Tampa Bay Hooks Big Fish In BLUE Ocean

The BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit, a five-year-old week-long event formerly based in Monterey, CA, will move to Tampa Bay in 2014 and continue in even years thereafter. BLUE will return to Monaco in 2015 and in subsequent odd-numbered years.

The big news for Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater-Bradenton-Sarasota was announced Sunday in Monaco by Prince Albert II and BLUE Founder Deborah Kinder at a news conference held in the tony European principality favored by ocean-loving jet setters who congregate in the shadow of Monte Carlo.

The announcement marks a major opportunity for Tampa Bay’s academic, scientific and business communities with participants expected from across the globe. Kinder and her husband, Charles, who live on Harbour Island in Tampa, made the decision to bring BLUE to Florida after it outgrew Monterey.

The Kinders, along with the festival’s board of advisers, which includes executives from the BBC, National Geographic, Disney and Paramount, quietly toured the Tampa Bay region in July at the invitation of Sandy Rief, an attorney at Akerman in Tampa, Peter Betzer of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and Helen Levine of USF St. Pete.

Rief, who first suggested the Kinders consider Tampa Bay over cities like San Diego and Santa Barbara, says the board members and sponsors were “blown away’’ by the depth and breadth of the local scientific community in particular and recognized the opportunity to focus on the health of the Gulf of Mexico post-BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Exploring The Tampa Bay Scene

The Tampa Bay region will host the festival, which attracted 30,000 attendees, 800 international scientists and numerous celebrities to Monterey in 2012, on even years starting with Nov. 3-9, 2014.

“Tampa Bay has proven to be such a warm and excited community about this,” says Debbie Kinder, BLUE Ocean co-founder and CEO. “California has long been progressive on environmental issues. Here there is some of that, but more importantly, there are so many opportunities to engage the public in a fun way, including the science community, which is really strong here.”

The weeklong festival combines screenings of more than 100 ocean-themed and underwater films with related events. In Monterey, offshoots included a trade show of filmmaking gear, film production workshops and lectures on science and conservation of the world’s oceans. Kinder expects some of those offerings to expand in Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas counties.

Among already committed partners is the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, which will host an environmental journalism conference and storytelling institute during BLUE Ocean 2014. Additional events will spread across Tampa Bay at venues such as Baywalk’s Muvico cineplex, The Florida Aquarium, The Mahaffey Theatre, MOSI Tampa, Museum of Fine Arts, Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, The Dalí Museum and local beaches. 

A formal announcement will take place at Poynter on October 14. 

Moving To Tampa Bay

The festival’s films are selected through an open call process that attracts submissions from around the world. Highlights of BLUE Ocean 2012 included appearances by director James Cameron, who received a lifetime achievement award from the festival, and members of the Cousteau dynasty of ocean explorers and advocates. In 2014, the festival will include a special category for local filmmakers and a program to recognize student films.

At first, the organizers of BLUE Ocean were skeptical that the Tampa Bay region would appeal to elite members of the festival’s audience, says Betzer.
Betzer, a retired oceanographer who served as founding dean at USF’s College of Marine Science, worked in collaboration with USF St. Petersburg Vice Chancellor Helen Levine to organize a tour for the group at the invitation of Attorney Sandy Rief, who represents Make A Difference Media, Inc. the nonprofit sponsoring entity for BLUE Ocean.

Their pitch included introducing BLUE Ocean’s founders and advisers to representatives from SRI International’s marine technology program, Draper Laboratory, Odyssey Marine Exploration, the Florida Institute of Oceanography in St. Petersburg and local cultural institutions, as well as Tampa International Airport and Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg that allows visitors to walk from movie theaters to museums, parks, restaurants and hotels. The Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront will serve as the festival’s headquarters.

“If you put this stuff together, we’re kind of unbeatable,” Betzer says.

In the end, the BLUE Ocean group voted unanimously to name the Tampa Bay region as co-host of the festival on alternating years with Monaco. While that means an influx of visitors in the near term, Betzer predicts the greater payoff will come in subsequent years as people -- particularly “top flight international businesspeople, filmmakers, producers” -- get to know West Central Florida through BLUE Ocean. (Not to mention the prospect of a visit from Prince Albert II.)

“They’re going to come here and fall in love with this place. That’s a big deal,” Betzer says. “I think companies are going to relocate, people are going to move their families. … There’s a huge valley of ignorance out there, and I honestly think this thing is going to push us in a very positive direction in terms of international exposure. For my money now, I have never seen anything like this happen in my 42 years here in terms of international exposure for this region.” 

Megan Voeller of Tampa, a contributing writer to 83 Degrees Media and the visual art critic for Creative Loafing, works at USF’s Contemporary Art Museum. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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