Where the Wild Things Are

Despite going virtual, Wild & Scenic Film Festival soldiers on

It might seem like an oxymoron that the Santa Fe Watershed Association’s annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival is anything but wild and scenic this year—the pandemic still refuses to give way, and the event has moved to virtual pastures.

But there’s an upside, too, according to festival organizer Tony Ricketts.

“It’s about resilience,” he tells SFR. “It’s approximately two hours of inspiration—without burning fossil fuel to travel anywhere.”

The Festival emerges from a decades-long project from Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. Originally a local fundraising event spearheaded by the Nevada City-based South Yuba River Citizens League to aid in wild Salmon repopulation, the event has stretched into nearly 200 festival tour locations across the country, each with a bent toward a region’s local environmental issues.

Ricketts fell into organizing the festival years ago after taking the Climate Master’s course run by the Watershed Association, and he’ll host the virtual version this year. It’s a fitting role as Ricketts is a little more than casual about bringing down his environmental impact: He’s installed solar panels, does his own compositing and even harvests his own rain water. But for him, a visual impact, such as with film, can sometimes have the strongest effect.

“Some environmental films show how our actions affect the far corners of the earth,” Ricketts explains, “but I live here in Santa Fe, and what we urgently need is to solve problems much closer to home: moving to Santa Fe, drought, forest health, wildfire and green energy suddenly became more pressing.”

The theme of this year’s fest is “Resilient By Nature,” a nice breather that exists in contrast to the environmental catastrophes dominating the headlines in Europe, China, Japan and elsewhere. All told, viewers can expect nine short documentaries—with two on Santa Fe’s watershed—to make up the programming.

Some include a years-long project titled Immolation, a short which details the process of destructive wildfires and the subsequent inspiring recovery. The Wild & Scenic Film Festival gets into the socio-political aspects, too. The Return, for example, follows Vancouver’s citizens as the local salmon population is devastated by exponential growth, and their attempts to repopulate species in an urban environment.

Water Flows Together follows river guide Cathleen Cooley (Diné) down Colorado’s San Juan River, displaying the importance of acknowledging Indigenous land in America’s outdoor recreation scene. It’s part of the festival’s push to address issues of diversity, inclusion and race within conservational and activist conversations.

As the festival closes out, Ricketts says the Watershed Association plans to kick off a call to action for its CommuniTree initiative—a program to expand Santa Fe’s tree canopy in urban spaces and beyond. Ricketts hopes the results might include a future hands-on approach from current and former festival audiences—perhaps inspiring some future advocates.

Ricketts hopes the festival will help organize people who want to get involved in restoring, nurturing and championing Santa Fe’s watershed as climate change continues across the region.

“The journey from understanding to feeling ownership to changing how I live is the core of environmentalism,” he tells SFR. “Great documentaries can take us on that journey. [You can] find out that, in 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean. You start to picture what that looks like—see a plastic straw removed from a sea turtle’s nose and you’ll swear off using plastic straws ever again.”

Wild & Scenic Film Festival: 6 pm Thursday, July 29. $15-$80. Online, (505) 820-1696;

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