Wildlife films aren't just about animals anymore.
Sure, this year's 39th annual International Wildlife Film Festival has movies about summertime habits of polar bears, but it also encompasses the importance of seeds; the effects of changing climates on creatures large and small, and the key role of environments like national parks and wildlife preserves. Plus, there's a few virtual reality films. (See story on Page E4.)
However, the festival opens on a sad note with the passing of founder Chuck Jonkel on Tuesday.
“He was very active in our story,” festival director Mike Steinberg said. “His consciousness around the ethics of wildlife film making was a huge motivation. The festival was his way to create an opportunity for scientists and filmmakers to network and learn from one another.”
Steinberg said Jonkel’s memory would be honored during the festival’s awards ceremony on Friday. The 5 p.m. gathering at the Wilma Theater will also feature clips from a documentary now in post-production about Jonkel’s life.
A shift in films looking holistically at environments dates back three years at the IWFF.
"The reality is that this is a trending topic, that's the kind of change in the environmental and wildlife film realm," Steinberg said.
Climate change is one of the key focuses, with almost 10 films out of more than 50 at the festival relating to the subject.
One of the special highlights this year is a new film by director Josh Fox, who was nominated for an Academy Award for "Gasland," a documentary about fracking.
"How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change" also takes a first-person approach to a large issue, Steinberg said.
"It's kind of a younger, hipper less satirical Michael Moore," he said. The director seeks out individual stories about climate change across the world.
"When you can find those personal aspects, it's much more impactful for the audience," he said.
Another highlight will be the premiere of "Seed: The Untold Story," by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz.
The two explore humans' ancient history with seeds, discuss the pending extinction of many varieties, visit the underground seed vaults where species are preserved, and interview activists looking to save them.
The festival always hosts one free event on campus. This year, marine biologist Rick Rosenthal will share his movie, "El Nino: An Ocean Mystery," at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, at the UC Theater.
Since it's the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service, the organizers have a strand of eight or nine films relating to the concept of parks and preserves across the globe.
"A lot of wildlife films are shot in national parks or wildlife preserves around the world, because of the nature of encroachment on habitat," Steinberg said. "That's what's left for a lot of these species."
Filmmakers Oliver Goetzl and Ivo Nörenberg are presenting films on Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks and their myriad critters. Both are part of the of "America's National Parks" series.
Outside of the U.S., "Think Like A Scientist: Gorongosa," examines the efforts to revive a national park in Mozambique that was almost completely destroyed by war.
An IMAX production, "National Parks Adventure," will screen during an Earth Day Party at the Wilma Theatre, also featuring another IMAX flick, "Humpback Whales," with music by the WhizPops.
The first weekend of the festival features two staples: The WildWalk Parade and the WildFest.
The WildWalk Parade, featuring animal costumes made by students, will be held at noon Sunday, April 17. Participants will line up at 11:30 a.m. at the Red XXXX's at the Higgins and Railroad Street and then "dance, crawl, swing and slither" down to Caras Park.
At Caras, the annual WildFest is set for 12:30 to 3 p.m. The free event features live entertainment, face painting and snacks with music by children's group the Salamanders.
Throughout the week, Steinberg said the festival attracts 8,000 viewers, plus 3,000 children for the daytime matinee programs.
He said sharing these stories with children at a young age can make an impression, especially on kids in western Montana where access to a wider range of stories about these places and animals may be limited.
"This is going to impact and inspire younger kids to make change," he said.