'Into Twin Galaxies' directed by Jochen Schmoll
Courtesy Photo

This weekend, Los Olivos will be host to the inaugural NatureTrack Film Festival, a three-day event featuring outdoors-themed documentaries culled from around the world. “Our slogan is ‘Igniting passion for nature through film,’ and that is what we are truly aiming to do,” said Sue Eisaguirre, founder and director of NatureTrack (naturetrack.org), the nonprofit outdoor education foundation to which the film festival is an auxiliary. “I’m also an avid fan of film festivals like Mountainfilm in Telluride, and I felt our beautiful valley would be the perfect setting to launch a similar event on the central California coast.” In addition to screening nearly 60 films from more than 20 countries, the festival also consists of meet and greets with filmmakers, outdoor excursions, and even a bird-of-prey demonstration. In an email interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, Eisaguirre gave a behind-the-scenes look at how the film festival came about.

How did you get the word out about submissions? Once we decided to move forward with the NatureTrack Film Festival (NTFF), we researched the different software programs that film festivals typically use for submissions, and FilmFreeway consistently turned up on so many sites. We also had filmmakers recommend it to us. Once our process opened, we were deluged with over 1,500 film submissions from around the world. To alert local filmmakers, we sent media releases out locally and regionally.

How did you put the team together to vet the films? Our codirector Holly Cline personally viewed a portion of every film and determined which qualified for consideration and advancement. Many films were quite obviously not appropriate for a film festival focused on nature content. After Holly reviewed them, we pulled volunteer reviewers from the ranks of NatureTrack docents, people who are keen outdoors types, who helped us whittle the submissions down further through a screening and scoring process. The last batch of around 100 titles was personally viewed and scored by me and my two codirectors, KC Murphy Thompson and Holly Cline. From there the Official Selections went on to an awards jury made up of film industry professionals and naturalists. These judges determined which films will receive our top awards.

How long did it take to plan the festival? We began working in earnest on the NTFF back in September of 2016. We knew it would be an ambitious undertaking to say the least, and we’d need a long lead time.

What made you decide to have this festival? I very much wanted to establish a complementary event to the NatureTrack Foundation. NatureTrack takes K-12 students on outdoor, docent-led field trips utilizing local trails and beaches throughout Santa Barbara County at no cost to the schools or students. The field trips are aligned with classroom units of study, and we even cover all student transportation costs for these educational outings, which take place during the traditional school day. A film festival focused on nature seemed like a logical extension of our educational emphasis, as well as a way to channel sustained funding into our outdoor programs.

Have you put together a festival before? No! But I thoroughly enjoy film festivals, especially those in small towns. I knew this could be achieved in Los Olivos, a lovely walkable wine and food town with three venues well-suited for screening films, The Grange, Gates Foss Community Center at Los Olivos School, and St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley-Church. I also knew with the help of Holly Cline and KC Thompson, two incredibly talented and creative women, that we could create this film festival.

What can people expect at the fest? They can expect to see six film premieres and countless films that amaze and educate. Also, we have great opportunities to meet and greet our filmmakers at many of the local tasting rooms that are generously participating in our inaugural event. We also have two cool demonstrations on tap: one featuring falconry and the other demonstrating filmmaking and photography using drones. Our opening reception this Friday is at Mattei’s Tavern with musical guests OnE, and our Sunday closing reception and awards ceremony will be held at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and will feature sax musician Joe ShaShaty.

What film or films are you most excited about? Did you know there are underwater caves beneath the city of Budapest? Films on subjects like this really excited us and our judges. Seeing something you’ve never seen before is exhilarating. We also added the latest Warren Miller film, Line of Descent, after we learned of his recent death. We felt compelled to honor the ski film icon, and we are proud to present the latest WME-produced film along with a short film tribute to Warren Miller. From feature length to animated shorts, we have the world’s best representation of nature, films that will entertain, energize, and educate our festival guests.


NatureTrack Film Festival takes place in Los Olivos Friday-Sunday, March 23-25. See naturetrackfilmfestival.org.


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