The world’s oceans are, without a doubt, the key to the continued existence of life as we know it on this big blue marble we call Earth. That’s especially obvious to those of us who live near the coastline, where visible signs of that inestimably integral relationship are omnipresent.
However, it’s far too easy to take the health and welfare of our natural bodies of water and the myriad creatures that inhabit them for granted. The U.S. Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is devoted to promoting the necessity of preserving and strengthening our country’s natural aquatic treasures, and here in the Savannah area, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is our local branch of the federal government’s network of protected underwater parks.
One of the most popular educational and recreational attractions on the Southeastern coast, this 22-square-mile protected environment of open ocean is located a little over 15 miles off Sapelo Island. Gray’s Reef is a treasure to behold, as it provides a home for a vast array of fish, whales, sharks and sea turtles.
For the past 13 years, the staff of this government entity has presented a wonderful annual film festival geared toward showcasing the very best in informative, entertaining motion pictures which celebrate and raise awareness of the fragile beauty of our seas, as well as the underwater kingdom of unique and often endangered species they hold. That festival runs for just a couple of days in Historic Downtown Savannah, but now, Gray’s Reef has partnered with Tybee Island’s newly restored Tybee Post Theater to launch a similar, weekly series of award-winning films.
Gray’s Reef Tuesdays, as the new, seven-week series is known, kicks off July 5 with a screening of “Turtle: The Incredible Journey,” a celebrated 80-minute documentary from 2009 that earned high marks from viewers and critics alike, but is said to have been hampered by distribution woes which unfortunately kept it from being viewed by the wider audience it deserved. Narrated by esteemed British actress Miranda Richardson and featuring breathtaking underwater cinematography, it has been hailed as an unusually “poetic” non-fiction film that boasts a keen sense of dramatic tension. Its emotional and inspirational storyline about the 25-year saga of a Florida-born loggerhead turtle that swims the entire North Atlantic to Africa before returning to her birthplace to lay eggs makes it ideal for inquisitive children, while still appealing to adults.
Chris Hines, executive director of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, says this film, as well as the others in the new weekly series, have all been featured at the organization’s annual festival at one time or another.
“These are ‘fan favorites,’” Hines says. “We’ll show films from this past year and ones that stretch back as long as six years ago, but which are still stunning pieces of work. We sought films that could be relevant to coastal Georgia and that we could connect to Gray’s Reef during the introduction and the post-film Q&A. Film topics range from turtles, dolphins, sharks and lionfish to plastic art, pirates, lighthouses, friendship and ocean stewardship. The goal of our annual festival and this film series is the same: to combine art, education and enjoyment to inspire conservation.”
“We are all deeply connected to the ocean,” Hines says. “By taking pride and recognizing the important of the ocean and special places such as Gray’s Reef, we hope to instill a sense of ocean stewardship in our community and visitors. The ocean gives us 50 percent of all oxygen on Earth and we are all connected through watersheds to the ocean. From the amount of water we use, to our fertilizers, food choices and recycling, many of our decisions affect the ocean.
“Gray’s Reef is an amazing underwater park and one of only 14 national marine sanctuaries throughout the U.S. We want folks to see, understand and take pride in their national marine sanctuary. Gray’s Reef is 16 miles offshore, so many people may not have the opportunity to visit the sanctuary for fishing or diving. Therefore, bringing Gray’s Reef to the community in multiple ways is very important for us.”
To that end, Hines feels movies provide an ideal method with which to impart his organization’s message.
“Film is an incredible medium to showcase our underwater world,” he explains. “We have heard countless times that people had no idea what kinds of amazing marine life thrive just off the Georgia coast. Through film and images, we are able to make that human connection to the underwater world that is so vital.”
The complete schedule of Gray’s Reef Tuesdays includes “National Geographic’s Secret Life of Predators” on July 12, “Winter, the Dolphin That Can” on July 19, “Guy Harvey Expeditions: Sharks and Lionfish” on July 26, a double-bill of “True Tales of Pirates” and “Lighthouses of the Southeast” on Aug. 2, plus several more to be announced. Each Tuesday event includes live discussions with experts in the field of ocean life, and in some cases, special appearances by the filmmakers themselves.
“Most of the films we chose all have a connection to Georgia,” Hines says. “For example, At the opening evening on July 5, we feature the amazing loggerhead sea turtle, and Tybee is home to many of these loggerheads every summer. Then, the films from National Geographic and Guy Harvey stress the need to balance ocean conservation with recreational and commercial activities such as fishing and diving. The critters and footage from National Geographic is absolutely mindblowing, and I look forward to seeing it on the big screen!
“‘Winter, the Dolphin That Can’ features a dolphin that’s rescued and fitted with a prosthetic tail in Florida. It shows the incredible perseverance and intelligence of bottlenose dolphins, which are a common sight around Tybee and throughout coastal Georgia’s significant amount of rivers, marsh and estuaries. The films range widely by topic area, but all feature important messages in an entertaining format.”
Hines encourages adult viewers to bring their young ones to these films, and stresses that all the featured selections are “family friendly.” Plus, the low admission cost of just $5 per person (which is a suggested donation, and will be divided between Gray’s Reef and the theater) makes it an extremely affordable night out, and all for a great cause. Concessions available for purchase include beer, wine, soft drinks, hot popcorn and a variety of candies.
Planning for this series has been in the works for a few months now, and Hines has nothing but praise for their chosen location.
“Tybee Post Theater is an outstanding venue and partner for us,” he says. “The historic theater is now beautifully restored. It has commercial class video projection equipment, great concessions and theater seating for 200. It is perfectly located on Tybee Island to attract a nice mix of locals and tourists as they enjoy the ocean.
“We hope to encourage locals and tourists alike to appreciate our offshore natural resources and protected places such as Gray’s Reef. If the series is successful this year, we hope turn this into an annual event that benefits our great community and the ocean!”
IF YOU GO
What: “Gray’s Reef Tuesdays,” an ocean-themed film series
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays from July 5-Aug. 16
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: $5 suggested donation