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BLUE Ocean film festival coming to St. Petersburg

It isn't quite like nabbing Sundance or Cannes, but St. Petersburg still will get its share of celebrity in 2014 when the BLUE Ocean Film Festival relocates to the city from California.

The festival is one of the biggest environmental documentary film events in the world, with projects from the likes of 60 Minutes, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Channel and Telemundo. The seven-day event draws about 20,000 people, organizers said.

BLUE Ocean will announce the event's move from Monterey, Calif., to St. Petersburg during a news conference today in Monaco, on the French Riviera. Monaco's Prince Albert II has made the festival one of his pet projects.

The festival will be held in St. Petersburg in even-numbered years beginning in November 2014 and in Monaco in odd-numbered years in 2015 and thereafter.

A local announcement is scheduled for Oct. 14 at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the Tampa Bay Times.

"This is one of the most prestigious environmental film festivals," said D.T. Minich, chief executive officer of the Pinellas tourism agency Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. "They bring in some huge names from throughout the world. This is going to be a fantastic event for St. Petersburg."

The BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit's move to St. Petersburg is a homecoming of sorts. In 2008, Debbie Kinder, BLUE Ocean's founder and chief executive officer, incorporated the nonprofit organization in Clearwater, where she and her family live.

Kinder's star-studded board includes the son and the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, Google's ocean manager, a vice president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and leaders from National Geographic.

"I've been very impressed with what she's been able to do," said John Welch, founder of the Sarasota Film Festival and one of Kinder's early board members. "She's done a marvelous thing."

Board members determined that the festival had outgrown Monterey, home of a world-renowned aquarium. After the 2012 festival, the board considered such locations as San Diego but settled on St. Petersburg after traveling to the Tampa Bay area for a meeting.

Before the trip, some board members had opposed moving the event to St. Petersburg.

"We were like, 'Why are we going to St. Pete?' " asked board member Mari Carswell, chief executive officer of Blue Earth Communications Inc. "We got there, and we were like, 'Wow!' "

Carswell said the vote to move to St. Petersburg was unanimous because of all of the museums, the arts community and people who were more than welcoming.

"Even our people who were most against it turned around in 48 hours," said Kinder, herself an award-winning documentary filmmaker. "The waterfront has grown a lot. It's beautiful."

The program that will run from Nov. 2 to 9, 2014, will include three parts: the film festival that showcases leading ocean films and marine photography; a conference for filmmakers, photographers and scientists; and a conservation summit.

"We really merge the arts and sciences," Kinder said.

The nonprofit program's design enables the general public, as well as industry professionals, to participate. Events include marine education programs for schoolchildren and special screenings of films by award-winning filmmakers such as James Cameron.

Best known for directing Hollywood blockbusters including The Terminator, Aliens and Avatar, Cameron was honored last year with BLUE Ocean's lifetime achievement award for his work on such films as Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron, Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, Expedition: Bismarck and Ghosts of the Abyss.

The BayWalk Muvico theater will become home to the film festival, with other events, meetings and parties planned for the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, the Salvador Dalí Museum, the Chihuly Collection gallery and other venues.

"It's going to put this area on the map in terms of environmental issues," Minich said. "I think it's going to be really huge."

Ivan Penn can be reached at or (727) 892-2332.

BLUE Ocean film festival coming to St. Petersburg 09/29/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 6:51pm]
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