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Africa's Lost Eden
“Africa’s Lost Eden,” a film by National Geographic that gives a glimpse of the dizzying diversity of life in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, won several awards in this year’s International Wildlife Film Festival. Courtesy photo

Used to be, Janet Rose spent much of her time cajoling notable figures in the world of conservation, media and science to come to Missoula and participate in the workshops and screenings at the annual International Wildlife Film Festival, which Rose oversees.

But in recent months, an unfamiliar phrase has entered Rose's vocabulary: "Sorry, we're too full."

"There's a sense out there now, it seems, that this is really a happening that people involved in wildlife films around the world need to attend and participate in," said Rose, noting that this year's festival has received registrations from more than 200 filmmakers and speakers, from every continent. "Now it's gotten to the point where people ask us if they can be a part of it. We've had so much interest that I've had to become more selective about the way we approach our panel discussions and other events."

That's one of many refractions that have appeared around this increasingly polished gem of Missoula's cultural scene. These days, the IWFF regularly draws representatives from major media companies such as Animal Planet and National Geographic, film & technology companies such as Sony and Fujinon, and conservation groups like the Environmental Media Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and others.

In the process, the festival also draws together an ever-growing crowd of local audiences eager to learn about the poetry and science of the natural world.

"I feel as if the depth of the festival has really evolved tremendously," said Rose, who serves as festival director as well as executive director of the International Wildlife Media Center, which runs out of the Roxy Theatre on South Higgins Avenue. "It's a more inclusive and all-encompassing festival focused on conservation and policy, where media is the centerpiece but there are so many components involved."

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This year's festival highlights are indeed numerous.

In terms of films, the festival will highlight a typically broad spectrum of topics. This year's Best of Festival winner, "South Pacific: Fragile Paradise," chronicles the perils of overfishing in one of the world's most abundant aquatic ecosystem. Second-place winner "The Cove," an investigative film about the controversial and largely unexposed harvest of dolphins in Japan, actually won this year's Oscar for Best Feature Documentary.

There are films about grizzly bears and hummingbirds, gibbons and prairie dogs, and landscapes from Wyoming to Mozambique.

"I really feel like there are many ‘best-of' films this year," said Rose. "Usually in the past I've felt like you have one film that really rises to the top; but I don't think it's that way this year. Films like ‘The Cove' and ‘Africa's Lost Eden' and the film that won Best of Festival - there are easily a half dozen best-of's. The caliber and quality of the films, they just keep outdoing themselves. They're better and better. That was really the original goal of IWFF was to push filmmakers to make better, more accurate, more influential films; so in that sense, it's gratifying to see what has developed over the past decade."

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Surrounding those screenings are events both festive and sober.

Of course, the annual WildWalk parade and WildFest on Saturday will draw out the animals among us. Children of all ages are encouraged to dress up as animals for the parade, and spend time at the festival in Caras Park, where activities will be focused on family education and fun.

At the other end of the spectrum, a retreat in Tarkio next Wednesday will focus on a different type of animal amongst us: the persistent and devastating international illegal wildlife trade industry.

"We really hope through that retreat to create a one-year campaign with a media, fundraising, and wildlife component to combat this terrible trade," said Rose, noting that the event will be attended by a range of people focused on the issue, including representatives from the Environmental Investigations Agency and the U.S. Justice Department, as well as investigative journalists and experts from around the world.

Featured speakers at this year's festival include Alastair Fothergill, producer of the acclaimed BBC series "Planet Earth;" Greg Carr, an Idaho conservationist who has been credited with spearheading the rejuvenation of Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park; Bob Silvestri, founder and president of the Environmental Media Fund; and others.

Taken together, it's a jammed schedule of events, with quite literally something for everyone.

"I think one of the most exciting things that I've seen happening over the past 10 years is the way that the community is mixing much more with the people coming to the festival from all over," said Rose. "Missoula is really a town with such diverse subsets of people, and it seems like every year we find pockets of people who come out of the woodwork to support us out of some slightly different and unique connection to what this festival is all about."

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at jnickell@missoulian.com.

 

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