Last year, the South Yuba River State Park and Malakoff Diggins State Park in California were slated for closure because of state budget cuts. Students from Grass Valley Charter School quickly became activists, obtaining more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking the governor to remove the parks from the closure list. They also made the trek to the state capitol to speak to state leaders and let them know that nature is their teacher and parks are their classrooms.
The inspirational story of how this group of kids worked day and night to save the state parks that they love is among 11 films that will be screened at the Friends of the Norwalk Islands' Wild and Scenic Film Festival on Friday, March 15, at the Westport Woman's Club, 44 Imperial Ave.
Lori Van Laanen, the festival's on-tour manager, is particularly excited that the Friends chose to show "How the Kids Saved the Parks" since it illustrates why the watershed advocacy group, the South Yuba River Citizens League, created the Wild and Scenic Festival and national tour in the first place.
"Our board is so clear that if we can do something to affect the environmental movement out beyond our local community, why not?" Van Laanen said. "It is why we do the festival, to inspire people in their own local communities to get involved."
The Wild and Scenic Film Festival, which was first hosted in Connecticut by the Norwalk Seaport Association in 2008, was launched by SYRCL in 2003 in celebration of its 1999 landmark victory of receiving Wild and Scenic status for 39 miles along the South Yuba River in California. The on-tour program began in 2004 because of the many requests to share the festival beyond Nevada County.
This year, some 350 films were submitted and 120 were chosen for the home festival that took place in January in Nevada City.
Van Laanen said that sometimes a theme emerges for the festival.
"A few years ago, we had a lot of films dealing with the whole local-food movement and organic food, so we had a theme around that," she said. "This year, there were so many powerful films that came in dealing with climate change, so we developed a `climate of change' program. So an organization can say, `We just want a really great program focusing on that.' "
The Friends of the Norwalk Islands will screen some films to highlight the theme of climate change, including "Facing Climate Change: Oyster Farmers" and "Team Marine" from the Young Voices for the Planet series.
"Oyster Farmers" tells the story of Kathleen Nisbet and her father, Dave, who farm oysters in Washington's Willapa Bay. They recently shifted some of their business to Hawaii after ocean acidification started killing baby oysters in local hatcheries.
"Team Marine" introduces audiences to high-school students who are concerned about the effects of plastic bags on life in the ocean and on CO2 emissions. They dress up as plastic-bag monsters and act to successfully ban plastic bags in the city of Santa Monica.
Conservation and adventure films like "One Beach," which profiles six passionate people who are working to help fix the global beach trash problem, and "Huck," which showcases the thrills of waterfall kayaking, also are on tap for the Friends' film fest, which was made possible through a Patagonia grant.
Susan Snider, executive director of the Friends of the Norwalk Islands, said her favorite film in the lineup at the Westport Woman's Club is "Into the Middle of Nowhere." The documentary celebrates childhood and the nonexistence of limits to a child's imagination. In an outdoor nursery in the woods, children create their own individually constructed worlds and can test out the boundaries of reality. The woods become the place where the normal rules and regulations of society come to a halt and where the children transform the surroundings with their play.
"This film presents exactly on target what the Friends of the Norwalk Islands' programming is about," Snider said. "We offer programs for kids that recognize the healthy values of unstructured outdoor play, emphasize the importance of an urban connection with nature, and incorporates things kids love such as risk-taking, use of technology and healthy rites of passage. It is a great film, which we hope will inspire all us to look at our environment with a different eye."
Proceeds from the film festival will benefit the organization.
The Wild and Scenic Film Festival takes place Friday, March 15, from 5 to 9:30 p.m., at the Westport Woman's Club, 44 Imperial Ave. Tickets are $30, which includes Friends of the Norwalk Islands membership, refreshments and give-aways. Tickets can be purchased at www.friendsofthenorwalkislands.com, or by calling 203-849-8341.