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Environmental film festival returns to Costa Mesa to spark ideas, inspire activism

A still from the 2021 film "A River Reborn," which plays Saturday at the Orange Coast Wild & Scenic Film Festival.
A still from the 2021 film “A River Reborn,” which plays Saturday at the Orange Coast Wild & Scenic Film Festival.
(Courtesy of Mangrove Media)

Locals who find themselves concerned about the impacts of climate change but don’t know what they can do to make a difference in their own communities may draw inspiration from a film festival coming to Costa Mesa this weekend.

Now in its fourth year, the Orange Coast Wild & Scenic Film Festival returns Saturday to the Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church with two screenings of 10 short documentary films focused on issues related to nature and environmental activism.

Operating under the tagline “Where activism gets inspired,” the film festival aims to spark conversations and generate ideas among those who watch the films.

Craig Spery hangs a banner Wednesday for a film festival coming to Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday.
Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church member Craig Spery hangs a banner Wednesday announcing the return of an environmentally focused film festival Saturday.
(Courtesy of Linda Spery)

“The Hunt for the Giant Asian Hornet” depicts scientists racing to stop the spread of a new invasive species, while “Shaba” tells the story of a young elephant rescued in Northern Kenya after losing her mother to poachers.

“We try and hit hard topics — these films are strong — but also give people hope there can be ways these things can be resolved,” said Linda Spery, a member of the Costa Mesa church who helped organize the first local festival in 2018.

Selections are made from a menu of productions created all over the world and submitted to a flagship festival held annually in Northern California’s Nevada City, where nearly 200 films are shown during the five-day event. Local festival organizers review submissions and build their own individual programs.

Spery said a 30-member festival committee watched 180 short films, looking for entries that caught viewers’ attention, were engaging or evocative and that included a call to action.

Filmmaker Amanda Lipp, left, with Alyssa Nolan-Cain, the subject of the short documentary film "Rebuilding Butte."
Filmmaker Amanda Lipp, left, with Alyssa Nolan, the subject of the short documentary film “Rebuilding Butte.”
(Courtesy of Linda Spery)

“The films we’ve chosen show people looking at an issue and not just stepping away and feeling like it’s impossible but, rather, joining together to do something about it,” she said. “We’ve come up with a pretty good lineup.”

The Costa Mesa festival features a matinee from 2 to 5 p.m. and an evening screening from 6 to 9 p.m. Both showings feature Q&A sessions with two of the filmmakers from the lineup. An online-only version of the festival is also available.

One of the Saturday’s speakers is Ben Kalina, a Pennsylvania filmmaker whose 2021 film, “A River Reborn,” introduces the Little Conemaugh River. Grossly overrun with toxic pollutants from nearby abandoned coal mines, the river is being restored by local organizations and activists.

Filmmaker Ben Kalina will discuss "A River Reborn" Saturday at the Orange Coast Wild & Scenic Film Festival.
Filmmaker Ben Kalina will discuss his documentary film “A River Reborn” Saturday during the Orange Coast Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Costa Mesa.
(Courtesy of Linda Spery)

“These mines were just left, and as they gradually filled up with rainwater, that water mixed with heavy metals, then traveled out of the mines and into the river,” Kalina said, describing how environmentalists used settlement funds to build water treatment plants capable of replenishing the river.

“They are making huge strides at Little Conemaugh, and there’s a lot of money in the new infrastructure to pay for mine remediation.”

Also speaking Saturday is Amanda Lipp, a California filmmaker who created “Rebuilding Butte,” which follows Alyssa Nolan-Cain, a Northern California single mother who learned how to build tiny homes for survivors of the 2018 Camp fire by watching over 2,000 hours of YouTube videos.

Participants Saturday may also meet with organizations and agencies who share the festival’s mission and values. Among them is Costa Mesa Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds, who’s attended past festivals and the flagship event and plans, in her individual capacity, to share information on local sustainability efforts.

A still from the film "A River Reborn" shows Pennsylvania's Little Conemaugh River.
A still from the film “A River Reborn” shows Pennsylvania’s Little Conemaugh River, polluted by now-abandoned coal mines.
(Courtesy of Mangrove Media)

She cited the creation of the California Coastal Act in 1976 and the formation of the Banning Ranch and Bolsa Chica conservancies as examples of citizens banding together to make huge environmental changes.

“It’s a really hard balance to express the urgency of the global issue but to make people feel empowered to make a difference,” she said. “It’s so important to share the success stories.”

Admission is $25 for the in-person screenings and $20 per household for the online-only format. Tickets can be purchased online at qudio.com/event/ocuuc-2022/register or (in limited quantities) by credit card at the door. Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church is located 2845 Mesa Verde Drive East, Costa Mesa. For more, visit ocuuc.org/events.

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