Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films focuses on the deep blue sea

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      Balancing adventure and activism is a challenge that Peter Alfred faces.

      As the founder and director of the Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films, Alfred knows there’s a long list of urgent water-related issues to address. On the other hand, he says by phone, he didn’t want to drown people in misery.

      The festival’s fifth outing, which runs from Tuesday to Thursday (June 3 to 5,, reflects both ends of the spectrum, with some selections combining the two.

      Exemplifying the latter is the opening night, with adventurers Kevin Vallely, Frank Wolf, and Denis Barnett, who will share stories of their bold endeavour to cross the Northwest Passage solely by human power and to draw attention to how climate change is impacting the Arctic.

      The following evening, Surf Night, features other journeys, both within and without. Italy isn’t known as a surfing destination, but the documentary Bella Vita highlights the nascent culture there. Alfred describes it as a “half travelogue, half returning-to-family kind of film” in which surfer-artist Chris Del Moro visits his familial roots and discovers an intriguing Italian take on his sport.

      Alfred explains that unlike Hawaii or California, “Italy is quite protected, from a wave point of view,” and it lacks gnarly swells. The Mediterranean experience, he says, is more about enjoying friends, family, and the environment “rather than chasing the biggest, best wave”.

      “It…sort of reawakens him to what’s really important about surfing,” he says. “It is very much a European flair but even more so specifically Italian.”

      A surfing expedition to Haida Gwaii, captured in the short “Fortune Wild”, offers a B.C. equivalent and includes interviews with local activists and artists, such as Severn Cullis-Suzuki.

      Speaking of the environmentalist, the festival’s final night (on World Oceans Day, no less) is devoted to ecosystem issues.

      The Last Ocean follows scientists trying to save Antarctica’s Ross Sea from the rampages of industrial fishing.

      “It’s very much unregulated down there, so there’s a real effort to bring attention to that,” Alfred says. “The Last Ocean project is trying to get the Ross Sea designated as an area of protection.”

      There’s also a sneak peek at the forthcoming documentary River Blue, which exposes how the jeans industry is destroying rivers.

      Although it addresses rivers rather than oceans, Burnaby-based teacher, writer, and river advocate Mark Angelo (who is featured in the film and will speak at the festival) says by phone that pollution knows no difference.

      “When you talk about rivers, water, oceans, climate change, they’re all interrelated.…When toxins find their way into rivers, they ultimately find their way into oceans, and then, via currents, those toxins move to other places…and the next thing you know, you’re finding traces of a contaminant that originated on a river in Asia, but before you know it, you’re finding that same contaminant in the tissue of a North American polar bear.”

      Although Angelo says there are numerous ways people can take action, from changing daily water habits to joining organizations, simply attending the festival itself is another: all proceeds benefit the Georgia Strait Alliance, which protects and restores the Strait of Georgia.