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San Diego’s 4th Annual Blue Water Film Festival Returns

Art meets activism at the Blue Water Film Festival
Blue Water Film Festival 2023 Emily Tianshi

One of the festival’s 27 selected films focuses on the groundbreaking research of San Diego teen Emily Tianshi

Greg Reitman has Cannes to blame. The founder of the Blue Water Film Festival would have launched his environmental film collective in 2019, but the accomplished director had to take a feature of his own to France’s mecca of cinema. Then, Covid hit. Undeterred, he launched Blue Water digitally in the melee of 2020.

Now in its fourth year (and at in-person locales), Blue Water is sprawling through San Diego from June 8 through 11, screening 27 films at multiple venues—from Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts to East Village’s Digital Gym and the historic La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. The lineup includes 10 feature films, 13 shorts, and four animated projects, with many international titles.

“We typically look for strong storytelling versus advocacy films,” Reitman says.

All of the works are focused on issues surrounding water, with Reitman picking the best out of 1,000-plus submissions. They bridge the gap of narrative storytelling and environmental action steps. It’s both art and activism, framed through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker who’s placed his own work at some of the world’s top festivals. Reitman’s 2016 doc Rooted in Peace won the New York Festival’s Audience Award; eight years earlier, he earned a Sundance Audience Award for Fuel.

Blue Water Film Festival 2023 Promotion

Blue Water Film Festival 2023 Promotion

Courtesy of Blue Water Entertainment

“Water is a universal element that needs to be cherished and shared and protected, and [one that] I felt needed attention,” says Reitman, who also founded the Blue Water Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports the work of environmental filmmakers. “What’s different about our festival is we’re really looking for the next generation.”

One of those progressive entries is the documentary Generation Impact: The Scientist, which explores the work of San Diego teen Emily Tianshi. The Stanford student has been creating solutions to our regional and global water crisis from a makeshift lab in her parents’ garage. Her mission: invent technology that mimics the way Torrey Pine needles draw water from the atmosphere.

“Every year you do a festival, you sort of think to yourself, Okay, why am I doing this? What’s the purpose? Does it matter?” says Reitman. “And then when I saw that film, [set] in my own backyard, I said, ‘Well, look at that innovation.’”

Identifying new voices and talent is part of Blue Water’s ethos—but so is honoring those who have paved the way. In addition to the festival’s film accolades, a Global Guardian Award is bestowed on a worthy honoree every year. In 2022, famed conservationist and scientist Jane Goodall was the recipient. This year, it’s Yvon Chouinard, rock climber, philanthropist, and founder of Patagonia.

“That was really the impetus behind the [festival],” Reitman says. “The idea was to curate content and to amplify those environmental storytellers so that they could be applauded for the heroes’ work they’ve been doing.”

It’s like strapping a dive suit on the Palm d’Or.

By Danielle Allaire

Danielle is a freelance culture journalist focusing on music, food, wine, hospitality, and arts, and founder-playwright of Yeah No Yeah Theatre company, based in San Diego. Her work has been featured in FLAUNT, Filter Magazine, and San Diego Magazine. Born and raised in Maui, she still loves a good Mai Tai.

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