The Wild & Scenic Film Festival, one of the foremost environmental film events in the world, is the brainchild of Janet Cohen and Shawn Garvey, each a former executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League, which acts as the festival impresario.
And like many brilliant ideas formulated by humans, it was prompted by an accident of sorts. In the early 2000s, Cohen and Garvey were in Park City, Utah, the site of another famous film festival, attending an outdoor retailer show where many of the financial backers of SYRCL were assembled. Idly browsing in a bookstore, they came across a slender how-to volume about putting on a film festival.
“As we looked around town, we realized that Park City was just like Nevada City, maybe a little bigger,” Cohen said.
“We thought our hometown would be perfect.”
Fast forward to 2014, and SYRCL is on the cusp of presenting its 12th annual film festival that will feature four days (Jan. 9-12) of music, activist workshops, speeches, dining events and, of course, films on a variety of contemporary environmental issues.
“The film festival is our biggest fundraiser,” said Melinda Booth, director of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. “Janet and Kathy Dodson started it as a fundraiser, and it has just grown and grown.”
Despite the burgeoning nature of the festival, Booth said the event has managed to retain its intimate feel.
“More than 60 percent of filmmakers attend the festival,” Booth said.
“I think they love the setting, get a chance to meet some distributors, and we strive to make them feel special.”
Environmental filmmaking typically derives from an individual’s passion as the field is not terribly lucrative, Booth said.
“They go out on a limb to make a quality environmental film, and we try to treat them like the VIPs they are,” she said.
Booth typically pores over about 350 films per year and whittles the submissions to a field of 100 films of varying length, substance and subject material.
“The films cover a gamut of issues,” she said. “They can be on food, wildlife, climate change and/or energy.”
Cohen said while the event undeniably benefits SYRCL and helps filmmakers gain exposure for their passion projects, the town of Nevada City has benefited from the annual event.
“Quite frankly, we wanted to show people the town,” Cohen said.
“We wanted there to be economic benefit, and we purposely scheduled it post-Christmas.”
The idea has gained traction.
“It comes at a time of year that is real slow for all businesses,” said Cathy Whittlesey, executive director of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.
“It gives all the businesses a boost, so it comes at a great time of year.”
Erin Thiem, proprietor of the Outside Inn located at the top of Broad Street in downtown Nevada City, said her hotel has zero vacancies for the coming event.
“Winter is by far our slowest season,” she said.
“We welcome a fabulous event like Wild & Scenic. We were booked for this weekend a full year in advance. Obviously, some plans shifted, but we are currently full.”
The film festival has also expanded to Grass Valley, aiming to share the vitality it brings between the sister cities.
For information on the slate of films and events that will be available, be sure to check out next week’s Prospector.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.