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Using Film to Inspire Activism 

Want to help make your community more environmentally friendly? Well, you may want to consider attending the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival, hosted by the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, where you can gain knowledge on taking action.

Thanks to the efforts of an educational nonprofit organization called the South Yuba River Citizens League, Tucsonans can gain awareness about continuing conservation efforts.

SYRCL originated in 1983 as a rural, grassroots campaign to defend the South Yuba River from proposed hydropower dams. The organization now resides in Nevada City, Calif., and has expanded into an energetic community volunteer group that revolves around societal outreach.

"In 2003, we were looking for a festival to help build awareness, and we successfully launched what is now the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival," said Susie Sutphin, the festival's tour manager.

Originally, the festival solely took place in Nevada City. "After a few environmental organizations contacted and asked about a tour package, we really liked the concept, and decided to take initiative," said Sutphin.

Now, the SYRCL is sharing the festival with other ecological groups nationwide.

"We don't travel to the venue," explained Sutphin. "Therefore, we need host organizations interested in using the festival for awareness and membership drives, which is where the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection came in."

With the help of clothing/outdoor-gear company Patagonia, which offers grants to organizations sponsoring the event, the tour now stops at hundreds of venues from coast to coast.

This is the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection's first year of hosting the tour. In prior years, Tucson stops were hosted by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The coalition has successfully advocated for long-term conservation of biological diversity and ecology thanks to the Pima County's Sonoran Desert Conservation plan. The coalition plans to use the festival as a tool for outreach in the community—to bring together an audience of potential activists in preservation efforts.

The issues featured in the films show how global issues affect everyone. The chosen films not only highlight environmental concerns, but also provide solutions.

"We want people to leave the venue inspired, and not only wanting to help, but actually knowing they can get involved with the organization and take action," said Sutphin.

The feature film for the festival, taking place at the Loft Cinema, is Eric Bendick's Division Street.

"This film was chosen as the feature, because it relates directly to our local Protecting, Connecting, and Restoring Landscape Connections campaign," said the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection's Gabe Wigtil. Division Street highlights the environmental challenges presented by the immense system of roads across the United States, leaving wildlife with very little natural habitat.

Other films include A Year in the Desert: Anza Borrego by Chris Pyle and Nicholas Clapp; Maria José Calderón's The Edge of the Sea; The Greenhorns, by Severine von Tscharner Fleming; and others.

Throughout the evening, members of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection will introduce the films, and share information about the work the organization has done.

The Loft Cinema will be serving, beer, pizza and popcorn, in addition to their other usual fare. A prize raffle will take place; the Loft Cinema and the coalition expect a sold-out audience of 500 people.

"The purpose of this film-festival tour is to have fun and introduce your organization to new people. It helps build bridges and allows people to learn more about what you're doing," said Sutphin. "Ultimately, the goal is to help each of the associations to reach their full capacity."

More by Kelsey Merkel

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