a renewal of life, vigor, interest, etc.; rebirth; revival: a moral renaissance.
Our coral reefs are degrading globally, at an alarming rate, and are desperately in need of revival.
In the Summer of 2011, documentary filmmaker Paul Cater Deaton and Masters candidate Elena Kobrinski met for a business lunch at the legendary Iggie’s Beach Bar and Grill, at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, St. Thomas. Through the course of an afternoon, they plotted the creative endeavor that has become the Reef Renaissance Film Festival, and developed the basis of its mission statement: to inspire ocean protection through film and interactive media.
What followed was a whirlwind of activity for both parties. Elena spent much of 2011 and 2012 on her Masters thesis, gathering 15 local business operator interviews and almost 300 surveys – asking people what they think about coral reef health and preservation – and how bringing people out to visit the reef can be a profound, changing experience.
Paul remained quite busy with his documentary work, including the filming of Great White Sharks off the Pacific coast of Mexico. With a growing speaking and film screening schedule, PCD addressed audiences in Houston, Chicago, Boston, New York, and other cities.
Moving from Chicago to live in the Caribbean with Paul, her long-time love, Monica Gephart brought formidable talents and dedication to the team. Her expertise in photography and information technology expert added a new dimension to the growing festival leadership.
With co-founder Elena moving to Texas for graduate school, and Monica moving to St. Thomas, that initial conversation still permeated an amazing sequence of events.
During Elena’s first semester of graduate school at the Harte Research Institute, Paul edited her Masters thesis interviews into a cohesive documentary, highlighting the importance of reef visitation, with intimate perspectives from local business operators and staff. Their insights were enlightening.
Elena briefly returned to the Virgin Islands in June 2013 to defend her Masters thesis. A matter of a just a few days separated the defense date from World Oceans Day.
A sign? We think so.
The trio launched the film festival amid a flurry of activity, leveraged by the support of colleagues, friends and family, and those who consistently bring their work to life on the screen.
As a wonderful gift, our friend Paul Doumeng donated the space at Iggie’s Beach Bar & Grill – the home of that infamous lunch – for our First Annual Reef Renaissance Film Festival on June 8, 2013.
We proudly screened the documentary, The Fine Line: Business Perspectives on Bringing the Reefs to Life in the Caribbean, with other films from Paul Cater Deaton, Jonathan Bird’s Blue World, Leandro Blanco, and 333 Productions. The event opened with a stellar, ocean-themed performance by our friend, Silver Raven, of Flights of Fire.
Elena and Paul were first introduced by Charlotte Vick, a friend and colleague from Mission Blue, and curator of Ocean in Google Earth. Charlotte gave us the opportunity to be a part of an international Google Hangout that afternoon, allowing us to share our excitement with other like-minded ocean professionals, including Mission Blue Founder, Dr. Sylvia Earle.
The Festival was flawless, and the evening was enchanting. We were overwhelmed by the size of the audience, which was more than twice as large as we had expected. We were energized by this show of support from our island community. We shall remember that night vividly as we go into future years, and as we watch Reef Renaissance Film Festival grow and change.
For the second year in a row, our island home is the only Caribbean location to host a World Oceans Day event. We look forward to seeing you at this year’s Reef Renaissance Film Festival, and many more years to come!
The most magical place on Earth lies just below the surface of the Ocean. Get in the water! Bring your friends, and your cameras! It is beautiful under there!