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Wild scenes

Wild & Scenic Film Festival stops in the OKC metro.

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For Flint, directed by Brian Schulz, Will Taylor, Matthew C. Mills and Chris Vivion - WILD & SCENIC FILM FESTIVAL / PROVIDED
  • Wild & Scenic Film Festival / provided
  • For Flint, directed by Brian Schulz, Will Taylor, Matthew C. Mills and Chris Vivion

Environmental issues can be scary, but documentaries about them don’t have to feel like horror movies. Wild & Scenic Film Festival, advertised as “a festival by activists for activists,” showcases films about nature and the environment, including documentaries about current crises such as climate change and pollution, but Theresa Huck, sales manager for the festival’s touring component, said the films are selected and arranged to give viewers hope that progress and solutions are still possible.

“We see it as sort of an emotional journey they’re taking,” said Huck. “We don’t shove things down their throats, like, ‘The world is falling apart and we’re all gonna die.’ We will open with fun little energetic or beautiful openers and we’ll place those throughout the program so it really feels like entertainment. That’s the bottom line: It feels like entertainment, and it’s so enjoyable people come back for more. … We don’t want to overwhelm anyone.”

Produced by the South Yuba River Citizens League, Wild & Scenic is an annual festival held in Nevada City, California, since 2002. A touring version of the festival has been making stops across North America for the past 12 years, but Huck said its stop Saturday at The Mercury, 426 E. Main St., in Norman, will mark Wild & Scenic’s first appearance in the state.

“When I got here, my job was to look at the tour map and find all the places it wasn’t and bring it there,” Huck said. “I noticed Oklahoma was this gaping hole in the tour map, and as I started making sales calls, I realized it is because we are an environmental- and conservation-based film festival and Oklahoma is the land of fracking, oil and gas. And I would hear everyone say when I would make calls, ‘Well, my family works in oil and gas, my husband works in oil and gas,’ and it went on and on and on, so I understand now that it has been a hard area to break into for anyone in conservation or the environment.”

Chasing Wild: Journey Into the Sacred Headwaters, directed by Colin Arisman, Luke Kantola and Tyler Wilkinson-Ray - WILD & SCENIC FILM FESTIVAL / PROVIDED
  • Wild & Scenic Film Festival / provided
  • Chasing Wild: Journey Into the Sacred Headwaters, directed by Colin Arisman, Luke Kantola and Tyler Wilkinson-Ray

Constructive lens

The festival’s Oklahoma debut is sponsored by environmental nonprofit Earth Rebirth and includes documentaries (unofficial) History of National Parks, During the Drought, and Valve Turners, a short-subject film about a group of activists who temporarily shut down five tar sand oil pipelines in an act of solidarity with Standing Rock protestors. Organizations hosting the festival can choose from Wild & Scenic’s library of more than 140 films, but Huck said festival organizers work with the organizations to create a schedule that emphasizes constructive actions taken by activists rather than dwelling on possible negative outcomes.

“We have a preference for sharing messages in a way that is positive, like, ‘This group, they fought a nickel mine and they won, and these folks, they did this and succeeded,’” Huck said. “That’s more the avenue we prefer to take. Now, we do have some dark messages here and there, but there’s a balance in how you show those.”

Even the scheduled documentary For Flint, filmed in the city currently known for its ongoing water crisis, has a hopeful message at its core.

“That film is all positivity,” she said. “For Flint is about three people who decided to use art to help the community recover. Now that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t have a film that tells the stark story; we do that all the time. … [But] there’s a certain line we don’t cross with the darkness.”

While the films are carefully curated and scheduled to keep the audience from becoming depressed or giving in to despair, Huck said the process of selecting the films can be overwhelming due to the cumulative effect of watching so many films about environmental problems.

“You should see our film programming manager [Jess Swigonski],” Huck said. “There are days when you can see it weighing on her, and she’ll say, ‘I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.’”

But Huck added that her first experience as a festival attendee in 2008 was positive and encouraging. After watching Bag It, a documentary about plastic’s effects in waterways and ecosystems, Huck said she left feeling confident that she could take small steps to improve the impact she made on the world around her.

“That ended up becoming the impetus for changing my life, so I like to say I’m a poster child for what this can do,” Huck said. “When I walked out of that film, I didn’t think, ‘Oh, god. There’s plastic killing our oceans, and you know, there’s nothing I can do.’ I walked out and it was literally an epiphany. I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment, like, ‘I can do that.’”

Beautiful disasters

In addition to curated scheduling, Huck said Wild & Scenic offers viewers another advantage over simply watching documentaries on the internet by vetting festival selections.

“When you stream a documentary on Netflix, you don’t know who made that film,” Huck said. “We follow the money on films regularly when we aren’t familiar with the source. That way we’re not spreading a message that isn’t entirely accurate or that is motivated by big money.”

Huck said the Wild & Scenic encourages local hosts to schedule speakers and discussion panels to provide further context and help audience members figure out what steps they might want to take next.

“One of the things we notice is that during the course of this journey, when it’s over, they have this desire to talk about it and process it,” Huck said. “They also are very motivated to act in some way.”

The Norman tour stop features not only films about environmental issues and activism, but ones showcasing nature and outdoor activities such as Chasing Wild: Journey into the Sacred Headwaters, a short movie about a mountain biking and rafting expedition in British Columbia that showcases natural beauty but also documents the aftermath of a mining disaster.

We seek adventure films and have a relationship with a lot of adventure filmmakers,” Huck said, “but we tend to choose films that are along the lines of adventure with a purpose … which isn’t uncommon. If you love the outdoors, you have a tendency to want to take care of it.”

Wild & Scenic Film Festival is 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday at The Mercury in Norman. Tickets are $15-$20. Visit earthrebirthnow.org

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