The Front Range is teeming with outdoor enthusiasts and eco-loving folks for whom trips to REI are pretty darn exciting.
On Thursday, the Environmental/Nature/Outdoors Film Festival returns to the Dairy Arts Center and promises close to a combined 20 films and shorts focused on a number of issues impacting our planet and the people working tirelessly to preserve and protect ecosystems, animals and more.
Through Sunday, fest-goers can revel in awe-inspiring shots of mountains, prairies and oceans white with foam.
While organizers have hosted quarterly screenings at the Boedecker under the Boulder ENOFF banner, this is the first time since the festival’s launch in 2019 that in-person films, events and Q&As will make a comeback.
“I am most excited about inviting filmmakers, speakers to join us again for most of the screenings and to offer receptions, gatherings where people can come together to exchange ideas,” said Rich Paradise, Boulder ENOFF’s founder. “That’s what makes it a film festival as opposed to going to your local cinema to see a film on a Friday night. It’s the film and experiences.”
Paradise founded the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society in 2003 and launched the MV Environmental Film Festival eight years ago.
He lived in Boulder from 1988-1996 and remained connected to the community. A few years ago, he became inspired to bring a similar offering to Colorado.
“I thought cloning the MV Environmental Film Festival to fit the Boulder community made a lot of sense,” Paradise said. “Both communities are eco-sensitive and share common vibes, although MV is ocean-centric and Boulder is mountains.”
While the pandemic halted live events, ENOFF pivoted to virtual options over the last two years — allowing nature lovers and adrenaline thrill-seekers to take in multiple films from the comfort of their couches.
Among the films being screened this year is “Last of the Right Whales,” Nadine Pequeneza’s 2021 award-winning documentary that spotlights the migration of the endangered right whale — an animal that, as it moves more north in search of food, faces fatal threats of ships and fishing gear injuries.
“‘Last of the Right Whales’ is the story of a critically endangered great whale,” Pequeneza said. “But more importantly it is a story about us, and how we can live in harmony with these incredible animals.”
“Last of the Right Whales” will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Gamm Theater. Tickets are $15.
“When 17 North Atlantic right whales died in 2017, all identifiable causes pointed to vessel strike or fishing gear entanglement,” Pequeneza said. “The fact that we might eliminate a 12-million-year-old species by accident was shocking to me. I felt if people knew these deaths were preventable they would want to help.”
For Pequeneza, the film stretches beyond the label of a nature flick and points to a deeper message about humanity and our willingness to take action.
“While the film industry might categorize ‘Last of the Right Whales’ as a wildlife or eco-film, I see it as a social issue film about how we can change human behavior to protect marine life, the oceans and ultimately ourselves,” Pequeneza said.
Taking viewers along for the exhilarating ride, Pequeneza and crew bring us up close to the hefty marine mammals and tell the story of the activists working hard to ensure their safety.
“With less than 350 remaining, very few people have ever seen a North Atlantic right whale,” Pequeneza said. “So my first objective is to give people a chance to see these magnificent animals. At 70 tons and 60 feet long, they are a sight to behold.”
While challenges arose, Pequeneza and her team managed to obtain breathtaking shots while at sea.
“The tenderness between moms and calves, their playful social interaction in groups and the amazing skim-feeding behavior of these baleen whales are all things we struggled to capture during our two-year production window,” Pequeneza said.
The fascinating footage gives viewers an intimate look at the giant beauties. It also provides the first-ever recorded look of a right whale freshly entangled.
“Just four hours after he was entangled in fishing gear, we came upon NARW #4615, a 5-year-old male desperately trying to free himself of fishing gear that had essentially anchored him to the bottom of the ocean,” Pequeneza said. “It is the most difficult scene in the film, but also a moment that is impossible to forget. I want people to remember this experience and join in the ongoing effort to protect North Atlantic right whales.”
Pequeneza partnered with wildlife conservation groups working toward the adoption of new fishing technologies and vessel speed restrictions to protect right whales and other sea mammals that often fall victim to these threats.
While she has found success with a number of films, Pequeneza initially had goals of a career in print media.
“I studied journalism with the intention of becoming a print journalist, but during university I was drawn to the storytelling power of film — moving images, sound design, music,” Pequeneza said. “In my opinion there is no other medium capable of telling complex stories in a way that allows people to experience something first-hand. Documentary film can reach people intellectually and emotionally, imprinting experiences and memories as though they were their own.”
The first documentary film that left a deep impression on Pequeneza was “Paradise Lost.” The film — by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky — is about the trials of the West Memphis Three, three Arkansas teens falsely accused of committing murders in May 1993.
“I still remember specific scenes and dialogue from that 1996 film,” Pequeneza said. “It has never left me. I aspire to make that kind of lasting impression with my films.”
After a decade of directing and producing her own documentaries, Pequeneza is busy collaborating with fellow filmmakers and helping them craft documentaries through her company HitPlay Productions.
“Currently, I am working with three filmmakers on documentaries that straddle the social justice and environmental divide — ‘La Mina,’ about a Canadian mine owner accused of murder and rape; ‘An Unfinished Journey,’ the story of exiled female Afghan politicians fighting for equal rights in their homeland; and ‘Seeing Green,’ the stories of three world-renowned scientists who are opening our eyes to plants as conscious beings.”
At 4 p.m. Friday, “We Are As Gods” — a documentary about Stewart Brand, a visionary referred to as the “Johnny Appleseed of the counterculture” will be screened.
Brand created the do-it-yourself publication “The Whole Earth Catalog,” which Steve Jobs called “Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google existed.”
Once an LSD-taking member of author Ken Kesey’s “Merry Pranksters,” Brand is considered by many to be the founder of the modern environmental movement. He has founded several organizations including Long Now Foundation — a nonprofit that, according to its website, “hopes to provide a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common.”
“Stewart Brand is an enigmatic character in the world of early silicon tech and modern de-extinction,” said David Alvarado, co-director of the film. “Jason (Sussberg) and I didn’t really know what to expect. But as we got to know him and his story, we knew it was going to be one hell of a ride… and it sure was.”
Through revealing interviews and archival footage, Alvarado and Sussberg offer a thorough glimpse at the influential changemaker.
Brian Eno, musician and friend of Brand, was interviewed for the film by Alvarado and Sussberg. He also contributed 24 original tracks to the soundtrack, along with some classics.
“Brian Eno’s score in the film really underlines the deep, philosophical themes in Brand’s career and thinking,” Alvarado said. “His ambient and often sometimes drilling score helps bring the ideas alive in a way I didn’t think was possible.”
Alvarado is enthused about the dialogue that will spark after viewers take in his and Sussberg’s latest work.
“We hope viewers walk away wanting to discuss — if not argue — about how humans and technology play a new role in nature,” Alvarado said. “What are we, as mere mortals, supposed to do now that we have planetary-wide effects — god-like powers — on everything natural?”
“The Secret World of Mountain Lions” — a doc that has won a number of accolades — will screen at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Gordon Gamm Theater. Colin Ruggiero, the documentary’s director, will offer a post-film talk.
“We all know mountain lions are among us here on the Front Range, but most people know little about their habitat and behavior,” Paradise said. “It’s a fascinating bird’s-eye view.”
“There is a Place on Earth,” explores the roles artists take in wilderness conservation. The feature-length documentary spotlights many visual artists whose work is inspired by Mother Earth and in turn creates dialogue and action pertaining to environmental issues.
Dutch Filmmaker Ellen van den Honert — a musician and artist — will engage in a discussion after the screening of her film.
Just as many of the films have stellar soundtracks, music is a significant part of Boulder ENOFF’s offerings. Sunday, after the last screening “Fire of Love,” the festival will close out with music by Shawn Cunnane Trio at Hilton Embassy Suites, 2601 Canyon Blvd., Boulder. Tickets for the film and reception are $45.
Festival passes are $150 and include both parties and all films. Tickets to individual films are $15.
“My No. 1 goal this year is to try to recapture some of the magic we had in 2019, when we had several sell-outs at the Gordon Gamm for films and stimulating discussions on renewable energy, environmental advocacy, outdoor recreation, etc.,” Paradise said. “Long term, I would like to see the festival grow in attendance.”
Paradise is excited for the festival to evolve and has hopes to eventually partner with youth organizations focused on environmental betterment. He also plans to hire a local festival coordinator.
He has lined up a number of speakers as part of this year’s mix, including Sam Weaver, former Boulder Mayor and CEO and a co-founder of Cool Energy. Weaver will discuss green initiatives after the screening of “To The End” on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Gordan Gamm Theater.
“I’d like to see the festival bring in more experts and enthusiasts from the world of wildlife and environmental fields,” Paradise said. “Yet in reality, the festival will always be about engaging the audience and hoping to serve as a catalyst for practical change and discussion that attendees can use in their own lives here and afar.”
To check out the films screening as part of Boulder ENOFF, visit boulderenoff.org/2022-festival-program.
Boulder ENOFF Opening Night Film and Reception will take place Thursday. Live music by The Atom Collective starts at 5:30 p.m. at Hilton Garden Inn, 2701 Canyon Blvd., Boulder. Appetizers and libations will be served. The film “River,” at Dairy Arts Center, will screen at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $60 for the combined reception and film.