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Eco-friendly films at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival raise awareness for water issues

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Getting involved with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay could start as easily as drinking a beer and watching environmental films.

The Wild and Scenic Film Festival was founded in 2003 by the South Yuba River Citizens League, a watershed advocacy group in California. Begun as a celebration of achieving wild and scenic status on 39 miles of the South Yuba River, the annual festival is held in Nevada City each winter and features mote than 150 award-winning films, as well as filmmakers, celebrities and activists who bring human faces to the environmental movement.

Films chosen illustrate not only the challenges facing the planet, but also the work that communities are doing to protect the environment. Once the curtain closes in Nevada City, the four-day event travels nationwide as a one-night festival. For the first time, it comes to Richmond at the Science Museum of Virginia.

"The goal of the tour is building a grass-roots network of organizations connected by a common goal of using film to inspire activism," says Nissa Dean, Virginia director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the local group sponsoring the festival.

It was after two staff members, one from the Washington office and another from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, learned about it through separate events that they launched the project. The timing and mutual interest between the two offices solidified the alliance's dedication to the event.

"The alliance is committed to increasing engagement and awareness around environmental issues, specifically water-related issues and this is a great opportunity to do that," Dean explains.

Because the Alliance has offices in four jurisdictions — There's one on Annapolis, Maryland, too — they're hosting the film festival in all four cities on the same night and showing the same films. After representatives of the offices formed teams to watch, rate and choose the movies, they narrowed the screenings to 13 short films about climbing, nature, water and environmental restoration.

The film festival kicks off with a happy hour. In addition to the film program, the ticket price also includes one drink ticket and a pint glass to take home. Proceeds support the alliance's mission of deploying resources and, as Dean puts it, "boots on the ground for cleaner water in Richmond."

Goatocado and the Dog Wagon will be on site selling food and beverages from Vasen Brewing and Belle Isle Moonshine also will be available.

"Events like this bring together the people and partners that we work with and know and love, but also people with interests that don't always directly intersect with our work," Dean says. "We're excited about bringing people together from all over Richmond to watch films and introducing them to who we are and what we do."

The alliance has been working to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay for almost 50 years and while steady progress has been made, Dean is quick to point out that there's still much to do.

One of the most pressing issues facing the bay's health is that too many nutrients attached to sediment are being carried into streams and rivers from farms and lawns during rain that eventually make their way to the bay. The excessive nutrients cause harmful algae blooms that deplete oxygen, creating dead zones where aquatic life can't thrive or reproduce.

To address the problem, Dean says all of the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are working to develop and meet cleanup goals by 2025, in hopes that a thriving ecosystem can be maintained, also crucial because of the benefits to fisheries and tourism.

"The work that the alliance does here in Richmond is primarily driven by these issues," she says. Their focus is on continuing to engage the public, the business community and their nonprofit partners in restoration work so that they can continue to make local rivers and streams cleaner and meet Bay restoration goals.

Dean says more people need to get involved to make a difference.

"As we learn more about the continued impacts of climate change on the health of the bay and witness extreme weather events like the frequent and heavy rains we've had this year, it's crucial to engage the public because our success is dependent upon everyone's support and action."

The Wild and Scenic Film Festival is Thursday, Jan. 24, from 5:30- 9 p.m. at the Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W. Broad St, smv.org.

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