Every year, a throng of children and families dressed in elaborate paper mache costumes creeps, bounds and flaps down Higgins Avenue to Caras Park to kick off the International Wildlife Film Festival. Being a member of the small and oft-teased demographic that waits anxiously every year for Discovery’s “Shark Week,”? I was usually the solo misshappen shark awkwardly swimming down the street. It was all worth the trouble one year when I found myself sitting next to famed geneticist, author and television’s “The Nature of Things”? host David Suzuki. At that time in my life, someone like Suzuki was bigger than any rock star or celebrity — the festival consisted of a few daytime workshops for children and families and the films themselves, which were held in the Urey Lecture Hall on campus.
Since those days, the IWFF, now in its 28th year in Missoula, has become an international event and Missoula’s seminal springtime celebration, attracting families, filmmakers, producers, reporters and everyone in between. It now has its own home in the historic Roxy Theater and plays host to events ranging from a Saturday festival in Caras Park to fly fishing seminars and even a May 4 conference in Tarkio focusing on conservation.
The goal of the Tarkio Retreat is to let festival participants network and brainstorm conservation efforts and messages in a natural setting, away from the bustle and stuffy conference halls in Missoula. The conference includes a wild mix of representatives ranging from filmmakers to corporate representatives (Ford Motor Company, Canon, Panasonic), to media agencies (ABC news, Discovery Channel) and reps from conservation groups, trusts and federal agencies.
Beside the events surrounded the festival, the main attractions are always the films themselves. This year’s best of festival winner is “Satoyama: Japan’s Secret Watergarden,”? a film that takes an intimate look at small Japanese village and its relationship to its water systems. Best conservation and environmental film went to “Eagle Odyssey,”? a film that documents the struggles of the UK’s largest bird of prey, the White-tailed Eagle. Winning a new annual award for best marine conservation message, a film named “Farming the Seas”? looks at the misconceptions and often devastating effects that commercial fish farms can have on their ocean environments. The film tied “Losing Tomorrow” for best independent film as well. (For a full screening schedule, check the festival Web site.
While this year’s festival promises to be the largest yet, it will also surely be the most hands-on and interactive festival from an audience standpoint. With more and more nature films proactively calling for conservation action, the addition of the Tarkio Retreat and a series of “Ask the Gurus”? workshops and a panel seminar; this year’s participants are sure to end the week feeling a bit like expert filmmakers and wildlife experts themselves.