.The Ocean Film Festival Celebrates Earth’s Precious Resource

Several of the movies showing at the Rio Theatre event focus on sustainability

The Rio Theatre will make waves with the Ocean Film Festival for a fifth year on Sept. 9, when seven films, ranging from four minutes long to half an hour, will take viewers around the world.

“There’s not a lot of times where I like every single one of the films in a festival, and this might be one of those times,” says Kathy Ferraro, who works with the Rio to bring adventure films like the Banff Mountain Film Festival and Reel Rock Film Tour to Santa Cruz.

“It’s a good mix,” she says. “One is about a group of people who are on a catamaran sailing around the world in search of low-tech innovation. So they live off of what they grow on the ship.”

Several of the films focus on sustainability, she says. Others spotlight wildlife and ocean adventure. 

“One that I really enjoyed, and that I think our surfing community will really enjoy, is about a big wave surfer in Portugal and his connection to the ocean,” says Ferraro.

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Another chronicles a woman’s journey to becoming an adaptive surfing champion after losing her leg in a motorcycle accident.

“Two or three films talk about what being in the water brings back to people—that it’s a healing place,” says Ferraro. “It’s a mutual relationship.”

Mutual Healing

Ferraro reached out to local, ocean-focused nonprofit Save Our Shores to partner with them as part of that mutual relationship. This year, $2 from every ticket will go to the organization. 

“Our goal is to make sure that our bay and the connected communities and surrounding habitats are all being taken care of, not just for environmental health, but also for human health,” says Erica Donnelly-Greenan, executive director of Save Our Shores.

Beachgoers might know Save Our Shores for the frequent beach cleanups they organize. Donnelly-Greenan sees the cleanups as a stepping stone. 

“At cleanups, we’re out there picking up items that are ocean-bound. It gets people involved so they can see the scope of the issue and take some ownership of helping to solve the problem,” she says. “And we feel that if we get people connected to the problem, they’re more likely to then look further into why we’re pushing for certain advocacy and policy measures.”

The nonprofit also trains “sanctuary stewards.” 

These volunteers spend four weeks learning about local environmental problems and solutions. Some stewards will host beach cleanups the weekend following the film festival. Sept. 17 is California Coastal Cleanup Day, and Save Our Shores serves as the regional coordinator for Monterey Bay. 

“So that means we’re in charge of covering 60 to 70 beaches, rivers and open spaces for cleanup in one day,” says Donnelly-Greenan. “So that’s a huge undertaking.”

One film about the Alaskan coastline, might inspire viewers to check out a cleanup.

“It’s shocking how much debris is on our beaches,” says Ferraro. “I think [the film] is going to help people be thoughtful about how we dispose of our trash—especially our plastics.”

Ocean Month

In addition to partnering with Save Our Shores, the Rio will cross-promote Blue Innovation, the ocean-focused symposium formerly known as Santa Cruz Blue Tech. It will kick off at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center on Sept. 11 and go through Sept. 13.

Santa Cruz Works joins the Seymour Center in hosting the event, and other collaborators include UC Santa Cruz, the city of Santa Cruz and its newest sister city: Biarritz.

The Rio will also celebrate the new tie to Biarritz, a city in the southwest of France known as the “historic surfing capital of Europe,” a few days after the Ocean Film Festival with a free screening of Biarritz Surf Gang.

September could almost be declared Ocean Month, says Ferraro. “Especially this year, when we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of our National Marine Sanctuary.”

Ferraro hopes the Ocean Film Festival will inspire people to help protect our oceans and get involved with local groups.

“The community has really supported us with our events, especially during COVID,” she says. “We want to, in turn, support these nonprofits that are so important to making Santa Cruz what it is—a great place to live and a strong community.” 


The Ocean Film Festival will be presented Friday, Sept. 9, 7-10pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $21. riotheatre.com.

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