Kevin and I have just returned from the International Wildlife Film Festival, held each year in Missoula, Montana. It’s the oldest film festival devoted to wildlife topics. Not sure entirely how we got selected, although the CA freshwater shrimp is technically “wildlife.” It’s just that there was our little film, “A Simple Question,” with all of the big boys: National Geographic, BBC, Discovery, PBS’ “Nature,” “Animal Planet,” as well as other independently-made films on attention-getting topics and creatures, like “The Cove.”
As one might imagine, it was both thrilling and humbling to have our film selected to screen along with the big-budget “glamour” titles from the networks. There were so many well-crafted and beautifully shot productions on marquis species like grizzly bears and wolves, and shot in some of the world’s most remote and pristine locations. And of course, using the absolute best equipment money can buy (and invent, for that matter). And there we were, with kids planting willows on dairy ranches in Marin County to protect a tiny crustacean — no bone-chilling action scenes of tigers taking down prey, or death-defying views of charging elephants. Truth be told, ours was not the typical kind of submission to a wildlife film festival.
And yet, people (including the gracious festival staff) just loved our film. We had attendees tell us “A Simple Question” was their favorite film of the festival. Many people left our screenings determined to undertake their own local restoration program. As it turned out, we actually won two festival awards: Best Educational Value in the Classroom, and Conservation Hero of the Festival (for Laurette Rogers). My own take is that people are moved and gratified by a story that shows what humans (in this case, youth humans) can do to bring nature back from the ravages we have previously perpetrated upon it. It is not only a positive story, it is a source of inspiration for others.
Even at a wildlife film festival, where nature is celebrated in media, there is a hunger to address the stories that are going untold — stories about species decimation and habitat destruction, really about extinction. The filmmakers themselves are frustrated because, while the networks only want those exquisite images and unique animal behavior events that attract viewers, the people making the programs in the field see all too well how nature is in steep decline. And they’re dying to use their skills and tools to tell the complete story, even if it’s uncomfortable for the viewing public. We can only hope that themes of conservation and even restoration find their way more solidly into these big, gorgeous, impressive wildlife spectacles.
In the meantime, “A Simple Question” continues to be what it is — a story-driven film that wins attention because of its inspiring example to others. An example of how we can save ourselves by asking our own simple question: “What can we do in our own community, our own locale, to bring nature back?”