When filmmaker Elizabeth Pickett Gray moved back to her hometown of Sarasota, she was struck by the smell, or lack thereof, of the ocean.
“When I moved back, I noticed that the salt smell when I was walking on the beach anywhere in Lido or Siesta, the smell was not there,” Pickett Gray said. “The smell was gone. I grew up on the water, so that was a huge concern for me.”
Pair that with her concern for clean drinking water in a state that is rapidly growing, and Pickett Gray knew something had to be done.
So she drew on her filmmaking background and decided to start a nonprofit to shed light on Florida’s environmental issues through film. After months of waiting, the organization, Florida Environmental Film Festival, received 501(c)(3) status.
The next step was to set up a daylong film festival, and in a state where tourist dollars and quality of life have long been affected by unclean water, the first festival topic was easy to find.
“I really want to educate people,” Pickett Gray said. “It’s all about education. It’s not about politics. It’s about how we can all work together to clean this environment up.”
The festival, titled “Dirty Water Festival,” will be held from noon to 9:30 p.m. March 11 in the Ringling College of Art and Design Larry R. Thompson Academic Center.
The festival will feature two feature-length films, one 40-minute film and several shorter films, as well as talks from directors and officials on the subject matter. Residents can choose to attend one film or the whole day’s activities.
“It’s just so important to educate because you have some people moving here from out of state who don’t know simple things they can do to help,” Pickett Gray said. “Everyone is responsible, and the hope is that people come away from the festival with at least one thing where they say, ‘Oh, I can do that.’”
Jennifer Smith, owner of Lelu Coffee on Siesta Key, joined the organization as a board member. She said she hopes the festival can shed light on the importance of clean water.
“Me being a business owner on Siesta Key, the last big red tide bloom was awful,” Smith said. “We had to close our outdoor seating on many days. People were calling from all over the globe asking if they should come. The coastal area’s restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, businesses that rely on the ocean, we all were devastated.”
Smith hopes festivalgoers learn the onus is on every Florida resident to help, not just one corporation or organization.
“This situation is a little different than the BP oil spill,” Smith said. “BP had to own that oil spill, and there was ownership to that devastation. But with the situation we’re having now, everyone just blankets it as red tide, and there’s so much more to it.”
Those wishing to attend the event can purchase tickets from the FEFF website.
The group is already working to secure funding and planning its next festival to be focused on open land conservation and wildlife corridors.