Not surprisingly San Francisco Bay is home to the largest ocean film festival in the world, one that mixes wonder and warning. But the warnings are growing louder.
There’s a documentary on deep sea mining slated for the Pacific with Jason Momoa, another on plastic pollution narrated by actor Tim Robbin, also a film on ship strikes on whales that sometimes happens right outside the Golden Gate and another on the sharp rise of unexplained migratory gray whale deaths along our coast that also may be climate related.
Not all is doom and gloom however. On its 20th anniversary the International Ocean Film Festival (IOFF) also highlights expanding opportunities for ocean engagement from director Judy Irving, who gave us ‘The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill’ celebrating folks who like to swim in the frigid waters of SF Bay in ‘Cold Refuge,’ also profiles of Hawaiian big wave lifeguards, an indigenous 13-year-old surfer named Ava, outlaw surfers of Cuba and ‘Impossible Wave,’ a film about the 27-year battle to bring surfing to the Olympics. Did we mention the film about the life (and sex life) of barnacles? It’s enough to inspire some 1,500 Bay Area middle and high school students who participate in IOFF each year while also getting a chance to learn about opportunities for future careers in aquaculture, offshore clean energy or marine robotics.
This small part of San Francisco Bay’s cultural scene is also where marine conservationists and filmmakers get to exchange information on how to visualize the challenges that for too many people still remain out of sight and out of mind across 71 percent of our planet that’s saltwater including the Pacific Ocean that covers one third of the planet and is the source of, among other things, the atmospheric rivers that have pounded us this winter.
The biggest challenge the festival tries to address however remains emotionally connecting people to the sea around us. For people living on the bay, the second largest ocean estuary on the West Coast, that challenge may be simplified by what we get to see so often, a maritime ballet of container ships, sailboats, kite boards, tankers, ferries and wildlife including a return of whales, sharks, river otters and harbor porpoises to our slowly recovering estuary’s waters.
Still for those who don’t surf, sail, dive or make their living from the sea, and even for those who do, film can open our eyes to new and alien worlds, including the greater part of our world that’s salty.
We can no longer afford to ignore or remain ignorant of the cascading series of disasters resulting from industrial overfishing, marine pollution and climate change. For two decades this Ocean Film Fest has offered people a chance to recognize these challenges but also be inspired by the watermen and women and the wildlife they encounter to join a growing wave of public engagement that could yet turn the tide for the protection and restoration of our blue marble planet.
Ana Blanco is Executive Director of the International Ocean Film Festival that runs April 13-16 at Fort Mason Center.
David Helvarg is Executive Director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation group and co-host of Rising Tide – The Ocean Podcast