Warm and green
Coming in from the cold weekend at fun, lively Wild & Scenic Film Fest
Perseverance, empowerment, cultural unity, and a more livable future were the most common ideas weaving though the 11th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City last weekend (Jan. 10-13).
Often uttered in the same sentence as the Sundance Film Festival, Wild & Scenic is a renowned destination for environmental filmmakers and film lovers from far beyond Northern California, who were assembled here under the fest’s official theme of “A Climate of Change.” The fun of taking it all in was also a profound and meaningful theme. Right from the start on Friday night, live music greeted rosy-cheeked festival-goers as they made their way indoors from the frigid downtown streets. It was a fine and comforting welcome.
In addition to the stirring mix of films, the Wild & Scenic recipe included an exceptionally keen list of complementary ingredients. The historic screening venues themselves, including Miners Foundry, the Odd Fellows Hall and the 148-year-old Nevada Theatre, were an important part of the experience. But even more than that, festival staff—and 600-plus volunteers—cooked up a constant stream of enviro-themed tweener events all over the Gold Rush-era downtown, including ongoing music from a bike-pedal-powered stage; a wine stroll and an art stroll; plus a kid-friendly street parade that ended when evil entities such as Big Oil, GMO farming, and polluting smokestacks threatened humans and fish, only to be victoriously defeated by activists with big green fronds.
The slow-paced downtown was the ideal environment for filmmakers and planet-conscious attendees to meet and mingle in eateries, cafés and taverns, take village strolls and attend workshops. The communal vibe was never more apparent than during the premiere screening of Streams of Consequence, an epic adventure film chronicling a group dedicated to keeping the Chilean Patagonia free from river-blocking hydroelectric dams. I wound up sharing floor space with author and NPR contributor Craig Childs and expedition photographer James Q. Martin, two of the film’s intrepid principals, who, after speaking about the documentary, gathered with us on the floor of the overcrowded venue to watch their own movie.
There were many inspiring films over the weekend:
A local film that created a lot of buzz was How the Kids Saved the Parks. The feel-good short followed 30 fifth- and sixth-graders from Grass Valley Charter School who gathered signatures and successfully lobbied Sacramento legislators to keep open the South Yuba River and Malakoff Diggins State Parks. “Nature is our teacher and the parks are our classrooms” was one of their messages.
“For these kids their power doesn’t come from being cute,” South Yuba Charter teacher Alex Ezzell told me in a narrow passageway of the Miners Foundry. “They fully believed in their power to evoke change with enough perseverance. And that’s a powerful message for other kids to see—and adults [too].”
A Desert Life, starring self-described “dirtbag” Alf Randell, was about a man who lives off the grid in the hills of Utah in his rickety old pickup-camper, climbing rocks and getting by fixing visitors’ hiking boots with a buck knife. And The Way Home was a touching chronicle of a bus trip to Yosemite by an inner-city senior women’s church group.
The quirky Wild Bill’s Run was whimsical and enthralling. The 60-minute documentary chronicled folk hero Wild Bill Cooper, a charismatic adventurer (and convicted pot smuggler) whose preposterous attempt in 1972 to reach Russia on a snowmobile—via Canada and Scandinavia, all the way from Forest Lake, Minn.—ended in failure just shy of Greenland.
My overall favorite was the breathtaking All.I.Can, a thrilling full-length study of a group of daredevil downhill skiers who blazed their own trails through super-deep powder in British Columbia, Alaska, Chile, Greenland and Morocco. The fabulous cinematography, sprightly music and message of the meaningful bonds we can create with people of other cultures were inspiring to this too-sedentary writer.
The festival’s “climate of change” theme was nicely summed up during a closing segment of Streams of Consequence, which stated, “Every little drop of help helps, and little drops and more drops can make a river.”