St. Pete ramps up to host BLUE Ocean Film Festival, Conservation Summit

In its debut year as host of the BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit, St. Petersburg is getting ready for the recognition that accompanies the world-renowned event. 

The Pinellas County city and the Tampa Bay region are expected to capture international attention as the epicenter for one of the world’s premier ocean-centric film festivals, Nov. 3-9.
At the helm are BLUE co-founders Debbie and Charlie Kinder now of St. Petersburg, who launched the festival in 2008 in Savannah GA before taking it to Monterey CA in 2010, where it outgrew the upscale waterfront community. 

“It’s like year one again,” CEO Debbie Kinder says of bringing the film festival to Florida.

BLUE will introduce hundreds of international scientists, oceanographers, conservationists, celebrities and filmmakers to the Tampa Bay region’s academic, scientific and business communities.
In her cozy office on the fourth floor in the downtown campus of St. Petersburg College, Kinder is planning a week of film screenings, visual arts displays, keynotes, industry workshops, an environmental journalism conference, luncheons, a BLUE Carpet awards gala, community outreach programs, lectures and panel discussions with distinguished guests, happy hours and after-parties.

With the support of committed local business partners and tourism industry leaders, she is focused on creating local buzz to appeal to a wide audience. Her goal is to increase community awareness about the more than 150 screenings of ocean-themed and underwater films and related events.

Much of the film festival’s success will depend on community participation, Kinder says.

“We are well-known and respected in the ocean, science, conservancy and filmmaking communities,” Kinder says. “We want the local community to know we have something for everyone.”

Free ticket giveaways for students are planned, along with reduced ticket prices for youth and students to attend events such as the opening night screening of “James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge 3D” film, a second showing the following night and Jon Bowermaster's ”Antarctica 3D: On The Edge” on Nov. 5.

Coastal and street cleanups, free movies in the park and free lectures and career discussions with distinguished guests are some of the other opportunities offered to encourage area residents to take part. A 90-foot BLUE whale display at a yet-to-be determined downtown location also is expected to be a major attraction.

Walking the BLUE carpet

The film festival drew 30,000 attendees, 800 scientists and numerous celebrities to Monterey in 2012. Kinder hopes the move to St. Petersburg will equal or increase attendance from two years ago.

“We hope to match what we did in Monterey. It’s a new venue,” Kinder says.
For now the film festival’s schedule boasts more than 100 speakers, about 70 events, and six featured photographers. But there is more to come, Kinder adds. New speakers, sessions and activities are added daily to the BLUE schedule.

BLUE Ocean’s international film competition is expected to attract many of the 160 finalists to walk the blue carpet at the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg on Nov. 7. Some 75 Fulbright scholars also are scheduled to attend BLUE, Kinder says.

For most attendees, BLUE kicks off Nov. 3 with an afternoon session of an Explorers’ Roundtable, chronicling the expeditions of sea adventurer and attorney David Concannon and underwater cinematographer Bill Mills. The events will take place at the Hilton, the film festival headquarters, at 333 First St. S. in St Petersburg.

Well-known ocean explorers, filmmakers, scientists, photographers and conservationists will participate in discussions and question-and-answer sessions throughout the week.

Jenifer Austin, product manager for the Ocean in Google Earth and Maps, will moderate a panel discussion on Google Oceans on Nov. 7.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet these amazing minds and icons and shake their hands,” Kinder says.

Among the invited celebrities are Cameron; actor Jeremy Irons, whose award-winning documentary “Trashed” will be screened and he will be honored for his contributions to science; actress and environmentalist Kelly Rutherford, who portrayed Lily van der Woodsen on the television show Gossip Girl; Fabien Cousteau, an oceanographic explorer, documentary filmmaker and grandson of Jacques Cousteau, who will talk about his Mission 31 expedition; and many others.

Local marine expertise runs deep

BLUE is considered a major catch for a community with a well-established commitment to marine life exploration and advocacy.

Pinellas County and St. Petersburg are home to a wealth of marine-related institutions including the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, SRI Internationals’ marine technology program, Draper Laboratory, Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.
Other nearby science and water-themed landmarks include the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the Florida Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota.

The Tampa Bay area’s vast resources played a big part in the pitch to persuade the Kinders and the festival’s board of advisers to select St. Petersburg over cities such as Santa Barbara and San Diego, says Tampa Attorney Sandy Rief, who led the effort to get the Kinders to explore the Tampa Bay area.

Rief, trustee of the Duckwall Foundation, describes St. Petersburg as the obvious choice once the festival organizers saw “all of the opportunities that the Bay area offers for expansion.”

“I wouldn’t have presented St. Pete and the Tampa Bay area if I didn’t think we could support it,” says Rief, who recruited Peter Betzer of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and Helen Levine of USFSP to help make the pitch.

“It was my hope when we presented it to the BLUE board that they would agree.”

Everything needed to host film festival and more
St. Petersburg “had everything we were looking for from an ambiance standpoint,” Kinder says.

"We are thrilled to host Blue Ocean,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says. “This festival fits my vision of St. Petersburg being a city known for its marine sciences, for being environmentally conscious and for being an international destination." 

Many of the area’s largest companies, recognizable venues and tourism organizations have joined the effort to make the BLUE Ocean Film Festival a success.

There are more than 50 festival partners, including the city of St. Petersburg, Bill Edwards Presents Inc., Bright House Networks, Make a Difference Media, Glass Is Life, HealthCare IQ, St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater, Tampa Bay Times, Muvico Theaters, Duke Energy, Florida Trend, USF’s College of Marine Science, Eckerd College, Poynter Institute, Dali Museum, Disney Studios, Rolex and Google.

“It’s the first time I have seen so many diverse communities come together,” Betzer says. “I call it a tour of force by a united community.”

BLUE provides a platform for the public to engage with oceanographers, filmmakers, educators and environmentalists. “We love the great convergence of arts and science,” Kinder says.
Jackie Dixon, dean of USF’s College of Marine Science, says the arrival of the film festival shows the Tampa Bay area’s financial support for marine and science related fields is paying off in a big way.

“It’s going to bring the world’s attention to the many (environmental issues) we have with our oceans,” Dixon says. It also will draw attention to “the (marine-related projects) we have underway in St. Petersburg.”

According to Dixon, a recent economic impact study showed there are more than 800 scientists with an annual combined payroll of $24 million in St. Petersburg. 

BLUE’s move to the Tampa Bay area places it in elite company. The film festival alternates annually between the U.S. and Monaco, a posh European principality ruled by Prince Albert II on the French Riviera.

BLUE will be held in Monaco next year and return to St. Petersburg in 2016 and subsequent even years — if all goes as planned.

“We want people to get behind the festival,” Kinder says. “We want people to come to see what BLUE is all about.

“We want to convey we are a part of the community. We want to help enrich the community. We are here for the long haul.”

To become a festival partner or register as an exhibitor, click here to email or call (727) 388-6653. The mobile app with the film festival’s schedule of events is #exploreBLUE2014

Kenneth Knight is a freelance writer who lives in South Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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