Photograph by Nick Bowersox

The Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival came to the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Feb. 26, drawing more than 200 local citizens. The show featured films from all over the world.

Tree-hugging is not a bad word.

That was the message speakers conveyed between films at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival on Tour on Feb. 26. The event, which was hosted by the Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA) at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, featured nine films highlighting various environmental issues around the world.

Films varied from Sand Dancer, the profile of an artist in New Zealand who creates intricate designs in the sand, to Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars, the story of a coalition of Texans fighting the creation of 11 coal-powered energy plants in their state.

The importance of activism was a heavy theme throughout the night. “I guarantee trouble will find you no matter where you live, so become an activist before it finds you,” Andy Mahler, the festival’s host, told the audience.

The Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival was started by the South Yuba River Citizens League in Nevada City, Cali., to commemorate achieving “Wild & Scenic” status for 39 miles of the South Yuba River in 1999 after more than 15 years of struggle to protect it from proposed dams.

The three-day festival occurs every January in Nevada City and features more than 125 award-winning films, along with speakers, art exhibits and children’s events. Now in its seventh year, it is the largest environmental film festival in the United States.

Photograph by Nick Bowersox

Citizen groups spread the word about local environmental issues.

The festival began touring in 2004, bringing the opportunity for environmental groups around the nation to choose from and exhibit the annual event’s large stock of films. The tour’s mission is to act as an “effective tool for bringing a community together around local and global issues in a venue where environmental groups are able to help new activists take action,” according to the tour’s Web site.

Activists and speakers, including author Scott Russell Sanders, Mayor Mark Kruzan and IFA director Rhonda Baird, along with various booths in the lobby, called attention to local causes.

"I guarantee trouble will find you no matter where you live, so become an activist before it finds you."
- Andy Mahler, festival host

“I got a lot of inspiration from the speakers,” said Clarke Kahlo, a member of Canal Park Advocates who traveled from Indianapolis to attend the festival. According to Kahlo, he saw many familiar faces but was also pleased to see a large number of younger attendees interested in conservationist causes.

Baird too was pleased with the turnout. Over 200 tickets were sold, much more than expected for a first-time event.

“We were thrilled to bring it to Bloomington,” she said, “I believe that people left with more information regarding the broad importance of what is going on.”

Though the event was intended to be a membership drive, the festival garnered a surprising amount of donations.

The donations will go to the IFA’s support of bill H.B. 1550, which would protect the Backcountry Area of the Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests, as well as the IFA’s support of the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County’s attempt to prevent a biomass energy plant from being built in their community. The IFA is also in the final stages of a seven-year lawsuit against the Indiana Division of Forestry that is likely to receive a ruling this spring.

“They are a small organization trying to do big things,” said Kahlo.

Baird said IFA plans to bring the festival back to Bloomington next year and is considering implementing a children’s program into the festival activities.

“It is a gift to the environmental community,” she said. “It brings positive energy to the IFA and helps in achieving our goals.”

Nick Bowersox can be reached at .