Festival offers 'virtual vacation'

Series of short films explores relationship between man, ocean

Posted: Friday, February 08, 2008

Winter can be a great time to enjoy the outdoors, but after more than a week of minus 20 degree weather some people may be ready for a change. And, if a break from the cold is in order, checking out the Alaska Ocean Film Festival this weekend may be almost as nice a reprieve as actually heading for the warmer climes of tropical destination.

"We have films set in Hawaii and Mexico, so people can get away from feeling chilly for awhile. It will be a good virtual vacation," said Jan Yaeger, educational coordinator for the Kenai River Center, of the traveling film festival, which will make a stop in Soldotna on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Kenai River Center, Mile 1.6 Funny River Road.

"It's an annual event, but the films change from year to year. The Alaska Center for the Environment takes the film festival around the state, and it came to Kenai last year, but this is the first year it will be in Soldotna, and this is the only place where it will be free to attend," Yaeger said.

This year the film festival will explore the varied and unique connections people have to the ocean with nine short films on saltwater adventure, marine science, and coastal cultures.

"Some are science focused, some are ecotourism focused, some are just for fun, but all are related to how we relate to the ocean," Yeager said.

Several of the films also feature Alaska people or places, including the 45-minute main feature titled "Fisher Poets," which Yeager said focuses on Alaska and Northwest fisher folk who gather in Astoria, Ore., yearly to express the joy and toil of their profession in verse. The poems are set against a backdrop of interviews highlighting the current state of small-scale fishing.

The other Alaska-set film is "Bering Sea," which is described as a stunning six-minute film montage of life aboard a Bering Sea crab fishing boat. Viewers are told they'll never question the cost of crab again after seeing this film.

According to Yeager, other films in the festival include:

* "Breathe" (2 minutes) Half the oxygen humans breathe comes from the oceans. This time-lapse recording of marine environments around the world gives viewers the physical sensation of how vital oceans are to this most basic human function.

* "Free-diving into the Blue" (6 minutes, 45 seconds) Host Johnny Bell takes viewers into the underwater world of free-diving in beautiful Kona, Hawaii. Going down as deep as 350 feet, the daring free-divers featured in the film push it to the limit as they go for their personal best.

* "Hawaiian Showers" (5 minutes) Coral reef creatures are astonishing and this film offers a glimpse into how they feed in the most unlikely of places. It is said to give viewers a whole new meaning to the phrase dental hygiene.

* "Whale Sharks of Holbox" (7 minutes) This film documents the way in which the islanders of Holbox, Mexico, were facing a dwindling stock of fish, successfully converted their economy to ecotourism and in doing so, helped protect the world's largest fish, the whale shark.

* "The Old Man and the Fish" (6 minutes) This film is described as the most existentially-sublime, six-minute, computer-generated fish film viewers will ever see.

* "Papa Tortuga" (19 minutes) One man on a rural beach in Mexico has dedicated his life to saving the Lora sea turtle. His efforts have not only played a key role in the restoration of this nearly extinct species, he has also educated thousands of children in the process.

* "Surfer's Healing" (6 minutes, 45 seconds) This is heartwarming tale of one couple's search to find peace in their autistic son Isaiah's challenging life. It details the way a chance attempt at having Isaiah catch waves on a surfboard has turned into a national movement.

* "We're on the Brink" (3 minutes, 36 seconds) A breathtaking short about the choices humans make and their global implications.

Yeager said the film festival is free in Soldotna, but she added "people are encouraged to donate to the Alaska Center for the Environment to cover their cost of bringing the films down, and ensure films come back again next year."

For more information on the Alaska Film Festival, go towww.alaskaoceansfestival.org or call 907- 274-3647.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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