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Prize-winning films showcase ecological issues, activism at Red River festival

  • Wild and Scenic Film Festival

    Wild and Scenic Film Festival

  • River water

    River water

  • Northern Light poster

    Northern Light poster

  • Wild and Scenic Film Festival
  • River water
  • Northern Light poster

Do you feel you should be doing something to protect the environment but think it’s too difficult? Well, it’s not.

All you need is a way to start, and what’s easier than a night at the movies?

The New Hampshire Rivers Council is hosting the “Wild & Scenic Film Festival” tomorrow at Red River Theatres, featuring 11 short films on environmental topics.

The film festival begins in Nevada City, Calif., where for the last 12 years the South Yuba River Citizens League has sponsored a huge film competition on a variety of environmental topics. Then, the festival goes on tour to 100 locations across the country.

The purpose is to promote membership in the organizations that host the tour events, with the goal of inspiring new members to take action on environmental issues.

The host organization at each venue chooses films from this year’s 123 winners that feature issues it wants to highlight.

Choosing the films is a daunting task, said Michele Tremblay, president of the New Hampshire Rivers Council. The selection committee focuses on films about water but often includes other themes, especially if there’s a film that features a particular message and how people achieved their goal. It’s also important to include some films with an East Coast focus, she said.

“Because they run the film festival in California,” Tremblay said, “there are a lot of films that have a Western focus, but the resources and the messages are often transferable. And there are a bunch of films that are globally important – things that are going on in Siberia or in South America – but we want to be sure to include an Eastern focus.”

“Hidden Rivers of Southern Appalachia” is one such film on the schedule. So is another which is not only eastern but also local.

Reflections on a River, filmed by local videographer Cindy Jupp-Jones, showcases the Lamprey River Watershed Association’s efforts to protect this ecologically sensitive area.

The Lamprey River starts in Northwood and travels 47 miles to Newmarket, emptying into the Great Bay. The lower portion of the river is recognized as Wild and Scenic by the National Park Service, and is one of only two rivers in New Hampshire to receive such designation (the other is the Ammonoosuc, near Littleton).

Filmmakers Heather Hoglund and Matthew Lowe will be on hand to discuss The Strong People, their film about the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, on the Elwha River in Olympic Peninsula, Wash. It is told through the eyes of the indigenous Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and details how the tribe’s economy and culture were affected by the dams’ interference with the river’s salmon runs.

The film also explores the controversy that started after the dams were removed: Should the salmon be allowed to return naturally, which would take a long time, or should they be reintroduced from the tribe’s hatcheries, which could alter the river’s ecosystem?

The film doesn’t reveal the filmmakers’ opinions about the dilemma.

“We very much tried to leave it interpretational at the end,” Hoglund said. “Our point wasn’t to prove one way is better than the other. It was to display this process, which is supposed to be this case study of dams across the globe, how there are dams that are blocking ecosystems from thriving the way they should be, and why it is so vital to remove those types of dams.”

Nor does it reveal the decision, which was not made until after the film was produced. Hoglund and Howe know now, though, and can share the surprising outcome with the audience tomorrow.

Other films in the festival include Cascada, the search for the perfect waterfall, and Water & Wood, which illustrates the unintended consequences of removing dead wood from rivers.

Living with Mountain Lions will be shown just before intermission; Tremblay predicts a lively discussion about this one.

The films in the festival have a common message: We have the power and the responsibility to care for our world, and there is strength in a united voice and united effort.

“The tribe members were actually the ones who started the idea to remove the dams,” Hoglund said. “They never wavered from the fact that they wanted to see these dams removed now – and not sometime in the future.”

Tremblay knows that we can learn from what other people have accomplished.

“I’m hoping that what the filmgoers are going to see is that ordinary people have done these extraordinary things,” she said. “It’s something that can happen here.”

Both Tremblay and Dawn Genes, executive director of the Lamprey River Watershed Association, emphasize that volunteers should not be put off by the fear of a huge time commitment, or of not knowing what to do.

“The major thing that we have our volunteers doing is water quality monitoring,” Genes said. “We train them and send them out with a kit to a designated location, and they sample the water twice or three times over the summer.”

In the River Runners program, Tremblay said, volunteers monitor for invasive plants and animals. They are trained to recognize them, identify them, document them and report them. NHRC training sessions will be held in late May through early June in locations all over the state.

The volunteers decide how much time they intend to spend. For example, she said, a person might say, “I think I’m going to be paddling on the Contoocook River two or three times this summer. At the end of each trip, I’ll let you know what I find.” They can gather data while doing something that they enjoy.

People who enjoy the state’s lakes can apply the training, too, Tremblay said. Some things, such as “rock snot” algae, are only found in rivers, but Eurasian milfoil and Asian clams are found both in rivers and in lakes and ponds. Rivers flow into and out of lakes; the water is all connected.

Volunteers have probably already seen the invasive species without recognizing them, Tremblay said, but once they go through the training, they’ll see something and wonder – is this a native mussel or an Asian clam?

“That awareness is a huge springboard to action,” she said. “People are now sending in their samples, wrapped up in a wet paper towel and a zip-lock bag. We can make a positive ID, and if it’s invasive, figure out a plan for a rapid response before it gets entrenched.”

Tremblay said that there has been a huge increase in membership since the group started sponsoring the film festival in 2011, and that new members have come from all over the state.

“It isn’t just about their membership dues,” Tremblay said, “which are obviously important to keep our activities going. It’s also about them coming together in an organization where our voices are stronger together. We can talk about how important water and rivers and watersheds are in New Hampshire.

“So, we hope that the membership will increase. People from diverse backgrounds are going to come together and find that we all need water, that water is really important, and that we all use it , and that we all have the opportunity to protect it.”

At tomorrow’s event, filmgoers will be treated to a reception at 5:30 p.m., with local food, door prizes and an auction. Showtime is at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for members of the rivers council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to river and watershed protection. For $15, non-members get both a ticket to the festival and a one-year membership.

For information, contact the New Hampshire Rivers Council at info@nhrivers.org or 228-6472; Red River Theatres at redrivertheatres.org or 224-4600; or the Lamprey River Watershed Association at lrwa-nh.org.

Uh oh . . . Sail's favorite "theatah" is hosting an eco-friendly film fest. I hope his head doesn't explode when he hears this news.

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