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The final frontier
Find out what's beneath the waves at the inaugural BLUE Ocean Film Festival
"Saving Luna."

In Saving Luna, an extraordinary documentary from filmmakers Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm, the central issue is whether or not humankind - in this case, the residents of a logging town in coastal British Columbia, or the Canadian government - should get involved in the well-being of a young, attention-starved killer whale that seems to think it's people.

Saving Luna is one of 50-plus movies competing in the inaugural BLUE Ocean Film Festival, a four-day event for filmmakers, film fans and everybody who loves and/or cares about the oceans. It's Wednesday through Sunday, June 10-14.

The interaction between man and marine life, all that it has wrought and all that it implies, is a cornerstone of what oceanographers and conservationists call Ocean Literacy.

"That's just a technical term for kind of understanding why our oceans are important and how we're connected to them," points out filmmaker Debbie Kinder, the executive director of BLUE. "I think that's something that's important whether you live in the middle of the farmland of Iowa or the coast of Florida.

"And these films do a great job of that. So I think the community component is really at the heart of what our mission is."

All wildlife documentarians understand that their well-intentioned work needs to be interesting, and tell a story, and be pretty to watch as well. "Those films don't do any good if people don't see them and become engaged in them," Kinder says.

Mari Carswell, a Savannah resident who's also a wildlife filmmaker, and one of Kinder's key partners in BLUE, elaborates: "You have to make people love it - you have to give them the positive, so that they're engaged, and then explain to them what needs to be done to make sure that that's still there for us," she says. "It's got to be a combination, and different filmmakers have different recipes for that."

BLUE has three distinct components:

It's a competitive film festival. We're talking features and shorts from some of the world's most accomplished documentarians. These are films destined for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Explorer, PBS, the History Channel and - in the case of Saving Luna - big-screen theatrical release. Hundreds of films were submitted.

It's an industry conference for filmmakers. There'll be symposiums, Q&A sessions, awards ceremonies, "making of" presentations and technological demonstrations. More than 170 filmmakers are coming here, from all over the world.

It's all available to you and me. Want to plunk down a few bucks to see Saving Luna, Ice Bears of the Beaufort or Kingdom of the Blue Whale? You can do that. Or you can shell out for an all-inclusive pass to get you into every screening and special event.

There'll be a lot going on over these four days.

Among the better-known participants: Fabien and Celine Cousteau, filmmaking grandchildren of legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau; Emory Kristof, who developed the technology to dive and photograph the Titanic; Jean-Francois Camilleri, executive vice president of Disneynature Films; pioneering diver Sylvia Earle; and the guy who created the deep-diving "critter-cam," allowing us to reach ridiculously deep and dark corners of the seas.

Many filmmakers will attend the screenings of their work, including Saving Luna writer and director Parfit.

There are student films, a street fair for families, cool and exclusive receptions and parties, and an exhibit of breathtaking photographs by Brian Skerry.

You can learn all about whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks and the creatures of the deep abyss; you can learn about freediving, fisheries management and Japanese whaling policies.

The logical question here is: Why Savannah?

Simple, says Carswell. "I invited these guys to come to Savannah. And when they saw what Savannah was like they fell for it. Hook, line and sinker."

The proximity of Grey's Reef National Marine Sanctuary was a factor, Carswell adds; in fact, the annual Grey's Reef film festival won't happen this year because the sanctuary is a important participant in BLUE. "Since we're global, when the Grey's Reef festival returns next year they'll have more contacts than ever before," she says.

BLUE will be back in Savannah in 2011. In the meantime, many of the winning films will travel the country as BLUE On Tour.

The message, according to Kinder, is awareness.

"We all want to protect the oceans, not just for the oceans' sake but for humanity's sake," she explains. "We want to have a wonderful planet to live on, and we're starting to understand how vital the health of the oceans is to out world.

"A lot of our films aren't conservations films but exploration films. This is still the last great final frontier on our planet that we don't understand."


 BLUE Ocean Film Festival

When: June 10-14

Where: Screenings at Trustees Theater and Lucas Theater

Seminars and networking: Marshall House

Family Street Fair: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 13, Ogelthorpe Square. Free

Individual screening tickets: $8 adults, $6 students and seniors

Combo passes for screenings and special events: $85-$250

Tickets and passes:

Phone: (912) 525-5050