Mountainfilm Festival Comes to Ojai

World-Class Nature Docs Under the Stars

World-class nature documentaries under the stars
Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo
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For three days each May, the historic town of Telluride, Colorado, transforms into a film-viewing mecca as environmentally oriented documentaries from around the globe are screened at the town’s Mountainfilm Festival. In 2000, the nearly 40-year-old festival decided to take its world-class slate on the road with Mountainfilm on Tour.

Four years ago, Ojai was added to the circuit thanks to Tania Parker. “I loved their movies, and I got to know [the organizers], and I decided it’d be such a great fit for us,” said Parker, director of advancement for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC). The two-night event takes place Friday-Saturday, September 21-22, and is a fundraiser for the OVLC.

Held outside at Ojai Valley School’s athletic field, the event was an immediate hit. “The first year, we had 500 people, which we were beyond excited [about],” she said. “The next year, we had 1,000, and last year we had 1,500 people.”

This year, 11 films varying in length and topic will be screened, including the following:

My Mom Vala, a charming story about Icelander and lifelong fishing guide Vala Árnadóttir and her 10-year-old daughter, Mathilda, who is also learning the family trade;

Sky Migrations, which follows the seasonal migration of Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, and golden eagles migration from British Columbia to Argentina;

• and The Wolf Pack, which shows how the Braford-Lefebvre family incorporates running and outdoor exploration as a means to heal wounds and bond.

Rounding out the program are Surf the Line, The Space Within, Life Coach, Rogue Elements: Corbet’s Couloir Segment, Imagination: Tom Wallisch, Break On Through, Hayley: 90 Seconds on Fear, and Intersection: Micayla Gatto.

While the outstanding films are the primary draw, the affair offers more than movie viewing. “We have food trucks and a beer garden down at one end,” said Parker. “REI brings a big giant Jenga and has prizes …. There’s live music and a raffle, with baskets worth between $700 and $1,000. This year, we’re selling gourmet picnic bags for two or four; you get a cotton canvas bag with a branded cutting board and a knife. You can choose between omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, and they can all be made gluten-free.”

For the first time, Parker has organized a Friday-night gathering, as well, called Under the Open Sky. “It’s going to be a farm-to-table dinner, fully catered at our Ventura River Steelhead Preserve, which is this beautiful old historic stone house with these gorgeous old trees around it, and it’s right near the river,” she said. “It’s not a private event but a more exclusive event. You buy a ticket and go to this preserve, and you have dinner and watch a totally separate set of films [from Saturday’s lineup].” Q&As with Jayson Sime (How to Run 100 Miles) and filmmaker Tyler Wilkinson-Ray (2.5 Million) are also on the agenda. And the ticket gets you into the Saturday screening.

Parker’s love of film was instilled in her as a child. “My dad owned the movie theater in town,” she said. “I grew up with movies.” In 2014, the 100-plus-year-old Ojai Playhouse closed when a water main burst and flooded the interior. “Our theater’s been out of commission for four years, and so this movie night was just something I was really into, and it’s grown beyond my imagination.”

The event also helps the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy fulfill its mission “to protect the views, trails, water, and wildlife of the Ojai Valley for current and future generations to enjoy.” Of the approximately 2,300 acres of protected open space the OVLC oversees, 2,000 acres are open free for public access. “We manage 27 miles of trail in the Ojai Valley,” said Parker. “If you’ve hiked in Ojai, then you’ve probably hiked on one of our trails.”

Nearing its five-year anniversary, the Mountainfilm Ojai tour stop has proved a boon to both the community and the OVLC. “I have to say I’m really proud of it because it’s exactly what I had envisioned as a perfect Ojai event,” said Parker. “I was definitely really scared [initially to put it on]. It cost a lot of money to put this festival on, but people’s reactions were so great, and it’s just grown and grown. It’s really fun.”

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Mountainfilm on Tour takes place Saturday, September 22, at Ojai Valley School (723 El Paseo Rd., Ojai). The Under the Open Sky dinner and screening is Friday, September 21, at Ventura River Steelhead Preserve. For more information and tickets, see ovlc.org/category/events.

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