Environmental film festival makes first appearance in Columbia

Thursday, November 6, 2008 | 6:26 p.m. CST; updated 7:22 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 6, 2008

COLUMBIA — Film is a powerful medium that reaches and touches people quickly. That is why Justin Johnson, executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, says he believes bringing “visually stunning” environmental films to viewers is a way to get people exposed to issues and get a conversation started.

To get the conversation started locally, the Missouri Prairie Foundation and the Columbia Farmers Market are hosting the Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival On Tour at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts on Sunday.

The sixth annual national festival is making a tour stop in Columbia for the first time. The festival is held for three days in January in Nevada City, Calif., followed by a nationwide tour. The annual festival has 125 films, but for its tour, each venue chooses its films from a narrowed list of 50. There are more than 90 venues on the tour’s schedule this year, tour manager Susie Sutphin said.

The agreement of the power of film is what brings together environmentalists and filmmakers, she said.

“Some environmentalists are accidental filmmakers because they realize film is a powerful medium to get their message across,” Sutphin said, “and the filmmakers they work with agree with their message.”

The festival was started by the nonprofit corporation South Yuba River Citizens League and is presented by Patagonia, a designer of outdoor clothing and gear. The league looks for festival venues throughout the country that have local Patagonia dealers, such as the Alpine Shop in Columbia.

For 25 years, the league has been working to bring the community around the protection of the South Yuba River in the Sierra Nevada area of California. Its mission is to restore the Yuba Watershed and maintain non-dam flood control, water quality monitoring and overall community collaboration on such issues. In 1999, 39 miles of the river were added to California’s Wild and Scenic River System, which gives the film festival its name.

The Missouri Prairie Foundation shares the league's community-oriented idea of activism.

“Our mentality is all-around cooperation and sustainability,” Johnson said. “That really means people working together to protect a place that’s special to them.”

The Missouri Prairie Foundation is a statewide nonprofit organization in Columbia started in 1966 with a cooperative community mentality, he said. The foundation works to permanently protect prairie habitat and create understanding of the role of native grasslands in wildlife conservation. It directly protects 4,000 acres and works with neighbors to protect thousands more.

“Once something becomes relevant in someone’s mind, they will leave with a better understanding of what it takes to save a pretty place,” Johnson said. He hopes the festival’s closing film, award-winning “America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie,” will put the beauty and natural history of the prairie on Columbians’ radar screens.

Although the festival’s subject matter attracts activists, it speaks to a broader audience.

“People in the Midwest are often unaware that their landscape was once so diverse, lush and wild,” said Daryl Smith, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa.

Smith worked with director David O’Shields on the film “America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie.” The film attempts to build an awareness of how rapidly the tallgrass prairie was converted to cropland and what that means for its plants, animals, root systems and rich soil, Smith said. It also tries to provide an understanding of the Native American culture, viewers’ biological heritage and their connection to the land.

“The film is very appealing to the average person,” he said. “Viewers are attracted to the historical aspects and the natural history that’s in the prairie and the cultural interest of (it).”

Film, he said, is “the most powerful communicative medium” that informs and inspires viewers to action.

Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival

What: Patagonia presents Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Where: Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St.

When: 2 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, doors open at 1 p.m.

Admission: $12.

Related Links

The films shown are "Carpa Diem," "Climate: A Crisis Averted," "Fish and Cow," "For the Price of a Cup of Coffee," "Fridays at the Farm," "Ladies of the Land," "Water Loving Doggies" and "America's Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie."

They address several environmental issues, such as water conservation, pollution, recycling, farming, agriculture and climate crisis. The filmmaker of “Ladies of the Land” wants viewers to learn more about where food comes from and who is producing it, and she does so through the story of female farmers.

“I hope people will realize that every time they order a meal or buy their groceries, there is a story behind the food they eat,” Megan Thompson said about her film, “and every time you buy your food, you’re supporting whatever that story is.”

“I think the festival does a great job of bringing timely films to a national audience about one of the most important issues that we’re facing right now: the importance of preserving our environment,” she said.

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