180 South shotA scene from the buzzworthy film 180º South.Photo: 180º SouthDearest readers,

This past weekend, I attended the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, Calif.

With more than 110 films on offer, the old gold rush town was thronged by enthusiastic audiences. The festival with the tagline “Where activism gets inspired” actually did inspire people — to head indoors to watch films on two unseasonably warm (even for California) January days.

From Friday evening to Sunday, many of the movies were sold out. Two days of workshops, hosted by sustainability superheroes and designed to inspire activism, were packed. Tim DeChristopher was in the house — the man who bid for land being auctioned off by the Bureau of Land Management in an attempt to conserve it. So was Randy Hayes, documentarian and founder of Rainforest Action Network. Yours truly gave a talk on sustainamentalism on Saturday.

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Thankfully, the films weren’t all just earnest, gloomy documentaries. Waste Land, a beautiful film about Brazilian garbage pickers turned artists that was full of heart and hope, won the festival.

Two other movies received a lot of buzz on the streets of Nevada City.

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Eastern Rises, which follows some intrepid (and funny) fly fishermen on their trek to Russia’s remote, spectacular Kamchatka Peninsula, won the Audience Award.

And TV writer/producer-turned-activist filmmaker Jon Cooksey left an impression with his “unclassifiable” comedic film How to Boil a Frog. In it, he sheds light on the idea of “overshoot” — overconsumption and overpopulation. And he explains we need to save ourselves rather than the planet — because we’re the ones who are screwed, not the big rock we live on.

Two other movies with buzz (which I couldn’t squeeze my way into) were 180º South and Bag It. In 180º Southclimber/surfer Jeff Johnson retraces the 1968 adventure of Patagonia clothing company founder Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, who mountain-climbed and surfed their way to and through Chilean Patagonia. After the Saturday night screening of the film, Chouinard and Tompkins charmed the audience with tales of wild Patagonia meetings and their desire for people not to buy stuff they don’t need — no matter who makes it.

Bag It, a film by Suzan Beraza, is a light-hearted film dealing with the grave question of the ubiquity of plastic in our lives. I have yet to see it, but it brought home a Jury Award.

Of the documentaries I saw, two are worth adding to your “must see” list. SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories, directed by Jon Bowermaster, is a primer on the environmental issues facing Louisiana, including way wetlands destruction worsens the effect of hurricanes on human communities, illegal harvesting of swamp-dwelling cedar trees by Home Depot and Walmart, and the impacts of the BP oil spill.


Another enlightening film is Dirty Business. Did you realize that 40 percent of global warming is caused by coal and that half of our electricity comes from coal? This well-told story exposes mountaintop-removal mining, coal company Massey Energy, and its former CEO Don Blankenship — and leaves the viewer wanting energy alternatives.

These films and many others at the festival will be coming to theaters/televisions near you. I don’t usually encourage people to take things sitting down, but if you do so, you’ll certainly be more comfortable while watching this array of entertaining and inspirational films. You can read more about all of the festival entires here.

The Wild & Scenic Festival is taking its films on the road this year on a nationwide tour. Check here for festival screenings near you starting in February.

Now go pop some organic popcorn and watch these films (or at least the trailers)!