ST. PETERSBURG — It's not Cannes or Sundance, or even the Bollywood awards.
But city and business leaders are gearing up for a little-known film festival that is expected to draw 20,000 people to St. Petersburg in November, highlighting the city's tourism and marine science industries.
That's almost as many as the 24,000 visitors drawn to Tampa in April for the much-ballyhooed International Indian Film Academy Awards show.
About 75 people gathered Thursday to learn more about the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit at a St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce reception.
"This is a great coup for us to have Blue Ocean come here. This event shines a spotlight on our city," Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said at the gathering.
More than 160 films made in 45 countries over the past year will be screened Nov. 3-9 at four Sundial theaters, the Mahaffey Theater, the Dalí Museum and other venues.
About 300 downtown hotel rooms have been reserved for scientists, filmmakers, environmentalists, moviegoers and producers, who will have a significant economic impact on the city. Organizers predict more than half of the guests will come from outside St. Petersburg.
James Cameron's recently released Deepsea Challenge 3D will be shown the first night of the festival. His crew will discuss the exploratory mission the Academy Award winner took 7 miles to the deepest spot of the ocean.
"Maybe Mr. Cameron will show up himself," said Debbie Kinder, who started the film festival four years ago in Savannah, Ga. Since then it has taken place in Monterey, Calif., and Monaco. (Prince Albert II, who is a big donor, can't make the trip to St. Petersburg because it's too close to his wife's due date).
Executives from Disney, Netflix, National Geographic, the BBC, PBS and other content providers will be here. More than 50 filmmakers will meet with them in a "speed pitch" session in hopes of generating interest and funding for their projects.
Hundreds of students from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will be brought to see films, Kinder said.
Events will include panel discussions, a blue carpet gala, pre-parties, after-parties, an art show and possibly the biggest beach cleanup in the area's history. There will also be a 90-foot-long inflatable whale beached at Straub Park.
"We are legendary for our parties," Kinder said. "We address serious issues, but we want people to have a good time, too."
Tickets for a single film (not including nightly marquee events) will be $3 for young children, $10 for students to $12.50 for adults. The Blue Whale full festival pass with access to all movies, parties, marquee events and special screenings will cost $1,250.
City officials, the local marine science industry, Mahaffey representatives, hoteliers and others impressed the film festival's board when it held a meeting here in August 2013. St. Petersburg came out ahead of San Diego and Santa Monica, Calif., to land the event. From now on, it is slated to be held here in even years and Monaco in odd years.
A city initiative called Green for Blue will encourage local businesses, especially restaurants on Beach Drive, to use reusable bags and biodegradable food containers during the festival. Kinder and Tomalin said they hope the changes will continue after the festival.
Plastic pollution is a topic covered in some of the films, along with global warming, coral reefs, shore conservation and marine life.
Contact Katherine Snow Smith at [email protected] Follow @snowsmith.