Have you ever looked at the moon through a telescope? Seen its fields of craters and wondered what’s hidden by the darkness at its edge? “I feel like I just landed on the moon,” exclaimed one woman, almost in tears, after she peered through a telescope that Wylie Overstreet toted around the streets of Los Angeles for his short film, A New View of the Moon.

A thousand miles north of L.A., a novice hiker named Liz Fitzgerald watched an oblivious teen lob a burning object into the Columbia River Gorge. “Do you realize how dangerous that is?” she asked him. In Forest on Fire, director/producer Reed Harkness and producer Heather Hawksford paint a picture of the rippling effects of our actions – and the gravity of starting a forest fire – in just 30 minutes of hair-raising cinematic storytelling.

Farther north, a woman in petticoats scales Glacier National Park’s Illecillewaet Glacier – alone – every summer for 50 years, contributing to the longest scientific study on glaciers in North America. Her family’s story (and the glacier’s) are told in Carving Landscapes.

These stories are a glimpse into myriad inspiring and visually breathtaking short films presented at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, hosted by nonprofit Ventana Wilderness Alliance, coming to the Golden State Theatre on Oct. 19.

Harkness and Hawksford, who live just 40 miles from the area burned in Forest on Fire, will be at the Monterey screening to share their story and their realizations about destruction and resiliency that stemmed from making the short film.

A common thread throughout all the films is the creation of respect for the wilderness of North America. Whether you fall in love with a wild organism, appreciate someone’s cause, or understand the consequences of wilderness destruction, the festival’s objective is to inspire action. Attendees will likely walk out of the theater feeling a strong urge to go on a hike in Big Sur, go fishing in the Carmel River, or sign up for a birding class at Elkhorn Slough; it all starts with exposure to the great outdoors, even if that happens on a screen.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. It defined wilderness as “areas where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” With these shrinking areas in mind, the annual film fest is a fundraiser for wilderness protection and recreational exploration without devastation.

The festival organizer, South Yuba River Citizens League, was formed in 1983 and through grassroots advocacy they won permanent protection for a 39-mile stretch of the northern California Yuba river at risk of destruction from dams. Today, the league continues to protect and educate the public about the Yuba River, its watershed and salmon that rely on it, while also producing the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, the largest film festival of its kind.

Now in its 18th iteration, the festival is touring the nation to share stories of grassroots activism and the wilderness that inspires it. The tour is stopping at more than 250 locations (38 more than last year, and 80 more than in 2017), with each screening hosted by a local conservation organization. Each stop presents a unique set of films curated from a vast collection of shorts selected each year.

Ventana Wilderness Alliance Executive Director Mike Splain and his staff picked this year’s lineup of 11 short films, with Monterey County’s coastal, mountainous (and fire-prone) geography in mind. The nonprofit promotes preservation of the roadless wildlands while also working to ensure public access to these lands through trail maintenance, advocacy and education.

To Splain, the films help give perspective. “Humans need a sense of something bigger than ourselves – the night sky, wilderness, biodiversity, etc. – to stay focused and genuinely confront our environmental challenges,” he says.

7TH ANNUAL WILD AND SCENIC FILM FESTIVAL screens at 7pm (6pm doors) on Saturday, Oct. 19. Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $20/in advance; $25/at the door. 423-3191, wildandscenicfilmfestival.org

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