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Interview: Wild & Scenic Film Festival

Lívia Campos de Menezes
Lívia Campos de Menezes

1. When and why did you start the Wild & Scenic Film Festival? 

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is produced by the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), an environmental nonprofit whose mission is to protect and restore the Yuba River Watershed. The organization was founded in 1983 by grassroots activists determined to preserve the South Yuba River from dams. 

Ultimately, under California's Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, SYRCL won permanent protection for 39 miles of the South Yuba River. To celebrate this victory, in 2002, SYRCL put together a community event and screened environmental films to encourage people to learn more and get inspired to continue the good fight.  

For 21 years, the Wild & Scenic Film Festival has been inspiring environmental activism and a love for nature–through film. Our 5-day flagship festival is held annually in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. 

The festival is the largest annual fundraiser for (SYRCL), helping fund its year-round restoration projects, such as repairing critical fish habitat in the lower Yuba River destroyed by hydraulic gold mining during the gold rush and restoring headwater meadows that have been degraded by past overgrazing and development. SYRCL also works as part of the North Yuba Forest Partnership to help mitigate the potential of catastrophic wildfires and provides several educational opportunities for youth in the area.   

2. What are the themes of films being featured at your Festival this year? 

falconer
Photo Ken Etzel Courtesy Wild & Scenic Film Festival

Centered on the theme of commUNITY, this year's films highlight the interconnectedness of all the Earth's systems and inhabitants, as well as the power of collaboration and community engagement in helping to nurture and protect the planet we call home. 

The 2023 program explores issues related to environmental justice, climate change, community activism, and wildlife through stories of heart-pounding adventure, individual perseverance, and community collaboration. Our filmmakers are activists, change-makers, and storytellers, who inspire the audience by bringing unprecedented perspectives from the frontlines of those pressing issues.  

This year's lineup features many stories of traditionally overlooked populations, including films centered on LGBTQ, BIPOC, and Disability communities. We are also thrilled to offer six unique sessions with open captions (where captions are present on all films) to make this year's Festival more accessible and inclusive.  

To get a taste of the 2023 lineup, check out the festival trailer:

3. Are you influenced by various Climate Week or United Nations Climate-related themes when determining your Festivals programming?   

We are constantly researching and making partnerships with other events and organizations whose works reflect our mission, that is, to come together to mitigate the destruction of our planet. Therefore, yes, we are, in one way or another, influenced by the theme explored by those events each year.

For example, we have been increasing films and panels exploring environmental justice issues, which has been getting more attention when discussing climate change and its repercussions worldwide.  

4. Are there any Oscar contender films being featured at your Festival?  Tell us more about it. 

All That Breathes
All That Breathes. Credit: Wild & Scenic Film Festival

We are very proud to be able to screen All That Breathes on the big screen for our audiences this year. The film has been getting several awards since its premiere, and it is a must-see documentary. 

In All That Breathes, director Shaunak Sen explores the connection between kites in polluted New Delhi and two Muslim brothers who help them return to the skies. It perfectly matched our theme this year of CommUNITY, as the film offers a mesmerizing chronicle of inter-species coexistence. 

5.  C(omité) I(international) (des) MU(sées) (de) S(ciences) E(t) (des) T(echniques) ("CIMUSET"), which is a scientific committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) during its 48th CIMUSET Annual Conference: "Museums & Environmental Concerns, New Insights" November 7-11, 2021 discussed how Science and Technology museums could address the climate emergency issue via education and exhibitions. Do you collaborate with museums for a wider distribution of the films? 

Yes, we do. Our Festival has a traveling component that starts right after the flagship event. The way we operate is through partnerships with host organizations. Nonprofits, universities, museums, and businesses host the Wild & Scenic On Tour

Each creates unique film festivals in their communities and uses the event to raise funds, reach new contacts, and increase awareness of local issues. Globally, we help generate critical funds and increase awareness for grassroots environmental causes.  

6. February 2 was world wetlands day; tell us more about the film Motus Avium: A Mission to Save California's Last Wetlands. 

Unfortunately, California's wetlands have all but disappeared. In this film, a coalition of scientists, farmers, conservationists, and public agencies come together to find solutions, working together to restore California wetlands throughout the state's central valley.  

Motus Avium: A Mission to Save California's Last Wetlands reveals how significant it is to work in community, finding a common sense where established partnerships help support the beautiful nature we all love.  

7.  March 21 is World Forest Day; tell us more about the film UÝRA – The Rising Forest  

UÝRA – The Rising Forest
UÝRA – The Rising Forest. Credit: Wild & Scenic Film Festival

Directed by Juliana Curi, UÝRA – The Rising Forest documents the experience of a trans-indigenous artist, UÝRA, who travels through the Amazon Forest on a journey of self-discovery and uses performance art to teach indigenous youth about their ancestral roots and the importance of confronting structural racism and transphobia in Brazil. Poetic and combative simultaneously, the film offers a deep dive into the current situation of the Brazilian riverside population, denouncing the precariousness in which many of them live and the governmental negligence to protect both the forest and Brazilian native peoples. The message is hopeful, though, because it shows how UÝRA’s work helps to empower the young indigenous and LGBTQ population in Manaus so that they can occupy their space in a country that has for centuries neglected to recognize their rights. 

8. Auckland, New Zealand, just got slammed with a devastating cyclone Gabrielle after holding its second climate month in October 2022 with the theme of Ancestor, Me. Tell us more about the film PACKING A WAVE - Eduardo González Camiña, Spain

The film is part of our kids' session, and it's an animation that portrays a shipwrecked child living on an island that is a landfill. Sad and hopeless initially, the young girl does what all kids often do. She finds a genuine way to solve her problem – she creates a boat with all the trash, cleaning the island and returning it to its paradisiac form. 

9. Turkey and Syria were recently hit with a monster earthquake; tell us more about the film Feeling the Apocalypse - Chen Sing Yap, Canada 

Feeling the Apocalypse
Feeling the Apocalypse. Credit: Wild & Scenic Film Festival

The winner of the SZABO Award, Feeling the Apocalypse is an animated film that uses the speech of psychotherapist Anderson Todd to explain how unraveling ecosystems around the world have affected his psyche and his relationships. The film aims to provoke and make us think about responding to the environmental collapse without collapsing ourselves—a film about civilizational failure and existential anxiety.   

10. Anything else you would like to add? 

After two years of gathering virtually, the WSFF is excited to return to in-person festivities and unite our community around this special event and its many incredible stories and lessons. We are also happy to offer a virtual component for those who cannot join us in the Sierra foothills this year. All titles will be available in the U.S. and some worldwide.  

In March, we start our tour year. We have a few dates set already, and more will come soon. To be up to date and know when Wild & Scenic On Tour is coming to your community, visit wildandscenicfilmfestival.org/events/  

11. How can people reach you? 

More information about the Wild & Scenic Film Festival can be found at wildandscenicfilmfestival.org.  To become a member and help support SYRCL's year-round conservation projects, go to yubariver.org/unite/membership/ 

For those interested in bringing Wild & Scenic to their communities, learn more at wildandscenicfilmfestival.org/on-tour/host-an-event/ Hosting a Wild & Scenic Film Festival is a great way to draw attention to your organization and get others excited about supporting the work that you are doing.

Selva Ozelli Esq, CPA is a legal and finance executive with diversified experience dealing with highly complex issues in the field of international taxation and related matters within the banking, securities, Fintech, alternative and traditional investment funds. Her first of its kind legal analyses involving tax laws, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), blockchain technology, solar technology and the environment and have been published in journals, books and by the OECD. Her writings have been translated into 15 languages.

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