Celebrating conservation film

Every fall for the past 12 years the historic town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia hosts the American Conservation Film Festival (ACFF) for four days. I’ve been involved with ACFF for eight or nine of those years (I honestly can’t remember when I started) as a member of the Board and now as a selector. That means I get to watch all the films submitted – the good, the bad and the “are you kidding?” and help choose which films to screen at the annual festival.

It also means that, during the three to four month period when I’m screening submissions pretty much every night, I’m continually inspired by the stories the best filmmakers tell. Sometimes a film’s strength is the amazing people profiled, fighting against the odds to protect the planet. Sometimes it’s spectacular scenery captured in breathtaking cinematography. And in others it’s the storytelling itself – how a talented filmmaker grabs viewers and holds them captive for an hour or more (in the Instagram and Twitter age no less). The best films make my heart soar in one way or another, and I’ve come to rely on them as a vital source of renewal in my life.

Sockeye salmon by Marvina Munch, U.S. FWS
Sockeye salmon by Marvina Munch, U.S. FWS

This year’s festival runs from October 30 through November 2 (you can check out the schedule here). And this month’s issue of The Observer of Jefferson County features essays highlighting two of the festival’s top picks. ACFF President extraordinaire Jeff Feldman writes about the iconoclastic conservationist Edward Abbey featured in the film Wrenched, and I wax poetic about spawning salmon in the film DamNation.

Both of these films are fabulous, but if you want to learn more about our top award winner – Trash Dance – check out the Fall 2014 issue of Fluent magazine (on pg. 32).  Trash Dance isn’t quite what one would expect in a conservation film and in Fluent I try to explain why ACFF chose it – how art and conservation are mutually reinforcing, and how we can’t really have one, without the other.

(For a special ACFF edition of Fluent, click here).

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