Wild and Scenic

Audience members learn about their impact on the environment at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. 

The crowd is buzzing in Court Square Theater. Tables run by environmental activists surround the entrance, covered in promotional bumper stickers and T-shirts that read “no pipeline” and “I heart mountains,” eager to promote their cause. Filing into the theater, audience members take their seats, programs in hand. Thursday night, the audience didn’t just view films, but heard stories of people who made a difference and assessed their own impact on the world.

The 15th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival made a second stop on its Virginia tour last Thursday at Court Square Theater, marking the fifth year the event’s come to Harrisonburg. Hosted by Wild Virginia, an organization devoted to protecting the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, the event sought to highlight environmental campaigns and educate its audience.

Wild & Scenic began in California and was created by the South Yuba River Citizens League. Partnered with Patagonia, the SYRCL decided to create a film festival to advance their cause — protecting the Yuba River. The film festival was so successful that the SYRCL decided to let other groups do the same and use the films to promote their own causes and campaigns in their area. With that, Wild & Scenic began loaning the films to organizations like Wild Virginia, which uses the festival to promote their own campaigns such as their opposition against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Misty Boos, director of Wild Virginia, explained that every year the national festival sends Wild Virginia a list of about 300 short films for them to pick. This year, Wild Virginia chose seven films for the Harrisonburg show. The organization’s goals when showing these films was to increase membership, promote their work and prompt people to make a difference.

“These films are supposed to get you thinking about how you could actually protect your own environment,” Boos said. “We don’t want to highlight what great, special, important people are doing, but what your average Joe like you and me can actually do and make a difference.”

Each film shown at the festival was unique and inspiring. The audience heard stories about a highly respected wilderness guide, a woman from Bangladesh who scaled the highest summits of each continent, declining species and the effects the border wall between the United States and Mexico has on the ecosystem around it.

Samantha Heitsch, a University of Virginia senior, is featured in the film, “A Ghost in the Making.” This film’s about the decline of the rusty patched bees. Heitsch, who is seen in the film doing fieldwork, is a member of her research mentor, T’ai Roulston’s, “bee team.” This team looks at all facets of bee decline, particularly the rusty patched bees.

Heitsch explained that Roulston’s lab was the last one on the East Coast to find a member of the declining species since the 90’s back in 2014. Since then, the team has been unable to find it again, but “A Ghost in the Making” has helped raise awareness. The film mentions that the rusty patched bee was proposed for listing by the Endangered Species Act. As a result of the film’s release, enough public interest was gathered that the species earned itself a spot on the list as of March 21.

“I’m really glad to see that together, with combined efforts between science and the media and public interest, we can really garner support for this issue and hopefully create real change towards protecting these really important species,” Heitsch said.

In her third year doing Wild & Scenic, Boos is amazed at how the films are still relevant today — especially in the political sphere — despite being introduced a year ago.

“Every year’s different — I think that’s fun,” Boos said. “I’m always surprised at how unique the films are, and especially this year, how timely some of them are in terms of how amped up our politics are. It’s been nice to see how [the films] have responded to that and caught up so quickly.”

The films prompted a great deal of applause and made some members of the audience question their own impact on the environment.

“It makes you examine how you’re living your life, if you can live it without regrets,” audience member Katie Mitchell said. “Whether you can live it without damage.”

At each show, “action items” are up for grabs, encouraging guests to take their first action to protect the environment. At this showing, postcards were used as actions items for the guests to fill out. By hosting these shows and giving the audience a chance to take action, Boos hopes that they can inspire more people to become activists.

“I want more and more people to be activists, not just a few folks,” Boos said. “It’s a job of everybody to protect their national forests because they belong to us.”

Contact Abby Church at churchae@dukes.jmu.edu.

Abby Church is the Editor-in-Chief of The Breeze. She’s a junior media arts and design major with a concentration in journalism and a minor in creative writing. Fun fact: she's an award winning reporter and rapper.