The BLUE Ocean Film Fest sails into St. Pete

The international filmfest and conservation summit is on a mission to save the seas.

click to enlarge ICEBREAKER: Antarctica 3D: On The Edge. - KIP EVANS
ICEBREAKER: Antarctica 3D: On The Edge.

BLUE Ocean Film Festival
& Conservation Summit

Feat. James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge 3D, Fabien Cousteau’s Mission 31, Antarctica 3D: On the Edge, various other films, seminars, panel discussions, parties and more. Nov. 3-9; various St. Petersburg locations. Tickets $12.50 (individual flim blocks)-$1,250 (Blue Whale all-access pass); for more information,  visit

The BLUE Ocean Film Festival is different. Sure, it’s got its big-name attendees — including Jeremy Irons and Sir Richard Branson — as well as its share of star power, dress-up-and-be-seen parties and marquee showcases like iconic Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge 3D documentary. But what BLUE Ocean offers that other film fests don’t is an unprecedented opportunity for scientists, conservationists, marine filmmakers and the industries that outfit them to come together and engage in an entertaining and enlightening dialogue about the state and future of the world’s oceans.

And to bring passionate fans, interested parties and mainstream audiences alike into that dialogue as well.

“It’s going to be an amazing group, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet some of these people up close,” says CEO and Executive Director Debbie Kinder.

Kinder and her husband Charlie founded BLUE in 2006 as a unique way to bring together those inside and outside the oceanic conservation community. She saw a disconnect not only between the various elements of marine conservation efforts, but also between those efforts and a large swath of the public that wanted to be better informed. The Kinders endeavored to create an environment that would allow everyone to come together and share the latest knowledge, and entertain as well as educate those moviegoers that love nature films at the same time.

“This was a different kind of event,” she says. “It’s a traditional film festival, industry conference and conservation summit.”

click to enlarge COASTAL CRUSADER: Mission Blue's Sylvia Earle. - BLUE OCEAN FILM FESTIVAL
COASTAL CRUSADER: Mission Blue's Sylvia Earle.

The group began working early with NOAA’s national marine sanctuary system; after events in Savannah, Ga. (home to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary) and Monterey, Calif. (site of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary), BLUE went looking for a new home, and found it in St. Petersburg.

“We really had no idea of the venues, the ambience is great, there are fabulous marine science programs,” says Kinder. “Then we found out about all the collaborations within the arts community, how they all work together with each other and various causes — those partnerships made it feel like the right place.”

She admits that, with all the various balls BLUE Ocean has in the air, it’s tough to condense the festival’s allure into an easily digestible soundbite attractive to the average Animal Planet watcher or movie fan. While the festival is considered a groundbreaking success within the conservation community, its other stated aim — to share wonderful films and important information with a larger audience — is the more ambitious, and difficult, undertaking.

But Kinder thinks there’s more than enough going on during this year’s St. Pete shindig to thrill a variety of festivalgoers. The aforementioned Cameron film DeepSea Challenge 3D is the fest’s first major Opening Night draw on Monday, and it will be followed by a live Q&A panel featuring members of the expedition team. (Persistent rumors that Cameron himself might show up have been deemed speculative but, ahem, not completely unfounded.)

The actual exploration sphere from the film will also be on display. When asked about other can’t-miss elements of the film festival istelf, she mentions Wednesday night’s Antarctica 3D: On The Edge (director Jon Bowermaster will be in attendance); Thursday evening’s Mission Blue, the Fisher Stevens-directed story of inspiring Dunedin-bred activist and Ph.D Sylvia Earle (also attending); and Sunday’s special screening of Jeremy Irons’ film Trashed, which takes an unflinching look at how our waste culture is affecting our oceans.

In between, there are dozens of films, panels, seminars and exhibits, the vast majority of which are open to the ticket-buying public. It’s a singular confluence of those most passionate about saving our planet’s marine environments, and the masses they need to reach.

“It’s for the public, for families, for heads of state, policy leaders, professional scientists, wannabe scientists,” says Kinder. “I have to pinch myself. It’s an amazing and inspiring group of people to be around.” 

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