When filmmaker Angela Sun heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, she set out to see it for herself.

The result is "Plastic Paradise," an hour-long film that depicts her personal journey to uncover this mysterious phenomenon. It's showing at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Jepson Center as part of the opening night of the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Film Festival. Sun will join the audience for a question-and-answer session directly after the showing.

The patch was not what Sun expected, despite the research she did before setting out for Midway Atoll, the closest set of islands.

"It's a mysterious thing that a lot of people have questions about still," said Sun, a television host and journalist from California. "Once you see the film, you can't not be affected by it. That's what I can promise."

The Pacific patch is one of five such collections of trash trapped in the main rotating currents of the world's oceans. It's not a single floating island as many imagine, but more diffuse clumps scattered in the vastness of the Pacific. She likens it to dust bunnies wafting around your living room.

The film depicts plastic's devastating effects on the ocean and particularly on the animals that ingest it, but neither she or her film are preachy, Sun said.

"I'm just like any other person; we're all busy," she said. "I didn't realize the amount of plastic I used until I was forced to think about it. Every day, every one of us touches plastic."

Once created, petroleum-based plastic never goes away. So Sun advises using less of it. Don't take a plastic bag if you don't need it. Carry a reusable water bottle.

"Say no to disposable cups," she said. "Like at Starbucks, if you're sitting there anyway, why couldn't they give it to you in a 'for here' cup?"

Penguins in misery

While "Plastic Paradise" gives audiences a reason to think about their own behavior, "A Penguin's Life" will have them pondering the extreme challenges this Antarctic bird faces.

"They're about surviving misery," said National Geographic filmmaker and marine biologist Greg Marshall. "It's an extraordinary evolutionary achievement that they can survive the environmental challenges they're subjected to. They lay their eggs on sea ice, then it disappears beneath them over the next several months."

"A Penguin's Life" will be shown at 7:20 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Lucas Theatre.

The film employs Marshall's signature invention, the Crittercam, which gives an animals' eye view of the world. He got the idea for the camera in 1986, when hand-held video cameras were new (and laughably bulky compared to today) and he was studying queen conch in Belize. One day when he was diving, a shark swam by with a remora, or suckerfish, hitching a ride on its back.

"It really was a eureka moment," he said. "I put two and two together and thought if I could reconfigure the camera to be like a remora, it might be able to ride along and see what it sees."

He's perfected the Crittercam over a quarter century to bring researchers and film audiences the perspectives of about 70 species, from alligators to housecats.

The critter cam reveals behaviors that were unknown even in well-studied animals. The emperor penguin of the film is a good example.

"We thought we had an idea of what they were doing, but we were wrong because we couldn't see what they were doing," Marshall said. "We thought they were feeding at depth on schooling fish. It's just the opposite. They dive deep to look at the underside of the ice, then race up to get them at the undersurface of the ice. I think of them as the inverse of the way an eagle hunts."

Penguins, with their upright posture, cute waddle and tuxedo-like plumage, were already pretty easy to identify with, but the Crittercam heightens that empathy by showing the bird's eye view of the world.

Even after attaching the camera to a host of critters and overcoming innumerable obstacles, it's still thrilling to Marshall to get the footage from a critter cam and see what it's recorded.

"It's awesome," he said. "Every single time, I'm like a kid at Christmas. We're seeing things we've never seen before."

Marshall will conduct a question-and-answer session at 9 p.m. following his film and another short feature, "Project Shiphunt."

FILM FEST SCHEDULE

Opening night Sept. 12

6:30-8:45 p.m.

Telfair Museums' Jepson Center

207 W. York St.

6:30-6:50 p.m.

⢠"Your National Marine Sanctuaries: NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries" A short introduction to the 14 marine sanctuaries.

⢠"Tagged - You're It!" This short film takes viewers beneath the surface of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, and reveals how researchers are using technology to learn more about the habits of the fish there.

6:50-7:15 p.m.

⢠"Oceans at the Tipping Point: Ocean Health Index," narrated by Harrison Ford

This video about the Ocean Health Index won first prize in the Innovations and Solutions category at the Blue Ocean Film Festival. Through images of marine life in the sea and of cultures sharing an intimate connection with the ocean, this film illustrates how preservation of our oceans, shorelines, mangroves and marshes directly affects our livelihoods, including our jobs and local tourism in addition to the biodiversity of these treasured ecosystems.

7:15-7:20 p.m.

⢠"The Majestic Plastic Bag: A Blue Ocean Film, A Heal The Bay Production"

An exploration into the life cycle of an illustrious creature, this short film follows the plastic bag on a mighty journey to its home, the Pacific Ocean.

7:20-7:30 p.m. Break

7:30-8:30 p.m.

⢠"Plastic Paradise: The Great Garbage Patch"

Thousands of miles away from civilization, Midway Atoll is in one of the most remote places on Earth, and yet it's become ground zero for The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, siphoning plastics from three distant continents. In this independent documentary film, journalist/filmmaker Angela Sun travels on a personal journey of discovery to uncover this mysterious phenomenon.

8:30-8:45 p.m. Q&A with Angela Sun

Sun is a television host and journalist with a passion for storytelling and love for the oceans. Her call for adventure has led her to field research on the Great Barrier Reef and a survey of the coral reefs of the Andaman Sea. An avid surfer and scuba diver who loves to chase stories, sharks, sunsets and surf around the world, she has produced/hosted a suite of sports and travel shows on popular television networks.

Sept. 13

7-9:15 p.m.

Lucas Theatre for the Arts

32 Abercorn St.

7-7:20 p.m.

⢠"Your National Marine Sanctuaries: NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries"

⢠"Tagged - You're It!"

7:20-8:05 p.m.

⢠"A Penguin's Life" by National Geographic filmmaker Greg Marshall

This film chronicles the everyday struggles of a colony of emperor penguins. See firsthand how these penguin parents raise their chicks in just one season to survive on their own in the sea before the ice starts to melt.

8:05-8:15 p.m. Break

8:15-9 p.m.

⢠"Project Shiphunt," featuring shipwreck explorer James Delgado

Five high school students team up with experts in ocean exploration to hunt for a shipwreck, investigate its identity and document it in 3D for future generations. Join this team as they solve a 100-year-old mystery in the adventure of a lifetime.

9-9:15 p.m.

⢠Q&A with National Geographic filmmaker Greg Marshall

Greg Marshall is a marine biologist, a filmmaker and an executive producer for National Geographic Television. Greg invented and continues to lead development of Crittercam, a system of animal-borne cameras that capture video showing the world through animals' eyes. His work has been featured in numerous films covering more than 40 species, from fur seals to blue whales. Greg uses media to connect audiences to wildlife with the aim of inspiring a conservation ethic and a call to action.

Sept. 14

1-9:30 p.m.

Lucas Theatre for the Arts

32 Abercorn St.

1-1:20 p.m.

⢠"Your National Marine Sanctuaries: NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries"

⢠"Tagged - You're It!"

1:20-2:20 p.m.

⢠"Otter 501," directed by Bob Talbot

A young woman finds a stranded baby sea otter on a windswept beach after a storm. Peering down at the damp, shivering fur ball, she grabs her cellphone and makes a call, setting in motion a story about the otter's struggle for survival and humans' efforts to protect an iconic species.

2:20-2:30 p.m. Break

2:30-2:40 p.m.

⢠"Lifeline: A Chesapeake Oyster Documentary" by independent filmmaker Adrian Schwarz

Through oyster harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay, this documentary paints a broad stroke on the effects that industrialism has had on ensuing generations.

2:40-3:20 p.m.

⢠"Shellshocked" by independent filmmaker Emily Driscoll

Following efforts to prevent the extinction of wild oyster reefs, which keep our oceans healthy by filtering water and engineering ecosystems, scientists, government officials, artists and environmentalists are fighting to bring oysters back to the former oyster capital of the world - New York Harbor.

3:20-3:35 p.m.

⢠Recognition of students involved in the making of Savannah College of Art and Design's "A Digital Field Guide of Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary"

SCAD students collaborated with the staff of Gray's Reef to create a digital field guide to raise awareness of this National Marine Sanctuary and to illustrate the beauty and value of this near-shore live-bottom reef, located off the Georgia coast.

3:35-3:45 p.m. Break

4:15-6 p.m.

⢠Showcase of student films in the Dr. Robert O. Levitt 2013 Emerging Filmmakers Competition

Film students from across the nation, many from the Savannah College of Art and Design, competed in the 2013 Emerging Filmmakers Competition. Top films are showcased in our 2013 Ocean Film Festival.

6:00-6:30 p.m. Break

6:30-6:50 p.m.

⢠"Your National Marine Sanctuaries: NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries"

⢠"Tagged - You're It!"

6:45-7:45 p.m.

⢠"Sharks of Lost Island" by National Geographic filmmaker Enric Sala

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala journeyed to the Pitcairn islands to document life in the sea and on land with the hope of turning this ocean environment into a protected marine reserve. Sala is hoping that the same isolation that has kept Pitcairn's inhabitants so removed from the rest of the world may also have protected the population beneath the waves. This is exploration at its most extreme and isolated.

7:45-8 p.m. Break

8-9:15 p.m.

⢠"Chasing Ice" by photographer James Balog, directed and produced by Jeff Orkowski

The story of one man's mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet, environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth's changing climate. A skeptic about climate change, the trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.

9:15-9:30 p.m.

⢠Q&A with Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Clark Alexander

Clark Alexander, professor at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, whose research includes changing landscapes and shorelines, sea level history and human impacts on our coasts, will be available to answer questions related to the film and to the issue of rising sea level and its potential effects on Coastal Georgia.

Sept. 15

2-6:20 p.m.

Jewish Education Alliance

5111 Abercorn St.

2-2:15 p.m.

⢠"Your National Marine Sanctuaries: NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries"

⢠"Tagged - You're It!"

2:15-3:15 p.m.

â¢"Otter 501"

3:15-3:30 p.m. Break

3:30-3:55 p.m.

⢠"Oceans at the Tipping Point"

3:55-4:40 p.m.

⢠"Sharks of Lost Island"

4:40-5 p.m. Break

5-6:20 p.m.

⢠"Chasing Ice"