A funny thing happened in roughly the 11th hour of preparation for the second annual NatureTrack Film Festival, which takes place March 22-24 in Los Olivos. Netflix called.

Although planning was well underway for the festival, and a total of 61 films had been programmed for the weekend-long event, organizers had to stop the presses and “rewrite the lead” when approached by Netflix about hosting the U.S. premiere of a high-profile series called Our Planet, made by the same folks who created BBC’s acclaimed Planet Earth, and with narration by David Attenborough. Area audiences will see part one of the eight-part series before its Netflix premiere on April 5, with bonus footage not slated for small-screen airing.

KC Thompson, who runs the festival along with codirector Holly Cline and founder/director Sue Eisaguirre, explained how the Netflix collaboration came to be: “We were told by their marketing rep in New York that Netflix was doing a late search for a nature or outdoor film festival to premiere their new original series. Apparently the NatureTrack Film Festival came up in their search. The marketing firm reached out to us, and we jumped on the opportunity. We’d be crazy not to, right?”

Starting a new film festival does require a certain amount of “crazy,” and the passionate dedication to a risky endeavor, but this brave new fest has found itself validated and rewarded right out of the gate. After the inaugural event a year ago, the NatureTrack festival won the “Best in Fest” award in the Best Charitable Film Festival category at the FestForums expo at the Hilton Santa Barbara Resort last November.

Discussing the fledgling festival’s run so far, Thompson said, “While it was enthusiastically received in 2018 by locals and visitors both, it was new, so we were relatively undiscovered. This year we took our sales online, which gives us much more visibility and muscle in terms of reaching out of the area and enabling people to plan ahead.”

The festival grew organically, out of Eisaguirre’s formation of the NatureTrack Foundation in 2011, designed to “introduce more school children to the outdoors through cost-free, curriculum-aligned field trips all over Santa Barbara County,” said Thompson. What began with 600 students in year one has grown to more than 4,400 kids participating in NatureTrack field trips in the 2018-2019 school year, discovering the natural wonders in our midst.

Eisaguirre’s interest in outdoor film festivals led her to concoct one in the 805. “The Santa Ynez Valley seemed an ideal and idyllic location to launch a nature-focused film festival,” said Thompson. “And in fact, it is the first nature film festival in S.B. County —which is surprising, given our worldwide fame as the birthplace of Earth Day and the modern environmental movement ​— ​and the only one between San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

In the dense program this weekend, highlights include Pete McBride’s eagerly anticipated Into the Canyon, the acclaimed climbing doc Free Solo, the elements-geared The Human Element and Cory Trepanier’s Into the Arctic: Awakening, which is slated as Saturday’s NTFF Spotlight Dinner feature. Thompson asserted that “2019 is something of a step-up from last year in terms of greater marquee value in many of our film blocks.”

Among area connections, there will be a demonstration of infrared cameras by the Goleta-based company FLIR, and a screening of the film Natural Flow by Santa Ynez Valley–based teen filmmaker Boston Jade Fitzpatrick. National sponsor support now includes help from REI, FLIR, Montana Canvas, 4ocean, Final Straw, and MPOWERD.

As a general MO for the NTFF, Thompson summed it up this way: “We want to maintain an emphasis on nature and impart the euphoria that being out in nature inspires in all of us when we get outdoors and explore the natural wonders of the world. We definitely want to stay true to our mission of ‘igniting passion for nature through film.’ As such, we have tried to search out a balance between somber and serious conservation content with films that offer a balancing and hopeful perspective on environmental crises facing human life on the earth. We want audiences to see and learn about positive programs, solutions and progress being made by people all over the world, including our filmmakers.”


The NatureTrack Film Festival takes place Friday-Sunday, March 22-24. Films will screen at three Los Olivos venues: St. Mark’s-In-the-Valley Episcopal Church, Gates Foss Center at Los Olivos School, and the Santa Ynez Valley Grange #644. Call 886-2047 or see naturetrackfilmfestival.org.


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