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Sea Change
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It’s something we all

That’s one of the reasons the Gray’s Reef Ocean Film Festival was started in 2004. As the films show audiences what is happening to our oceans -- both good and bad -- it is hoped it will foster a sense of ocean stewardship and inspire us to protect and restore this most precious resource.

This year’s film festival has been expanded to celebrate not only the 25th anniversary of Gray’s Reef, but also to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Sapelo Island Estuarine Research Reserve. The festival will be held Sept. 22, 23 and 24 at Trustees Theater in Savannah, with an added night on Sept. 30 at the Ritz Theatre in Brunswick.

In addition, a film festival for children, Children’s Films Celebrate the Ocean, will be held Sept. 23 and 24 at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. For more information and a full schedule of screenings and events, visit

All screenings are free, but it’s recommended that tickets for the evening programs be picked up ahead of time at the Trustees Theater box office. For ticket information, call 525-5050.

In addition to films, filmmakers and oceanographers will be discussing their work and other topics.



learned in elementary school -- about 75 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water. The oceans are majestic, powerful, awesome, yet frighteningly fragile. If they fail, the land masses scattered between them are doomed.Connect Savannah recently caught up with four festival participants to talk with them about documentaries, film festivals and their own work.

Roger Payne has traveled the world to

With Scott McVay, Payne made the startling discovery that humpback whales sing, and he is famous for his theory that the sounds of blue and fin whales can be heard across oceans.

Throughout his career, Payne has led more than 100 expeditions to study every large whale species in the wild. Payne founded an organization called Ocean Alliance in 1980, which just finished a five-year voyage to collect skin samples from more than 900 sperm whales to see how much damage has been done to the oceans by chemicals.

One of Payne’s largest research projects is a study in Argentina that monitors more than 1,700 individually identified right whales.

Payne is married to the actress Lisa Harrow. She was born in New Zealand and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. After joining the Royal Shakespeare Company, Harrow played leading roles opposite actors such as John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Peter O’Toole and many others.

She will join her husband on stage at the film festival to present their program

We caught up with Payne as he was preparing for the trip to Savannah.


study its largest inhabitants --the whales. Along the way, his contributions to marine science have earned him many honors, including a knighthood in the Netherlands. Sea Change -- Reversing the Tide on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at Trustees Theater.

Connect Savannah: Did you grow up wanting to be a biologist?


Roger Payne:


I was someone who lived in New York City. I didn’t see any animals, except for cats, dogs and rats. But I was fascinated with the wilderness and all kinds of wildlife. I started getting out whenever I could.

Connect Savannah: You started your career by studying echolocation by bats and owls. Why the change to whales?


Roger Payne:


I felt all along I was just entertaining myself. I wanted to do something more interesting and something that would have an effect for the better. I began to look at species that were threatened. I realized whales were animals who needed a huge amount of help.

Connect Savannah: Isn’t this a dangerous field?


Roger Payne:

It’s not dangerous at all. The ocean is dangerous. If you pay attention and do what others have done, it’s not dangerous to study whales.


Connect Savannah: What kinds of challenges do whale researchers face?


Roger Payne:


The greatest problem is getting around the people who get in the way. Getting permits and funding for research is a major, major problem.

Connect Savannah: What kind of permits are required to study whales?


Roger Payne:


We collect small samples from sperm whales, which requires permits in every country. We also have to have permits to ship between countries.

Connect Savannah: Has the status of whales improved at all since you began studying them?


Roger Payne:


It has improved in some ways. When I first started studying whales, there were 33,000 whales being killed every year. That’s down to 330 per year.

Connect Savannah: I know that the number of whales killed commercially is way down, but are there other dangers for whales?


Roger Payne:


There are other threats. I’m watching my life’s work being dismantled before my eyes. Many whales get captured in fishing gear. That’s responsible for tens if not thousands of deaths of whales every year.

Connect Savannah: What about pollution?


Roger Payne:


Pollutants are a major threat. As humans, we are responsible for putting poisons into the ocean. We’re doing it through carelessness. Through our study in Argentina, we’ve gotten samples from 960 sperm whales. The preliminary analysis indicates there are some appalling problems with pollutants in the sea. These poisons are unremovable. We have all kinds of poisons going into the ocean. It’s an appalling problem that we must pay attention to. So far, it’s wildly exceeding my worst fears.

Connect Savannah: So there’s no hope at all?


Roger Payne:


It could be partly reversed. We could prevent further pollutants and poisons from going into our seas. One of the problems is that the oceans are downhill from everything. Everything ends up in the ocean. We have to get people seriously concerned. Once people realize what the problems they won’t stand for it. And when people understand what the problem is, they move fast.

Connect Savannah:


You and Scott McVay are credited with the discover that humpback whales sing. Was this something you had suspected all along?

Roger Payne:


Not in the least. It had never crossed my mind. A friend of mine had been recording ship noises for the government. At the same time, he often heard whales. He gave me some of his recordings, and there was one I listened to for more than a year. Over time, I realized that the whales were repeating themselves. When an animal repeats itself in a rhythmic way, you say it’s singing, whether it’s a cricket, frog or whale. It turns out some whales sounds are very beautiful to human ears. Some respond by weeping. It is very profound and moving.

Connect Savannah: What is the Ocean Alliance, and why did you found it?


Roger Payne:

The Ocean Alliance is only interested in whales and the environment. We promote the study of whales through public education. We make a lot of films.


Connect Savannah: I understand you’re studying right whales.


Roger Payne:


We are doing a study in Argentina of Southern right whales. The popular is more or less exploding, while the population of Northern right whales is collapsing, barely holding on.

Connect Savannah: What will you be doing at the film festival?


Roger Payne:


I will show a film and there is a program I do with my wife, who is a marvelous actress. We do a performance that is a combination of science and poetry. I handle the science, while she does the poetry. That’s the evening entertainment for Saturday night.

Connect Savannah: Why do the two of you do these performances?


Roger Payne:

This whole effort is to bring the world to various problems that humanity faces and the real hope that we can do something about them. The problems humanity faces are solvable, and the solutions are simple. The science is strong enough to get started. w




At the age of 34, Eric Soiferman has

produced and director many documentary films and series. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Soiferman is based in Montreal. On Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., he will present his film Cod Help Us, the story of the residents of a tiny, isolated Quebec village whose only commercial industry, commercial fishing, is threatened.


Connect Savannah: Are you looking forward to the film festival?


Ezra Soiferman:


I’m excited to come down to Savannah. I drove through town once. I was driving from Florida to Montreal.

Connect Savannah: Why did you become a filmmaker?


Ezra Soiferman:


The desire to share some of the fascinating things I was seeing in the world with others who may not ever become exposed to the stuff. I’m continually seeing things that baffle me. I’m an immensely curious person and always have been. Things really excite me. I also have a desire to share it.

Connect Savannah: Tell me about your work.


Ezra Soiferman:


I’ve made films about restaurants, about the environment, about animals, specifically working dogs. I’ve also made films about medical marijuana, senior citizens -- I’ve always had kind of a quirky fascination with things.

Connect Savannah: What inspires you?


Ezra Soiferman:


I’m continually coming up with new ideas. I write them down very carefully. When I’m searching for ideas, I go back to the list. There definitely is no shortage of ideas.

Connect Savannah: Tell me about Montreal Film Group.


Ezra Soiferman:


Montreal Film Group is a collective of more than 400 filmmakers. I’m the co-director and co-founder. We have events to bring members together and a very active web site.

Connect Savannah: Why did you found the group?


Ezra Soiferman:

We felt people were off doing things in their own =bubbles and weren’t coming together often enough. Montreal has a strong television and film community, but we felt it was too diffuse. This has really gone over very well. The membership has grown from 50 to 700 since we’ve launched our web site.


Connect Savannah: Why is Montreal so popular with filmmakers?


Ezra Soiferman:

It’s a beautiful city that offers a lot of great locations. Second, we have very skilled crews. There are actors, camera people. Documentary filmmaking is part of the fabric. Montreal has a lot of people who are working in the industry. Third, the American dollar is stronger in Canada, so filmmakers get more for their money. We also have very good film schools.


Connect Savannah: What do you hope the audience will take away from your film?


Ezra Soiferman:

I think locals will enjoy my story of a tiny fishing village in Quebec and their struggle to survive. It will help raise awareness of the problems faced by fishermen in Georgia. w




Kevin McCarey worked as an oceanographer

before becoming an award-winning filmmaker. He has worked on several National Geographic Specials, including Seamonsters: Search for the Giant Squid, which he will present Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at the film festival. In 2003, McCarey won an Emmy for Best Science/Nature documentary for his National Geographic Television special Wolf Pack.

McCarey’s current title is writer-director-at-sea for Thunder House Pictures, where he creates IMAX films.


Connect Savannah: Is it true that you taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design?


Kevin McCarey:


I taught two quarters this past year.

Connect Savannah: You consider yourself a writer as well as a director.


Kevin McCarey:


I had originally worked as an oceanographer for a number of years. While I was at sea, there was not much to do out there, so I started writing.

Connect Savannah: What types of writing have you done?


Kevin McCarey:


I had a couple of plays produced. I decided to go back to school. I was originally going to study creative writing, but with my background in marine science, I was asked, why not try film school for my undergraduate studies?

Connect Savannah: And discovered you had quite a talent for filmmaking.


Kevin McCarey:


I got hired pretty much out of grad school and worked at Ted Turner’s TBS. I did a lot of work for the National Geographic. I was able to combine the love I have for the oceans and marine science.

Connect Savannah: What will you be presenting at the film festival?


Kevin McCarey:


The film is Sea Monsters. It is mostly about the giant squid. It about how we used cameras to attract sperm whales to lead us to giant squid, about our quest to find them.

Connect Savannah: Why the giant squid?


Kevin McCarey:


They’ve never been seen in the wild. They are responsible for many of our oldest sea legends. The giant squid was the legendary Kraken. Mariners were terrified of them.

Connect Savannah: If they’ve never been seen in the wild, how do we know they exist?


Kevin McCarey:

They’ve been captured by fishermen, but by the time they haul them up, they’re already dead. The carcasses sometimes wash up on shore. There in an incredible account of one that actually attacked a fisherman in a small boat in the 19th century. Giant squids are mentioned in Jules Verne’s great 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea.


Connect Savannah: What are you working on now?


Kevin McCarey:

I’m working on a film about something that really happened in the Great Lakes in 1913, a storm called the White Hurricane. It sank many ships and killed hundreds and hundreds of sailors. I have another film on Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition down the Amazon River that I’m also working on.


Connect Savannah: Did you grow up near the ocean?


Kevin McCarey:


I grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York. We had the "ghost fleet," big old ocean ships from World War II anchored nearby. They fascinated me. Later on, I went into the Merchant Marine.

Connect Savannah: I see that Keenan Smart of the National Geographic is coming with you to appear at the festival.


Kevin McCarey:

I think the whole concept of the film festival is wonderful. All of us at National Geographic are glad to be part of it. w


The Gray’s Reef Ocean Film Festival will be held Sept. 22, 23 and 24 at Trustees Theater in Savannah, with an added night on Sept. 30 at the Ritz Theatre in Brunswick.

In addition, a film festival for children, Children’s Films Celebrate the Ocean, will be held Sept. 23 and 24 at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. For more information and a full schedule of screenings and events, visit


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