<em>Arctic Tale</em>

It is not often that audiences have the opportunity to see natural history programming on the big screen,” Reel Nature series curator and natural history filmmaker Mike DeGruy stated definitively. It’s a rare occasion, particularly with a chance to question the filmmakers.

DeGruy says he has two primary criteria for selecting the films he adds to the roster. First, he must be able to convince the filmmakers to come to the festival and participate in question and answer sessions with the audience. Second, the films must be aesthetically beautiful, of high quality, and have a compelling story.

For filmgoers, the fun is in learning the secrets to a film’s backstory-especially when it comes to how to film wild animals in their natural habitat who don’t necessarily respond to scripts or cue cards. There’s also potential for lively debate when so many films deal with environmental topics. For example, DeGruy chose Arctic Tale, even though it was already released in theaters. While the beautiful film showcases Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson‘s 15 years of footage in the Arctic, the box office showing was disappointing. Its festival appearance offers a chance to question the two about their work shooting polar bears and walruses, and to discuss what did-or didn’t-work in the film.

Also with an environmental message is Crude, a documentary examining the history of our dependence on petroleum. Australian filmmaker Richard Smith is coming to Santa Barbara, a coup for the festival. “Don’t miss him,” DeGruy warned. “He is a scientist who knows his facts, and knows how to engage the audience.”

Also getting the Reel Nature roll call this year is Saving Luna, which is about the plight of an orca living on Canada’s Nootka Sound who wanted to be friends with the people, but the government wouldn’t allow it. And then we head to Asia for Losing the Elephants, an exploration of why populations of the big-eared creature are dwindling.

DeGruy’s one disappointment in this year’s Reel Nature series-which seems rather diminished from years past-is related to the Attenborough Award, first given to the award’s namesake, and last year presented to Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim. Plans fell through at the eleventh hour for the intended recipient. There’s another opportunity to award nature at next year’s festival, but in the meantime, check out the entire roster of Reel Nature, as there are opportunities to see the wild and wooly on the big screen and discuss today’s most burning environmental issues.


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