September 24, 2020
| 9:21 a.m.

The analogy that water is life fits the NatureTrack Film Festival as it’s revving back up and filled with films about water in the third annual edition of the NatureTrack Film Festival (NTFF). 

Beginning virtually at midnight Friday, Oct. 9 until Sunday, Oct. 18, the 18th the NTFF live-action and animation films about water, include people’s relationship to it; the creatures that call it home; and its importance to the health of the planet. The festival also dives into the sad state our waters are in now.

NTFF was abruptly cancelled in March, one week before opening due to COVID. Organizers took proper precautions and are now moving the whole experience into virtual territory.

“Featuring these films in the third annual NTFF is just one of the many environmental subjects covered by passionate filmmakers making statements about the most precious resource on Earth,” said the fesitval’s Sue Eisaguirre.

“From two minutes to an hour and two minutes, we’ve culled a really beautiful program of more than 70 films, from the 353 entries we received, for everyone who loves nature,” she said.

Getting the chance to show the program online, takes the festival screenings to an international audience. Eisaguirre hopes that will bring more ticket sales, plus more attention to the non-profit she started in 2011 NatureTrack Foundation that takes school children out into the nature, where docents lead the way and engage youngsters along trails in the Santa Ynez Valley.

“I saw the film festival as an economic engine by generating funds in an organic way and promoting the NTFF motto ‘Igniting a passion for nature through film,” Eisaguirre said. All proceeds from the festival go to support the NatureTrack Foundation.

Some of the featured films dealing with H2O include:

» “Queen Without Land” comes from Norwegian filmmaker, Asgeir Helgestad, who captures four years in the life of Frost, a polar bear mother, and himself.

During this journey on Svalbard, rising temperatures are responsible for dramatic changes in Frost’s eco-system as the ice is melting at record speed. From complete darkness to the absolute light of the midnight sun, Svalbard transforms from a cold and inhospitable place to the most joyous and lively scenery.

Alongside these seasonal transformations, the disappearing sea ice forces life to new limits. Fjords once full of ice and seals, become abandoned pushing Frost further away. In the feature length film, Helgestad is determined to find her and document all that is being lost — not an easy task.

Arctic animals have adapted to survive the harshest conditions, but they may not survive the changes caused by humans.

» In “Waters of the U.S.,” director Remi Escudie examines the rivers, streams and wetlands of Alabama to illustrate the rollbacks that are currently threatening the Clean Water Act. By doing so, it shows the economic benefits, ecological health, and cultural way of life that hang in the balance.

Sportsmen, lawyers, a biologist, doctor and organic farmer are among those the director talks with to help us understand the critical significance and importance of the Clean Water Act, something Americans have taken for granted since it was enacted in 1972. The current administration wants to cut back on these protections by kicking this balancing act off its base.

» “Beaver Believers,” an urgent and slightly whimsical film from Sarah Koenigsberg tells the story of an unlikely team of activists who share a common goal: restoring the North American beaver. As a keystone species, beaver enrich their ecosystems, creating the biodiversity, complexity, and resiliency our watersheds need to absorb the impacts of climate change.

The film was shot in eight western states, Mexico and Canada through drought, wildfires, spring floods, and the peaceful calm of wetlands.

» In 1969, when the Exxon oil platform blew and continued to spew oil into the Santa Barbara Channel waters, it sparked the modern environmental movement. Director Isaac Hernádez’s “Better Together” explores how the legacy of the oil spill continues to inform and unite this community up to the Thomas Fire in late 2017 followed by the deadly Jan. 9, 2018 debris flow. 

The film offers a strong message hat we are definitely, “better together.”

» “Visions of Lost Sierra” is director Matt Ritenour’s heartfelt account of the Middle Fork of the Feather River, one of the first eight rivers designated as Wild & Scenic in 1968. It is now of one of the few remaining wild rivers left in the state and by weaving together personal stories with archival footage Ritenour’s message is delivered to great effect.

» “Ocean Stories with Howard & Michele Hall — Making Underwater IMAX Movies” goes behind the scenes of working with a 1,300-pound 3D IMAX camera. The Halls shoot a broad range of sea creatures around the world as they share their passions, visions and hopes for our ocean planet.

The film features an intimate look into the Halls’ lives, their work, and the dedication that drives these filmmakers as it explores the ocean’s realm; directed by Earl Richmond.

» Even a film on the fear of water is included; “Free to Dive” is director Julian Granier’s deeper look into the human relationship with water through three individuals.

» Then, there are those daring young twins from Pismo Beach daring the Pacific going “By Hand” on paddle boards from Alaska to Baja — documented by director Kellen Keene. 

» Among the animated shorts, “Things Were Better Before” uses the Trukitrek Puppet Company to address environmental issues, specifically the death of our oceans. Italian director Lu Pucili conceived the film as a “wake-up machine” to encourage green and sustainable thinking and effect real change before it’s too late.

» In “Six Mile Stretch,” fine artist Carol Chambers responds to plans for the Centennial Dam being built on the last wild six mile stretch of the Bear River. She puts across the message in a five-minute short, combines old and new techniques of animation using oils on canvas, painted cells and traditional hand-painted animation layered with today’s computer enhanced techniques.

» An art exhibit with The Oak Group will raise more needed funds for the foundation and help NTFF get back onto good footing financially. Eisaguirre announced The Link Between Man and Nature, a two-month-long online art show by the Oak Group, to benefit NatureTrack Foundation.

“What a gift,” Eisaguirre exclaimed. From Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, a portion of the sale from the artwork of the 25 participating artists will go directly to help NatureTrack connect students to the natural world.

For 34 years, the tradition of The Oak Group continues by calling attention to and supporting the preservation of open spaces in the natural world. The artists’ mission blends well with NatureTrack,which strives to inspire young students to be respectful stewards of nature with free outdoor field trips.

It is unusual for The Oak Group artists to include humans in their works, so this is an opportunity to get a one-of-a-kind work of art. “Film festival virtual attendees will be able to view the artwork after each film,” Eisaguirre said.

» The NTFF Raffle: Only 100 tickets will be sold at $50 each for items to enjoy the great outdoors in and with. You must be a California resident to buy a ticket. The drawing will take place Sunday, Oct. 18. Purchase tickets on the NTFF home page.

First ticket drawn wins a Montana Canvas Glamping Tent (12×14-foot tent), valued at $3,130. Second ticket drawn wins an All-Access Pass to 2022 NTFF, along with a Zpack Nero 38L Backpack containing VIP swag bag treats. Third ticket drawn gets an All-Access Pass for next year, an REI Rusack, camping chair and blanket.

The full slate of films is on the festival website All-Access Passes, and Program Block tickets are also available online. Cost for an All-Access Virtual Pass is $100. Program Blocks are $10 each.

For those who bought an in-person All-Access Pass for the March dates, NTFF suggests either sharing the pass with a friend, or donating the difference in cost to the NatureTrack Foundation. All tickets from the March 2020 dates will be honored.