Film festival debuts locally

<p>Courtesy</p> <p>“The Church Trees of Ethiopia” is among 14 short films in the Wild & Scenic Film Festival screening locally this weekend.</p>

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is coming to Fort Wayne for the first time as the Indiana Forest Alliance hosts it Sunday at Purdue University Fort Wayne's Rhinehart Recital Hall.

The 14 short films were selected from more than 60 movies about environmental issues or outdoor adventures that were shown at the 19th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California, in January.

“We put together a really interesting list of movies,” says Morgan Whitacre, director of development for the Indiana Forest Alliance. “We assembled a committee of seven people this year and we viewed all 60 of them. We selected the 14 films we thought would be the most pertinent for our organization and our mission.

“I really like the series of films we put together and I think the people who come to experience them will as well. Some are fun. Some are serious. A lot are inspiring.”

According to Whitacre, Indiana Forest Alliance Executive Director Jeff Stant discovered the Wild & Scenic Film Festival On Tour while traveling in another state.

The California festival was started by the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL, pronounced 'circle'). This organization formed in 1983 to oppose several dam projects. SYRCL succeeded in gaining Wild & Scenic status for 39 miles of the South Yuba River in 1999 and the festival was created in celebration of this achievement.

Stant thought the touring festival would be great for the Indiana Forest Alliance. It has become a biannual event that helps Hoosier audiences connect with the outdoors and explore environmental concerns. The earlier 2021 showing was May 20 at the Skyline Drive-In in Shelbyville. Fort Wayne was tagged as the second location.

“This is our seventh year to host the Festival,” Whitacre says. “Next year we will have one in Indianapolis and one in Bloomington. Usually we do the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington and it sells out.”

The movies, which vary in length from 4 minutes to 20 minutes, were shot in Africa, the Pacific Islands, North America and Asia. Topics include land preservation, adventure, environmental justice, farming, wildlife and rivers. They run about two hours combined, and there will be a time for questions with Stant after the screening.

Of the films to be shown, Whitacre calls “The Church Trees of Ethiopia” his favorite.

“It's about a little village in Ethiopia. It's like a little oasis,” he says. “The reason why it exists is because of the trees being there. It's fascinating.”

Whitacre also finds “The Pangolin Man” compelling.

“The film details a man, Moses Arineitwe, as he strives to save the most illegally traded mammal in the world,” he says. “It is a story that tugs at your heart and you root for this underdog animal. It's a very great movie.”

Other films include “Through the Breaks,” directed by Tom Attwater. It showcases the remote and unspoiled prairie landscape during a float trip down the Upper Missouri River in eastern Montana.

“Pedal Through” captures the experiences of director Analise Cleopatra as she mountain bikes for a week through the Oregon backcountry. The twist is that she has never before camped or ridden a bike on any surface but pavement. Undaunted, she assembles a team of Black women and pedals forward into adventure, fun, fear, discovery and striking landscapes.

“Northern Lights” displays the rugged beauty of the far north as Riverhorse Nakadate canoes through the wilderness.

The Indiana Forest Alliance is a nonprofit and statewide organization founded in 1996. It is dedicated to preserving and restoring Indiana's native hardwood forest ecosystem.

“All of the issues (in the films) are issues that we are facing today,” Whitacre says. “We all need to be in this together.”