Marine film festival returns with a splash

This post contributed by Ashwin Bhandiwad, marine biologist and filmmaker

When my colleague and good friend Austin Gallagher told me he was thinking of starting a film festival focused on science and conservation, I relished the opportunity. Austin and I are graduate students and share a passion for the marine environment. Like all graduate students, we have had many conversations about how our work is woefully underappreciated and about how a fundamental lack of communication exists between researchers and people outside their field. This is why last year’s Beneath the Waves Film Festival was so appealing. Finally, here was a chance to break free of sometimes monotonous ten to twelve minute PowerPoint presentations with the requisite black and white graphs. Here was a chance to show, rather than tell.

I was at Duke University at the time and had recently talked to a faculty member about a conservation issue facing North Carolina. There was a fight raging over beach access to the picturesque Outer Banks. Conservation groups, like the Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, were fighting to restrict driving on the beach, contending that off-road vehicles and SUVs on the beaches disrupted and destroyed nesting behaviors of turtles and seabirds in the area. Beach access interest groups claimed that the disruption was minimal  and that beach restrictions would decimate the local economy. The U.S. National Park Service had provided management plans that could be debated by the public in order to reach a middle ground, but few people knew about it. I decided it would make a great topic for a short documentary, one that would highlight regional conservation issues through the lens of behavioral ecological data (see below video).

Shifting Sands: The Fight for the Outer Banks from Ashwin Bhandiwad on Vimeo.

The festival itself was impressive. They ranged from natural history descriptive studies (a squid spawning event in San Diego) to global conservation issues (shark finning and turtle egg poaching) to short animated films about invasive species. Each film was remarkable in scope and breadth and showed creative prowess. The panel of judges, comprised of both filmmakers and academics, were surprised to see such diversity and passion in filmmaking.

This year, I am happy to be an organizer and judge at the Second Annual Beneath the Waves Film Festival at the 40th Benthic Ecology Meeting in Mobile, AL from March 16-20, 2011. Even though our call for submissions was released only a month ago, we have received a deluge of strong entries. The spirit of the festival is even more pronounced , with entries from researchers as well as avid naturalists and divers highlighting, not only the beauty of the oceans, but incorporating data and the scientific method as well. Last year’s festival also provided a benefit we did not anticipate: collaboration. This year, we plan on fostering it, not only between filmmakers, but between filmmakers and researchers. We believe that marine science is a wonder to be seen and not only said. In the generation of the internet and handheld video cameras, we need more scientists to show us all what they see, and marvel as they do. We need their passions to become ours.

Ashwin Bhandiwad earned his Master’s in marine biology from Northeastern University in Boston, MA. He is interested in telling stories through images. If you have a film to submit, or know someone who may, please visit the film festival website or contact Austin at or Ashwin at

Photo Credit: Austin Gallagher

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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