ocean, it made total sense for the long-term vision of this event."
The MBA in turn expects to benefit from the introduction of a medium that can further educate and impassion people about the ocean. "We do as good a job as anyone in the world with connecting people with live animals and experience," says Armstrong. "What we can't do is transport them to other parts of the world, and that's what film does."

More than 85 films (selected from more than 350 submissions— "the  BLUE people are all bleary-eyed," jokes Armstrong) will address virtually every major issue facing our oceans today. From informative and insightful documentaries to nature and exploration films to fictional ocean-centered theatrical productions, "this is the type of information that can appeal to the Ph.D.s but also to the 6-year-olds, and [everyone] in between," says Kinder. "These are serious issues but we want it to be a totally fun, engaging event, and we want people to leave here feeling moved by it."

News1_Diveintoblue2The festival has set the bar pretty high for itself. Last year's Best of Festival winner was The Cove, a chilling documentary about dolphin-hunting in southern Japan, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary. The Cove has opened an international dialogue about freedom of speech as a result of being censored and blacklisted in Japan, where it has only recently been approved for screening. The Cove may not have had the immediate impact that some had hoped for, (that is, the barbaric practice of rampant dolphin killing has not been stopped), but Kinder is patient and pragmatic in her outlook. "Issues are unfortunately never that easy, people hold on to old ways … it really needs to come to that tipping point of awareness within a community, and that's where films help spur things on," she says.

In every way, BOFF is a film festival akin to Sundance and Tulluride with film screenings at five Monterey peninsula theaters, parties, nightly musical events, galleries, guest speakers, and an awards ceremony on the "Blue Carpet." But there are other aspects of the festival that the organizers say are just as important.
"We have three distinct tracks," says Kinder. "The film festival, the Conservation Summit, and then the industry event.  We see ourselves as a platform. We're a film festival but really much more than that."

The Conservation Summit, which will be held in the Steinbeck Forum at the Conference Center, will consist of high profile roundtable discussions on many of the issues facing our oceans today between many of the top researchers and conservationists in the world. There will also be an open forum for political candidates of California to come and clearly express their stance on ocean politics, which can often be just as murky as the Gulf's oil-laden waters.

The industry event is a chance for networking, getting involved, learning a craft, or pitching ideas to a major network or other sponsor. "It really is a fantastic opportunity for emerging filmmakers and photographers," says Kinder. "You're going to get to stand next to, and be mentored by, in a very casual way, the world's best."

Kicking off the event (and tying it to Monterey's neighbor on the north end of the bay), marathon swimmer Bruckner Chase will attempt the 25-mile swim across the Monterey Bay Sanctuary, entering the water at Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz at 4 a.m. on Aug. 24 and arriving in Monterey at roughly 4 p.m.  Bruckner, an accomplished swimmer and triathlete, has attempted the swim once before, but ran into a giant patch of jelly-fish along the way, and was stung several hundred times. "He swims [by] ‘English rules,’ which means no wetsuit," says Armstrong with a mix of admiration and disbelief. "The toxins from the jellies combined with the colder water over the canyon meant that he couldn't continue." The experience hasn’t discouraged him from trying again this year.

When Bruckner arrives in Monterey, swimming past the MBA to exit at San Carlos Beach, the festival will officially begin. Other highlights of the festival include a gallery showing by photographer David Doubilet and an honoring of the Cousteau family for their conservation work and for carrying on Jacque Cousteau's legacy.

Individual festival passes range from $125 for a "Sea Otter Pass" to $750 for the "BLUE Whale Pass." There is also a single day pass available for $45. Members of the MBA receive a 20 percent discount. There will also be a number of events that will be free to the public. To see listings of daily events and purchase passes visit blueoceanfilmfestival.org.

"It's been kind of a whirlwind," says Kinder. "But it's been great, and we're here … Our ultimate goal at the end of the day in every piece of this that we do is that we want people to come and have fun, be empowered, and leave here feeling inspired with a momentum that yes we can make a difference. Just reaffirm their connection with and love of the ocean."
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written by Wallace J. Nichols, August 18, 2010
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