Sea Otter Film Selected by Festival

Kelly Pien, Editor-in-Chief

Combining her passions for scuba diving and film making, junior Sofya Pesternikova created a documentary about sea otters and ocean conservation as part of her participation in the Acalanes Gifted and Talented Education (AGATE) program.

She entered the film into the student division of the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, and out of the 110 entries, she was selected as a finalist.

Pesternikova’s film concentrates on the importance of protecting sea otters and the coast. “They are a keystone species and just really important to the ecosystem,” Pesternikova explained.

Pesternikova has great respect for the ocean. “It’s so interesting. There’s a lot of different kinds of species that live in the ocean, processes that happen in the ocean. It’s different than land,” Pesternikova said.

Pesternikova also enjoys scuba diving. She has dived in the Caribbean, the British Virgin Islands, and Monterey with her family.

“California is such a great place to observe marine life because of the Arctic current, and the temperate zone is such a good environment for species to live. And so the kelp forests grow. There’s an adequate amount of sunlight. You’re diving through and then you’re swimming through the kelp forests,” explained Pesternikova.

One of her most memorable moments in the ocean was an incident when she and her sister encountered a harbor seal while exploring a kelp bed.

Over a Thanksgiving break diving trip to Point Lobos, Pesternikova filmed much of the footage for her documentary. The dry land shots were filmed by Pesternikova during AGATE’s trip to Monterrey.

The AGATE project requires that students use 2 different disciplines to present the research they gather while on the Monterrey trip. AGATE coordinator Paul Verbanszky said, “With the AGATE program, we help to develop her project and her overall vision and kind of fine-tune it, but also by going on the actual field trip to Monterrey, it allowed access to other docents to give her ideas and for her to talk with about her project.”

Pesternikova is no stranger to filmmaking; she regularly creates videos about her vacations for relatives in Russia.

She is currently working on her winter break video about the Caribbean and has also made videos about her family’s trips to Switzerland and Yosemite. Her videos are about typically about places she wants her relatives living in Russia to learn about.

Pesternikova said using new video editing software made her sea otter project unique. “It was challenging because I was using a new program [Final Cut Pro]. So not only was I making a film that I hadn’t really done before, I was also exploring a new program and learning it,” Pesternikova said. She normally uses iMovie to create videos for her family.

“Water filters out certain wavelengths of light. So when you take a camera down below the ocean surface, most of the red is filtered out. So you either have to have a red filter or you have to color-correct it manually, and so most of the footage initially turns out really green or blue,” Pesternikova explained of her editing challenges.

Although Pesternikova asked junior Nick Mediati, a video production student, a few questions about filmmaking, she said she mostly created her film by “finding online tutorials, and just messing around with, just sort of experimenting on my own.”

Verbanszky said, “You could definitely see the dedication in the project. She spent countless hours filming, editing, and also deciding the storyboard of her film. So it turned out great because it was both educational and actually interesting to watch.”

Pesternikova said, “AGATE pushed me to rediscover my interests and it sort of pushed me to do this. I’ve always wanted to do this but I’ve been waiting for the right moment. And so AGATE was my moment, and I’m glad I did it.”

After completing her film, she submitted it to the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival. The contest topic was the ocean and its importance.

Pesternikova, who is also the captain of the Ocean Science Bowl team, found out about the film competition at last year’s Science Bowl competition at Stanford. “I sort of kept it at the back of my mind, like, ‘Hm, someday I might do this,'” she said.

Pesternikova’s film will be screened at the Cowell Theater in the Fort Mason Center in San Fransisco on March 13.

“Honestly, I’m just really flattered that they like my film. This is just a personal hobby of mine. I just do it for my family and [because] I like it,” Pesternikova said.

“I am super excited that something that she’s interested in, that’s a project of passion, actually made it that far,” Verbanszky said. “I’m hoping it has very good chances of winning because it’s a great film, and she really deserves this for the work she’s done.”