Category Archives: Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Coverage of SYRCL’s annual film festival–the largest environmental film festival in the country. Nevada City, California.

Alden Olmsted’s film screens before a sell-out crowd Sunday, April 15 at the Sonoma International Film Festival.

Lightcap Farm's Blog

Nevada City, California

On the closing afternoon of Wild and Scenic, well over a hundred people sat in the Foundry’s Stone Hall to watch My Father Who Are in Nature. Many of us knew the man who inspired the film, the filmmaker’s father, John Olmsted, the genius behind Jughandle State Reserve, Independence Trail, and the South Yuba State Parks. For a couple decades John lived among us, inspiring us, aggravating us with his singular vision, showing what simple, sheer, extreme will can accomplish in this world.

My Father Who Art in Nature stars John Olmsted, but ultimately it is not about him, but about Alden and their relationship. This seems to frustrate some viewers, who are expecting a straight-forward biography of our 20th century John Muir. Perhaps Alden or someone else will make that film some day. My Father Who Art in Nature is about other things: forgiveness and…

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A Glimpse of Bloody Run Creek

When I covered the Wild and Scenic Film Festival last January, I wrote a piece called “Occupy Confluences”. It’s about creating new systems, the blue lines on the map, and what inspired me to be a more active steward of the two watersheds that receive the run-off from our farm. The creek nearest the Middle Fork Yuba drainage is Bloody Run Creek, and in “Occupy Confluences” I pledge to get to know it better. Toward that end, I started a very unofficial organization called Friends of Bloody Run Creek. At first it was Friend of Bloody Run Creek, but my husband quickly joined. (There are no dues, no meetings, no anything but learning about the creek.) There are three of us now–our friend the Wilderness Wino signing up as well (except there is nothing to sign). Here on the blog we’ll follow our progress as we learn about Bloody Run Creek’s geology and history from its headwaters to confluence. If you’d like to help, email us at, or leave a comment below. Here’s the link to “Occupy Confluences” if you want to start at the beginning.[]

Bloody Run Creek near Backbone Road

Hopeful cedar and Ponderosa pine along Bloody Run Creek.

For years now, my husband and I have indulged in what we call Back Yard Days. These are days when we happily turn left out our driveway, heading away from civilization as we’ve come to tolerate it. Because of the snow, Back Yard Days are usually three season affairs, but this winter there was so little snow we might have even made it to Graniteville to visit the Wilderness Wino. Instead we made our first pilgrimage to Bloody Run Creek as its (un)official Friends. Here’s the view heading home, near a strip of land that we folks up here call the Saddle Back.

Looking west from Backbone Road


Filed under Back Yard Days, Community, Friends of Bloody Run Creek, Mining, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

The Honeybee: Oversimplification and Unnecessary Drama

Nevada City, California

This piece wraps up my coverage of the 2012 Wild and Scenic Film Festival.

Last weekend at Wild and Scenic, a drama named BEE made its world premiere. (I don’t know why the filmmakers capitalized the title as if it were an acronym–it does not appear to be.) The film festival does not display “documentary” in its moniker, and I applaud the choice to explore different genres of film that deal with environmental issues. The issues must be dealt with responsibly, though. Unfortunately, this is not the case with BEE.

Let’s look a moment at the four main characters in BEE. We have the reluctant, unfriendly daughter, an entomologist at UC Davis, who comes to help her angry father understand why his bees died. In order to get to the truth, she lies to the next door neighbor (while she secretly sleeps with his son, the sheriff). This next door neighbor has been lying and poisoning the dad’s bees. She heroically takes the shotgun away from her dad before he kills the neighbor. Then the father steals someone else’s bees since his died. The sheriff tells his lover that her chronic lying is a problem, but she is fatalistic about her habit. Now–there is nothing wrong with a dark drama; nothing wrong with a drama full of characters who lie, cheat, and attempt to maim and kill other creatures. But how, exactly, does a film with such protaganists inspire environmental activism? BEE left me wondering.

That is the least of the film’s three offenses however. More serious is the creative license it takes with cultural integrity. In the film, the Caucasian beekeeper (the dad) steals bees from a Russian family since his Mexican next door neighbor killed the American’s bees with pesticide. The younger protagonists–the sheriff and the entomologist–discuss how this is called “musical bees”. Stealing bees when yours die, she says, is a cultural norm. When asked about this during the Q and A, filmmaker Raphael Hitzke reported that such bee-stealing was practiced and accepted in Russia and Ukraine. (I was unable to substantiate this through my research.) Hitzke went on to say that he “thought it would be fun” to have an American steal bees from a Russian because of this. Fun, perhaps, and there is nothing wrong with fun. But erroneous threads such as these, even in fiction, manipulate and mislead the audience.

When writing fiction that stems from fact, the writer owes it to both subject and  readers to put material in its proper context, both culturally and factually. Let’s look at Toni Morrison, American author and Nobel prize winner, and her crafting of Beloved. Morrison spent years turning the real-life Margaret Garner into Sethe, the story’s heroine. She pulled her out of hard, documented facts, not out of thin air or whimsy. When asked why she made Beloved a work of fiction rather than simply documenting Margaret Garner’s life, Morrison said that she believed fiction was the more powerful genre for bringing home the atrocities of slavery to her readers. “Some things,” she says, “only artists can do. Only artists can do. And it’s our job.” It is our job–and when we have a political or environmental agenda around our story, it’s also our job to maintain the cultural and factual integrity of what we are writing about.

Still, there is an even larger problem with BEE, and that is its oversimplification of the mystery that is Colony Collapse Disorder. The film was selected to screen because of this focus,and yet it dangerously encourages the emotionally based misinformation that permeates the issue. In BEE, the entomologist tells the next door neighbor that all he has to do to avoid killing her dad’s bees is to spray pesticide at night. Imagine for a moment if the solution were that simple. As I outlined in a piece from last year’s festival (“Bee Summit: Experts Discuss the Honeybee’s Dilemma”), there are four complicated factors thought to be causing CCD. Only one of them relates directly to the spraying of pesticides, and the specific pesticide, rather than the time of day it is sprayed, is the relevant issue. Since the daughter in BEE is an expert, this oversimplicity is particularly seductive. Even though it is a work of fiction, the film’s viewers see the entomologist as an expert and take her theory to heart.

Recently an article in Grist (“Honeybee problem nearing a critical point”: claimed that there was new evidence linking the pesticide clothianidin to Colony Collapse disorder. This is old news (see “Bee Summit”) with a new twist. Clothianidin, part of a family of pesticides called neonicotinoids, is not usually directly sprayed on plants but rather used to treat their seeds before planting. “Evidence already pointed to the presence of neonic-contaminated pollen as a factor in CCD” the article states. I checked in with renowned bee scientist and local bee keeper Randy Oliver. “There is no such evidence!” He explains, “In fact, every scientific study that has looked into this has exonerated the neonics. Dr. Jim Frazier reported exactly that at the national conventions these past two weeks.” Rather than simplify the problem or demonizing agricultural practices, Oliver advocates a scientific approach to deciphering CCD. “The problem that occurs when environmentalists take extreme or unsupported positions is that it discounts their credibility to the regulators,” he says, “Better to stick to specific, documented issues.” Oliver continues to dialogue with Bayer and Monsanto about those issues, and he believes that beekeepers are making progress.

Such progress is hindered, though, when a film such as BEE dumbs down the concept of CCD to be a matter of spraying a pesticide (which pesticide?) at a certain time of day. Such oversimplifications, once a part of our belief systems, lead us to divisive conversations and polarized communities. Although any filmmaker has a right to make a film that does this, environmental film festivals have a responsibility to screen material that has accurate scientific information. People believe what they see, particularly at an environmental film festival where almost every single film is in documentary format. Films that further the festival’s mission should honor cultural and social integrity by portraying situations that inspire activism rather than cynicism, honesty rather than deceit, and critical thinking rather than reactionary response to random propaganda.

During the Q and A after the 20 minute film, an audience member asked Raphael Hitzke what he was going to direct next. A feature length thriller, he said, on the same subject. This idea is full of potential. Let’s hope Hitzke does his homework next time and portrays the subject accurately. Let’s hope also he gives us characters with integrity and intelligence. That would inspire activism, indeed.

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Flavors of the Festival

Nevada City, California

Some random captures of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, January 13-15, 2012.

Occupy Polka-Dots: a festive Occupy street performer. Commercial Street, January 14.

One of the student activists who helped collect over 8,500 signatures to keep our state parks open. January 13.

Thematic libations were in abundance. Coopers Ale Works. Friday, January 13.

Street theater performers on Commercial Street, January 14.

One of my favorite people on the planet: Michael Ben introduces John Trudell. January 13th, Nevada Theatre.

Another reason Nevada City makes the news: our cutting-edge parklet, January 14.

Murray Campbell (fiddle, foreground) and Luke Wilson from Beaucoup Chapeaux, touring tables, entertaining festival goers at the Nevada City Classic Cafe on January 13.

Wild and Scenic's Samantha Hinrichs interviews student activists working to save state parks--the See Jane Do media lounge at Wild and Scenic HQ--January 13th.

Commercial Street, January 14th.

An enthusiastic crowd watches Wicked Good Copy's Mike Mooers help "S(h)have the Yuba". January 13, Broad Street at Bel Capelli Salon.

The festival crowd gathers for the puppet show, "The Three Pigs and the Loan Wolf" January 14.

Simple reminder: In the window of Yabobo, a locally owned and operated drum shop on Pine Street, Nevada City, January 14.

Maggie McKaig and her accordion from Beaucoup Chapeaux performing at Nevada City's Classic Cafe: January 13.

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Occupy Confluences

Nevada City, California

On the opening night of Wild and Scenic, John Trudell addressed a packed house at the Nevada Theatre. I’ve heard him speak before, even spoken with him. His words are so potent, his message so rich, it’s difficult to paraphrase, or even absorb it in one pass. Twice during the festival people quoted him from that night, but those particular points had washed over me as I absorbed the one that came before. (If anyone has an audio recording or a transcript of his talk that night, please let me know!)

That night, Trudell spoke about systems. Systems that are in place in our society that serve to imprison and control us. Two examples he used were the military system and the system of organized religion. When someone asked him about the Occupy movement, he was openly ambivalent. First he said, we need to be careful that our actions of protest do not feed those systems. When cops are called to police a riot, for instance, the protestors are actually feeding the system by requiring the need for the cops. He pointed out that this last Black Friday, Americans spent more money than ever. This feeds the system of corporate commercialism, and goes against the very essence of Occupy. He asked us to think about this, and to embrace change in a way that starved the system. “If the 99% all agreed to not buy anything for one whole day…” he mused. With him, we imagined that, and imagined creating new systems, and what they might look like.

John Trudell talks about systems at opening night of Wild and Scenic.

The next day at Wild and Scenic, Occupy Nevada County hosted a street fair on Commercial Street, right by the parklet. Street theatre and a puppet show were the highlights of the afternoon. As I wandered through their displays and watched the entertainment, I thought about Trudell’s comments and the general criticism that Occupy lacks focus and commitment–on a national level at least. But that day, at that protest, I saw loads of both. Maybe that’s why our little town’s Occupy movement has made national news. It was focus that got that attention, focus on the epidemic of foreclosures in our community.

The focus that landed Occupy Nevada County on The Rachel Maddow Show

Occupy Nevada County's Puppet Show: The Three Pigs ...

...and the loan wolf.

I had a great dinner with friends and chosen family that night, took a breath from festival life. We talked for awhile about democracy: when it worked and when it didn’t, agreeing that it works okay when the system is small, intimate even, and when the parties involved deeply care about and need one another. Once people can be objectified and made dispensable, democracy quickly evaporates. I fell asleep thinking about Trudell’s words and about systems old and yet uninvented.

The next morning I headed to City Hall to see Jason Rainey, Derek Hitchcock, and Mark Dubois give a talk about a new watershed governance system. Rainey, former executive director of SYRCL, has relocated to the Bay Area to work at International Rivers in the same capacity. He asked us to suspend our judgement and skepticism a moment, and imagine a whole new system, a system that “honored the blue lines on the map” for once. Derek Hitchcock, mentioned off the top that Trudell’s talk had greatly impacted him. Mark Dubois called upon us to be compassionate and inclusive rather than catty and judgmental (always a trick for humans). Here is Hitchcock’s proposal for a new system, a grass-roots, built from the bottom way to manage our watersheds and ourselves in the process.

Level One: Tributary Watershed Guilds. Every creek and stream would be stewarded by those around it, who would meet biweekly or monthly to discuss hazards and opportunities for the watershed that they called home. We see these types of guilds here in our community: Friends of Deer Creek, Wolf Creek Alliance, and the newly formed group trying to work out differences along Rush Creek.

Level Two: Each tributary guild would send a representative to a Sub Basin Guild. For us, this would encompass the South Yuba River basin.

Level Three: Each Level Two group would send a representative to the Yuba Watershed/Bear Watershed Guild. Groups like SYRCL and Yuba Watershed Institute are the nearest organizations we have to this type of guild, they just aren’t inherently built from the bottom up as Hitchcock proposes.

Level Four: This guild would get its representation the same way, from the level below it, and would encompass the foothills, mountains, central valley, and delta.

Level Five: The San Francisco Watershed Guild.

It’s somewhat stupefying to imagine a system that doesn’t exist. In the moments before the Q and A, I found myself growing excited. I began to think about the watershed up at the farm, which sits atop the San Juan Ridge. Our actions there affect two separate watersheds: runoff from the front half of the property goes to the South Fork of the Yuba, runoff from the back heads down to the Middle Fork. I began to scan my mind for the nearest creek to the farm: Bloody Run Creek. “What can you do?” Mark Dubois was asking us. “Walk your tributary. Get to know it. Talk to your neighbors.” I felt a flash of light and recognition in my brain. I don’t know how to snap my fingers and make Hitchcock’s system appear, but I know how to walk along Bloody Run Creek, and I know how to talk to my neighbors. Neither of those feeds the systems that I am finding problematic.

The Q and A quickly disintegrated, however, into a broad, theoretical conversation whose participants were hung up on verbiage and biases. “Focus! Focus!” the panelists encouraged the audience, and I thought again of Occupy.

A couple weeks ago I listened to an old recording of Utah Phillips talking about why the Progressives succeeded in the earlier part of the 20th century. “We put our differences aside,” he said simply. If we can learn to do that, and be tolerant and compassionate with one another, perhaps we can create an effective system that honors the blue lines in the map and allows creatures of all kinds to thrive.

from left to right: Mark DuBois, Derek Hitchcock, and Jason Rainey

Jason Rainey says that rivers are magical to us, in part, because of the power a confluence brings to any situation. A confluence is literally powerful, and metaphorically as well: ideas and attitudes come together with force, with volition. Compromise is essential, and the power of the river grows from the bottom up.

I have a lot to learn about Bloody Run Creek.

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Alden Olmsted Receives Standing Ovation for “My Father Who Art In Nature”

Nevada City, California

On the closing afternoon of Wild and Scenic, well over a hundred people sat in the Foundry’s Stone Hall to watch My Father Who Are in Nature. Many of us knew the man who inspired the film, the filmmaker’s father, John Olmsted, the genius behind Jughandle State Reserve, Independence Trail, and the South Yuba State Parks. For a couple decades John lived among us, inspiring us, aggravating us with his singular vision, showing what simple, sheer, extreme will can accomplish in this world.

My Father Who Art in Nature stars John Olmsted, but ultimately it is not about him, but about Alden and their relationship. This seems to frustrate some viewers, who are expecting a straight-forward biography of our 20th century John Muir. Perhaps Alden or someone else will make that film some day. My Father Who Art in Nature is about other things: forgiveness and reconnection, healing, patience, and courage.

Alden spent little time with his father while growing up. The trails, parks, the basement museum, and ultimately the Necklace consumed John, and without that intensity we may not now enjoy and protect his legacy. Father and son connected as adults though, slowly at first. Finally, last year, when John was given six months to live, Alden left his Hollywood filmaker’s life to care for his father. The film focuses on those six months and their experience as father and son. As someone who knew John and helped further his work, I felt incredibly honored to share those last intimate moments of his life through film. I am grateful that in his last days he experienced a profound understanding of himself and the consequences of his choices.

When I first met Alden I confessed, “I didn’t know John had a son.” He said then that he’d heard that before, but I dont’ think he’ll hear it much more. Since John’s passing Alden has chosen to continue his father’s work, founding the Olmsted Park Fund. Alden figured that if each Californian gave a buck to save the parks, we’d be there. Hundreds of plastic buckets have since been distributed to businesses around California. Between the buckets and the internet outreach, young Olmsted has raised $27,000 to fund the parks. Several parks–including Henry W. Coe, Santa Cruz Mission, and Antelope Valley Indian Museum–have already been spared from closure for another year. After the film, Olmsted announced that he’s currently working with Malakoff Diggins State Park to pay its power bills–the single biggest expense in that remote outpost.

The story told in My Father Who Art In Nature reminds us of the powers of honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. The story Alden is beginning to live shows us that when we give ourselves over to such things, our life takes powerful, rich, and often unpredictable turns.

For more information on Alden’s work to save the parks, visit For more information on Alden’s film and his filmmaking career, visit


Filed under Community, Education, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Festival A-Buzz with Success of “Quest”

Nevada City, California
photos courtesy of Whirled Beet Productions

The Quest for Local Honey (Part One) had its world premier yesterday at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. Wild and Scenic combs the globe for the best environmental films; it is rare when a film made in Nevada City shares the stage. Such was the case when Quest screened to a capacity house. Filmmakers Karin Meadows and Jen Rhi Winders were there to share their process of making their first film and forming Whirled Beet Productions.

The Quest for Local Honey is an ambitious film, both in its form and content. A creative mix of narration, animation, traditional documentary footage, and captions, Meadows and Winders take us on a whimsical journey toward their better understanding of how to procure and secure local honey. Unlike many environmental films, it avoids the pitfalls of over-simplicity and the kind of “we’re sunk” mentality that leaves audiences hanging their heads in defeat. Instead, Saturday’s capacity house remained on the edge of its seat laughing, nodding enthusiastically, and appreciating the people who work with the bees.

Founding Whirled Beet Productions and producing The Quest for Local Honey took Meadows and Winders over three years. The two produced fundraisers and educational workshops along the way. (One workshop is featured in my article “Bee Summit: Experts Discuss the Honeybee’s Dilemma”:

from left to right: Jen Rhi Winders, Randy Oliver, Karin's daughter, and Karin Meadows at Randy Oliver's place. Nevada County beekeeper Randy Oliver is an internationally known beekeeper and bee scientist, and a key interview in Quest.

A fundraising flyer from "Quest". Whirled Beet Productions began the project in 2009.



Although the film is locally produced with footage from Nevada County, Meadows and Winders weren’t content to leave the story in town. They traveled to Washington D.C. in the hopes of seeing the White House’s beekeeping operation. When they got the run around, they spent time with the beekeeper at the first president’s house, and were relieved to find that he didn’t have an in at the White House, either.

Bee paradise at Mount Vernon

Nevada County locals will appreciate the appearances of Paule Castro, who provides narration as a sort of psychedelic, bee-friendly Alistair Cooke. (Remember him, from Masterpiece Theatre?) Local bee heroes such as Janet Brisson and Helena McDaniel offer their expertise. Integral to the success of the film is the soundtrack of local composer and musician Jay Tausig. His original score, mixed with occasional music from local singers like Chris Crockett, creates a seamlessness and spaciousness for the visually busy–but delightfully uncluttered–cinematography.

The Quest for Local Honey will screen in its entirety on February 25 at the Magic Theatre in Nevada City. If you’ve traveled to Wild and Scenic from out of town, you might want to book a hotel room now. And make a note to keep track of Whirled Beet Productions. This is Meadows and Winders’ debut film; I can only imagine what they’ll do next.

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