It was a warm, rain scented evening this past Saturday as I roamed the town of Hood River, cappuccino in hand, enjoying the views of rolling hills and soft, blue water before sitting down at the Columbia Center for the Arts to watch this year’s selection of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival 2013 Tour. The festival, whose tag line is, Where Activism Gets Inspired, takes place every January in Nevada City, California and hosts some of the premiere environmental and adventure films in the nation. The tour version of the fest allows smaller communities around the United States to select their own line up from the wider array of more than 110 films, so they can host a night or two of inspiring outdoor themes that relate more closely to their own communities.
The Crag Law Center, run by co-executive directors Ralph Bloemers and Chris Winter, coordinate the Hood River Tour, co-sponsored and supported by Columbia Riverkeepers, Doug’s Sports, Wet Planet, Patagonia and Cliff Bar. All the proceeds go to support Crag’s work as a non-profit legal center whose focus is to provide affordable justice. Through fundraising, grants and donations they offer free to nearly free legal aid to those who can’t otherwise afford it in Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Northern California and have represented 1,000 Friends of Oregon, Alaska Whaling Commission, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Friends of the White Salmon River, Kalmiopsis Audobon Soicety and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, among countless others.
Crag became involved in Wild and Scenic because a film Bloemers directed with Sam Dreevo, Trout on the Wind, was a previous selectee at the festival in Nevada City. Bloemers, who is currently working on a film about Mt. Hood’s Kate McCarthy – an inspirational figure amongst women conservationists – can relate to the festival on myriad levels, including that of filmmaker ( a role he plays when he’s not busy with a full time load at Crag, of course!).
The Columbia Center for the Arts bustled with a multi-generational crowd of movie-goers, ranging from young children to grandparents and everything in between. A different selection of films was featured during each of the two nights of the Hood River run. Friday revolved around a theme of rivers and water and Saturday centered on mountains and ice. When I had the chance to sit down with Bloemers for a brief interview before the program, he commented on his support of Wild and Scenic, saying,
“It’s a great way to have people look beyond their own borders to find the interconnectedness and also get stoked for winter, for being in the water and on the mountains. Film is another dimension that keeps life interesting.”
The six films screened included epic snow boarding feats, a harrowing look at uranium tailings and their impact on the community of Grants in New Mexico, the first disabled climbing team to summit El Capitan, and a story of cultural change and a family business near Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador. The film mentioned last, my personal favorite of the evening, was a poignantly understated 14 minute short by director Sandy Patch. It told the story of Baltazar, a 67 year old man and also the last ice merchant in a long generational line to loyally frequent Mt. Chimborazo’s melting glacial peak and laboriously hack huge squares of ice from the mountainside that sell for next to nothing at market. The Last Ice Merchant did what so many Hollywood blockbusters avoid, it let the audience naturally slip into the story, rather than force feeding us content.
Film has the great capacity to connect us, like Bloemers said, to that which is outside our own boundaries. In one evening of film I went on six unique journeys into the vast realms of mountains and ice. After the credits rolled, I drove I-84 west home towards Portland through the dramatic, pointed scape of the Columbia River Gorge and my mind echoed with one quote from The Denali Experiment, a film about an expedition team’s ascent of Denali’s 20,320 foot peak, directed by Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk.
“The mountains will always be here, but you may not.”
For this reason the Wild and Scenic Film Festival brings us something timeless and eternal – the chance to peer into the longstanding monuments of earth as they were before we arrived and an invitation to imagine how it will all evolve after we’re gone.