Guest Commentary: Wild and Scenic Film Festival and Interviews with Filmmakers

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by Rebecca Wu

One winter evening in early January of last year I got a call from my mom reminding me about the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City. It sounded fun and there would be time to visit with the filmmakers and hear them talk about their films.

Many of the films run simultaneously and mom said I needed to pick out the movies I wanted to see. With dozens of films to choose from different titles jumped out like, The Fallz, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, Crude Impact (about oil), Dream People of Amazon, Who Killed the Electric Car? Queen of Trees, Nomads: Wandering Women of the Whitewater Tribe, and Discover Hetch Hetchy which is narrated by Harrison Ford.

[Pictures: Image 2073: Michael Schoenfeld from Channel G. Image 2076: Stone Hall and Michael. Image 2094: Ann Hayden from Environmental Defense Fund is in the film Discover Hetch Hetchy. Image 2095 & 2096: Wendy and the group that worked on Hetch Hetchy. David Vassar, filmmaker is at the end in a gray vest. Image 2101: Chris Emmerck is a sports filmmaker and co-produced Nomads: Wondering women of the whitewater tribe. Image 7 and 2105 & 2114: Wendy Millek. She edited and co-produced. Image 2106: Slater meets her hero Jean-Michael Cousteau. Wendy in the Middle. Image 2119: Historic Nevada City Movie Theater. Image 2121: Filmmakers of Who Killed the Electric Car. Image 2189: Some of the hardworking people who put on the event. Image 2197 & 2199 & 2202: Wild and Scenic Film Festival. Informational displays of environmental organizations. Image 2203 & 2205 & 2207: South Yuba River Citizens League. Image 2210 & 2212 & 2214: Christopher Swain and Source to Sea. Image 2170 & 2173: Happy Filmakers; Image 2172: “Filmmaker.”]

It was one of the most memorable weekends and now the Wild and Scenic Film Festival is coming to Davis! It will be here next Thursday on the 18th at the Veterans Memorial Center at 7pm. It is presented by Patagonia and hosted by Tuleyome and the Sierra Club Yolano Group. It is not going to be the big grand event like up in Nevada City but I know it will be worth going to. It may sell out early on.

Hundreds of hours of volunteers work go into the creation of the Nevada City film festival. This amazing film festival is set up so you can walk around to all the film locations in the heart of the town and maps are given out with the location of each of the theaters. Like Davis the town has many unique shops, restaurants and cafes that are scattered around the movie locations. Of course, there are many awards and you can vote for. The film you vote as your favorite becomes the Peoples Award. Now if any film festival comes to Davis there really needs to be Peoples Award, as the townsfolk like to be involved on some level.

The films run all weekend long and for an hour or more during lunch the filmmakers are at designated cafes and restaurants where they invite the public to have coffee and chat with them. I expected this advertised chat with the filmmakers to be packed but I figured I would give it a try. To my complete amazement I had an opportunity to chat with over a dozen different filmmakers and those involved in the film. They all had incredible stories to tell.

Meeting filmmakers and hearing them talk about a film they put their soul into brings a movie to life more than before. It also gave me a chance to see into the film making world. There were such different ways people had emerged into the film making world. It can be heartbreaking from all the struggles many independent filmmakers go through.

The first event I went to was a talk by Michael Schoenfeld who is the Community Outreach Coordinator for Channel G. It is a nonprofit organization that helps filmmakers create their documentaries so they can be used in the media. One type of project they work on is to shorten films. Short five-minute films can be recreated to go for fifteen seconds. These shortened films can then be played at places like the gas station while you fill up on gas.

Michael pointed out that the future lies in media and it could bring people together. “There are so many positive things happening.” This recurring theme, that we all make a difference was jumping out of much of the films and prevailed throughout the weekend. “People don’t know how to get involved but stories and images will bring people there. We are the media.”

He went on to mention he had just gone to a national convention and saw Al Gore talk passionately about the environment. Of course Al Gore’s movie on global warming has had a big impact on people around the country and the world. Michael has seen a passion for film and environmental films growing around the world. “In Brazil they are hungry for films. We have a force and the time is now.”

What matters is that a film is created if there is message. “The worst film I worked on was on Pit Bulls. They were so abused some were given to a sanctuary to live and two people used a hand held video to make a short documentary. It’s shaking on the video.” You really never know if video footage can be turned into something extraordinary.

By the way, he mentioned he is one of a few handful of volunteers for Channel G and they all have day jobs. Michael works as an elementary school teacher during his day job. In comparing Channel G to Starbucks he thought it was interesting that they had over 200 people working on entertainment. I left very inspired there were nonprofit organizations like Channel G in this world.

After scrambling to get to many of the films, some minutes long and others hours, it was time for lunch and I headed to a local café to see if I could at least hear a filmmaker talk about their films. Inside the quaint café was a group that had worked on the film Discover Hetch Hetchy.

Hetch Hetchy is sometimes thought of as a sister to Yosemite because it is a Valley located right next to it. Sadly, it was a magnificent national treasure that was dammed up in 1913 even though John Muir put up a great and gallant political fight to stop it. Today the valley is under water. Imagine Yosemite under water. The well respected David Vassar filmed it and Harrison Ford was the narrator of the movie.

Sitting at the table of the Discover Hetch Hetchy filmmakers was Ann Hayden who is the Senior Water Resource Analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund. She studied Hetch Hetchy to see if it was truly restorable in an ecological way. Would the valley be able to go back to its native and natural state after they tore down the dam? The answer was yes.

She first had a lot to say about David Vassar. “He is a brilliant filmmaker!” Of course he was sitting at the table but I still believed her because she was so alive and passionate about everything.

Ann did think it would take a while to get the legislation through that would actually allow for the restoration of Hetch Hetchy. “Its got broad appeal,” and “I think the issue has bipartisan support. Unexpected support by Republicans and Democrats.” Our very own Lois Wolk pushed Arnold into getting help. Our Governor went on to look at getting federal help in studying the possibility of restoration. Diane Feinstein on the other hand is one of the most outspoken against restoration because the reservoir is one of San Francisco’s main water supplies.

Of course I had to ask what it was like working with Harrison Ford and Ann’s little smile said a lot.

“I found him to be dreamy,” she said. “ I wasn’t totally sure he understood everything but a man came up to him and accosted him. He wanted to know why he supported this project. Harrison proceeded to inform him with details to all the man’s questions. I was very impressed. He was great with everyone and with autographs.” Check out www.environmentaldefense.org or www.Hetchhetchy.org.

I thanked her and strolled over to another place in town. Eating Thai food with chopsticks was filmmaker Chris Emmerik. I learned he has made dozens of sport films on whitewater kayaking and has traveled the world creating films.

Chris, a previous nationally competitive kayaker, is from Hood River, Oregon and it took him two years to film the movie Nomads: Wandering Women of the Whitewater Tribe. It is about three women who kayak the Nile River and help run a nonprofit organization that helps people of Uganda fight against malaria. One of the women, Poly Green who had no film making experience decided she wanted to create a film. They got together to make it reality.

“What I really liked most about filming,” he went on to tell me, “I got to work with friends and it was relaxed, self paced and we had fun with it.” This must be better than those crazy sixteen-hour days actors talk about. “In a small production, there is less of a script and you just let things unfold.” I guess in many ways independent films are the greatest types of movies.

“To see our film go to the film festivals is great and to see how well it is received,” Chris mentioned between tofu bites. He offered me some and it was tasty. “The film inspires people. Instead of just traveling people can travel and help people.”

I asked him what the people of Uganda are like. He smiled and said they are very welcoming and warm. “You could be walking and kids would just come up and hold your hand…. It’s a good vibe there.” It was a self funded film and they had to stop for a long time during production because they ran out of money. Go to www.Nomadsfilms.com, or www.Pollygreen.com for more information or check out outdoor sport sections in stores for some of his films on Kayaking.

Down the street and around the corner is a fun looking pub where people seemed to be enjoying themselves. I asked if I could sit down and received a warm welcome from Wendy. She was at the film festival promoting Slater Meets Her Hero Jean-Michel Cousteau. Wendy Millete is the editor and one of the producers for the film.

The film is about a girl who gets a chance to go snorkeling with Jean-Michel Cousteau. Wendy has education in cinematography and was excited for Slater who had just been accepted into an arts school where she has an interest in the film industry. Wendy is also the editor for My Hero teacher training videos and went on to explain that anyone can post a hero on www.myhero.com. My Hero has become big around the world and is a great learning resource for people and children.

I asked her about Jean-Michel Cousteau who is a world famous ocean conservationist. She laughed and said, “He’s fun, and he is like a big kid. He speaks the language of kid and he is inspirational in his commitment.” Laughing and apparently on cloud nine from the electrifying energy of the film festival she looked right into my eyes and said, “You spend an afternoon with him and it deepens your commitment,” You can check out some cool websites. www.lagunacinema.com and myhero.com.

At another lunch chat table, I talked with Larry Huntington who produced and filmed, The Fallz. This movie is about the vast Iguazu Waterfall, which is between Brazil and Argentina. Larry started making movies after class in school for fun. “I just started making up stores and I knew I really liked it. I am a local and a volunteer for the festival.” It took him three days to film it and forty plus hours of editing. “I have a passion for the festival and it raises awareness for the environment. I want to start doing my part. I am 32 and I want to make a difference.” You can visit his website www.Tlhproductions.com.

During the film festival one of the most packed political films was, “Who killed the Electric Car?” It was played at the local beautiful historic theater and is now out on video at many rental stores. The electrifying energy gave me goose bumps and the standing ovation when the filmmakers walked on stage made me cry. I forgot I was taking notes and I misplaced my pen so I can’t tell you all the funny and fascinating things they had to say but I hope you see this movie.

Near the end of the film festival on Sunday, the awards ceremony took place. Some of the films that received awards would be doing a second showing so I would have my chance to see the award winning Source to Sea.

Wow, I learned during the awards ceremony that there were over 250 volunteers who put on this event and there were even host families who gave filmmakers a place to stay. What an event.

Source to Sea is the last movie I am going to tell you about. Christopher Swain decided to swim down the gigantic Columbia River from Canada to the ocean in Oregon. I am guessing he woke up one morning and decided he would, “swim for a healthy world.” He swam by pulp mills, and the film went over much of history of the river on his thirteen month long swim. After his film, he got up on stage and gave a heartfelt and very entertaining talk. People just loved him.

During his bumpy, toxic swim Christopher developed a golf size lump under his skin and had a skin reactions and ear infections. Overall, his health was pretty good and he, “got away with it.” The film reminds us that the dams affect the salmon when fish ladders are not put into place and that the pollution affects us.

“I swam through a ton of plastic bottles so if someone buys a product from recycled bottles it is one less plastic bottle in my rivers and oceans.”

“I took in the Columbia River like a sister. A sister who’s sick. You would do anything for her. You know you will come to her aid, at least until the escort boat (his friends) runs you over for the third time.”

“We would camp or people would email us and have us stay.” The media picked up on his grueling long adventure. “But then you would sing for your supper. I was up late talking and telling stories. If you put yourself on the line people come to help, especially Canadians. I think they were so amazed that an American cared about the environment.” The audience found this funny. “One thing you didn’t do was drink. The crew could be offered homemade wine from berries in a yard but while the crew is drunk asleep I am awake up telling stories.”

The festival came to a close and I couldn’t wait for next January to roll around. Next time, I would listen to my mom warning more and really plan which movies I want to see and schedule it because you could literally spend half your time trying to figure out where to go next because the movies were not always on perfect timing. Many are scheduled at the same time in many of the theaters with some being short and others very long. Other than that, I was awestruck at what goes into making a documentary and how much heart, soul and sweat of those involved goes into it.

Driving home I got to thinking about how each and everyone of us is a powerful and brilliant person regardless of degrees, age, speaking, writing,or film making abilities. Whether it is environmental issues or other issues we shape our world and our community and every little thing we do makes a difference. When I get wrapped up in my own little world these kinds of movies help bring me back to that place of community and connection. I hope you go see more independent films or maybe go see the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Davis or Nevada City. Enjoy.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Wild and Scenic Film Festival and Interviews with Filmmakers”

  1. don shor

    Since articles of this kind don’t get much comment, I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for taking the time to write this up and post the photos. Very interesting. I’ve been intrigued by the Hetch Hetchy proposal for quite a while, so I’ll watch for that film.
    Thanks again.

  2. don shor

    Since articles of this kind don’t get much comment, I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for taking the time to write this up and post the photos. Very interesting. I’ve been intrigued by the Hetch Hetchy proposal for quite a while, so I’ll watch for that film.
    Thanks again.

  3. don shor

    Since articles of this kind don’t get much comment, I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for taking the time to write this up and post the photos. Very interesting. I’ve been intrigued by the Hetch Hetchy proposal for quite a while, so I’ll watch for that film.
    Thanks again.

  4. don shor

    Since articles of this kind don’t get much comment, I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for taking the time to write this up and post the photos. Very interesting. I’ve been intrigued by the Hetch Hetchy proposal for quite a while, so I’ll watch for that film.
    Thanks again.

  5. Stacie Frerichs - Sierra Club Yolano Group

    Thanks for your time and effort to write this article – I just wanted to fill in some details about the Davis festival.

    The Davis Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival will begin at 7PM at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater at 14th and Bst. It will feature 9 of the films from the ‘home’ festival which Rebecca writes about. Tickets are $10 and on sale at Armadillo Music in Downtown Davis and at the door if the festival is not sold out. This should be a fun and inspiring evening. There will also be a raffle in which the grand prize is a 2 day rafting trip on Cache Creek for 2 people. A raffle ticket is part of the admission price. The festival is hosted by Tuleyome and the Sierra Club – Yolano Group.

  6. Stacie Frerichs - Sierra Club

    Thanks for your time and effort to write this article – I just wanted to fill in some details about the Davis festival.

    The Davis Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival will begin at 7PM at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater at 14th and Bst. It will feature 9 of the films from the ‘home’ festival which Rebecca writes about. Tickets are $10 and on sale at Armadillo Music in Downtown Davis and at the door if the festival is not sold out. This should be a fun and inspiring evening. There will also be a raffle in which the grand prize is a 2 day rafting trip on Cache Creek for 2 people. A raffle ticket is part of the admission price. The festival is hosted by Tuleyome and the Sierra Club – Yolano Group.

  7. Stacie Frerichs - Sierra Club

    Thanks for your time and effort to write this article – I just wanted to fill in some details about the Davis festival.

    The Davis Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival will begin at 7PM at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater at 14th and Bst. It will feature 9 of the films from the ‘home’ festival which Rebecca writes about. Tickets are $10 and on sale at Armadillo Music in Downtown Davis and at the door if the festival is not sold out. This should be a fun and inspiring evening. There will also be a raffle in which the grand prize is a 2 day rafting trip on Cache Creek for 2 people. A raffle ticket is part of the admission price. The festival is hosted by Tuleyome and the Sierra Club – Yolano Group.

  8. Stacie Frerichs - Sierra Club

    Thanks for your time and effort to write this article – I just wanted to fill in some details about the Davis festival.

    The Davis Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival will begin at 7PM at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater at 14th and Bst. It will feature 9 of the films from the ‘home’ festival which Rebecca writes about. Tickets are $10 and on sale at Armadillo Music in Downtown Davis and at the door if the festival is not sold out. This should be a fun and inspiring evening. There will also be a raffle in which the grand prize is a 2 day rafting trip on Cache Creek for 2 people. A raffle ticket is part of the admission price. The festival is hosted by Tuleyome and the Sierra Club – Yolano Group.

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