The South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL, pronounced ‘circle’) is no stranger to the power of grassroots mobilization.
Twenty-five years ago a small group of environmental activists began their fight to save the Yuba River from corporations, special interest groups and government agencies that wanted to build dams across the natural treasure. Ultimately, the voices of the people and of the land were heard. In 1999, after 16 years of grassroots work, Governor Gray Davis signed a bill protecting a 39-mile stretch of the South Yuba River including it in California’s Wild and Scenic River System.
Founded in 2003, the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival (WSEFF) was started ‘really as a fundraiser for SYRCL,’ said SYRCL’s Former Executive Director, Janet Cohen, who picked up a book on how to put on a film festival at Sundance. ‘It was an idea whose time had come. There were so many extremely cool environmental documentaries out there, but no way to see them.’
She and the Wild and Scenic Film Festival Director, Kathy Dotson were overwhelmed (in a good way) with the response the festival received in its first year.
They showed 25 films, had five speakers and 500 attendees. ‘It was totally packed,’ Cohen said.
In this, its seventh year, SYRCL’s Film Festival continues to raise awareness and inspire activism. This year’s theme is ‘Truth, Hope and Action,’ and the welcoming letter to festival attendees, reminds us of President-Elect Obama’s call for more action in response to ‘a planet in peril.’
The festival has grown. Its program is a testament, as it is now teeming with 128 of the world’s most important environmental films in various genres − agriculture, activism, energy, climate change, adventure and wildlife. Some titles that jumped out at me are ‘This Brave Nation,’ ‘Who’s Got the Power?’ and ‘Homegrown Revolution.’ They now have 120 guest speakers and expect 5,000 people in attendance at the festival, which runs from January 9 through 11.
The Wild and Scenic Film Festival has also inspired the creation of 90 venues nationwide − another clear indication of its growth and timeliness. Environmental groups were so excited by what they experienced at the first festival, that they requested a traveling program.
‘In 2004, they developed a festival kit condensing the three-day event into a three hour program,’ said Susie Sutphin, the Festival’s Tour Manager. ‘We are sharing the success by creating a grassroots network, inspiring activism. Seventy percent of the festivals are hosted by environmental groups.’ Film festivals inspire, inform and motivate people to become members and to volunteer with local organizations. Our own Tahoe-Truckee Earth Day festival begins with a Wild and Scenic Film Festival on Friday night.
SYRCL’s Executive Director, Jason Rainey is excited about the strong focus on Native American environmental issues featured this year. Indigenous leaders will be on hand to talk about their issues, campaigns and homelands. Western Shoshone activist Carrie Dann will speak on the film ‘American Outrage,’ the story of her battle over land rights that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and United Nations. Enei Begaye, Executive Director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition will lead a workshop on Environmental Justice, and present the film ‘Power Paths.’
‘It is about breaking down barriers to find solutions,’ said Rainey. ‘It is geared toward empowerment.’
Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller made great environmental strides during her term in office including the development of the Texas Can Air Cities Coalition. The film ‘Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars,’ tells the tale of their opposition to the construction of 11 pulverized coal plants. She will speak on Friday night and Sunday morning after the screenings and on Saturday at a workshop called ‘Mobilizing Your Community.’
Rainey emphasizes the multidimensional quality of this film festival and really appreciates the Activist Center that goes on all day Saturday − the workshops and conversation that are enhanced by the films. Workshops focus on topics such as converting to solar power, getting your environmental messages on TV and the future of filmmaking.
‘It gives people an opportunity to connect with the films and to get involved with both local and global movements. To go deeper,’ Rainey said. ‘This is the best year of high quality films we’ve ever had.’
During the Film Festival, Nevada City will be hopping with art shows, book signings, live music and a wine stroll. There will even be yoga classes in the offering. A dance party on Friday night at the Miners Foundry and the Wild and Scenic Gala Event on Saturday, at the Winery, keep the festivities rolling well into the night.
‘We have an incredible community of volunteers and citizens,’ said Rainey. ‘Filmmakers keep this festival on their circuit because of the warm reception they receive.’
Get your tickets to get in on the action and to be a part of the solution.