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Marin filmmakers shine at Wild and Scenic Fest

By Cari Lynn Pace
January 4, 2012

The 10th annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival, the largest film festival of its kind, combines stellar filmmaking, breathtaking cinematography and inspiring storytelling. Thousands of Bay Area residents will make this year’s pilgrimage to Nevada City, Calif., a picturesque former gold mining town in the Sierra foothills, the weekend of Jan. 13-15 to view an award-winning selection of more than 117 inspiring environmental films and passionate world adventures. Mill Valley’s award-winning filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia is one of the judges in this juried festival.

Often called the “environmental Sundance,” Wild and Scenic draws top filmmakers, celebrities and activists. This year’s film selection includes world and U.S. premieres, from two-minute shorts to two-hour presentations. The subject matter ranges from organic farming to wildlife, from schools in meager remote villages to scaling impossible mountains.

It is considered an honor for a filmmaker to be invited, and more than 100 of them will be present at the event. One of this year’s most ambitious undertakings is “Journey of the Universe,” directed and produced by Mill Valley’s Patsy Northcutt and Sausalito’s David Kennard. This lush film, documenting how the galaxy emerged, is a collaboration with renowned scientists. Northcutt said her challenge was “to fit this enormous story into one PBS hour, combining the technical science with the real heartstrings of the message.”

Marin filmmakers with ties to the festival festival include Sausalito’s Christopher Beaver, whose “Tales of the San Joaquin” chronicles the tortuous path of this once-mighty California river from its headwaters in the Sierra to the Pacific Ocean.

The Bay Institute in Novato received the Spirit of Activism Award for its local documentary “A Simple Question: The Story of STRAW,” tracing the student-teacher restoration of Marin’s watersheds, creeks and rivers.

The Global Oneness Project, headed by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee of San Rafael, traveled to New York, Ethiopia and Kenya to produce “A Thousand Suns.” The film documents how the African Rift Valley, a densely populated rural region, has been farmed sustainably for 10,000 years, and contrasts it with our view of nature here at home.

The Mill Valley Film Group, located in Sausalito, won recognition in 2011 with six short films paying tribute to local heroes from Poland, Swaziland, Cuba, Cambodia, Costa Rica and Michigan in “Global Focus VII: The New Environmentalists.” Producer Will Parrinello of Kentfield said, “Everyday people are enormously capable of inspiring action in one’s own community.” Co-producers John Antonelli of Mill Valley and Tom Dusenbery of Strawberry said, “We wanted to document how one person, with dedication and a few simple actions, made a striking change in the world.”

The environmental film genre is receiving hands-on support in high places. Film narrations are contributed by such luminaries as Robert Redford, Patrick Stewart, Richard Gere, Peter Coyote and Robin Wright Penn. Some of the festival’s selections are done on a shoestring budget, yet have won awards at major U.S. festival venues such as Sundance and Aspen, and internationally in locations that include Australia, Ireland and Canada. Subjects range from rock climbers to health issues, from improving the quality of a backyard creek to growing an organic garden.

A weekend pass gives access to all films showing in all the various venues around Nevada City. For tickets, go online to wildandscenicfilmfestival.org. The screenings take place in a four-block area all over downtown, so wear comfortable shoes to trot back and forth. Bring a chair cushion and a reusable water bottle.

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