The San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, the first film festival in the United States to focus on the seas, celebrated its fifth anniversary Feb. 1–3. The three-day event was the brainchild of Krist Jake ’66, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who had no previous experience in the film business before he started the festival. 

The idea came to Jake in the late ’90s, after he had spent about a decade swimming in San Francisco Bay’s chilly waters with the city’s famed Dolphin Club. Jake had been to Canada’s Banff Film Festival, which celebrates the mountains, and he wanted to create a similar festival for the oceans. But it took several years before Jake, who works with entrepreneurs and startup companies to develop their businesses, had the time to bring his idea to life. 

Focusing on nature, adventure, science, and culture, the films have featured everything from the huge amounts of plastic trash polluting the oceans to the first woman to surf the Mavericks, Northern California’s famed waves. The films also have described the impact of naval sonar systems on whales and dolphins and profiled a man who collects the skeletons of sea creatures. Jake says the evolution in the types of films being submitted over the years reflects increasing awareness about challenges facing the oceans: This year’s festival included a number of entries focused on climate change.

Raised in Ohio, Jake, an engineering major, never had seen an ocean until his senior year of college. After graduation, he joined the Navy and served in Vietnam. But his real love of the seas began after he started making daily swims in San Francisco Bay, a sport he took up after jogging lost its luster. Since the festival began, attendance has tripled to about 4,000, and imitators have sprung up from Santa Barbara to Savannah. Jake says he hasn’t quantified the impact the festival has had on awareness about ocean-related issues, but he says it’s opened his own eyes to problems like the depletion of fish populations. “I didn’t really think about it six years ago,” he says. “I’m much closer to it now.”