Wild & Scenic Film Festival comes to town

Traveling outdoors film fest returns to Wheeler and TACAW

“The Facemask” (Courtesy Wild & Scenic Film Festival)

What: Wild & Scenic Film Festival

When: Tuesday, March 15 & Wednesday, March 16

Where: Wheeler Opera House (Tuesday) & TACAW (Wednesday)

How much: $15/Aspen; $35/TACAW (food included)

Tickets and more info:

It’s a familiar, COVID-era site: walking down a city street on a windy day, a woman removes her mask to take a phone call and as the mask blows away, she watches it go.

In the new short film “La Mascarilla (The Facemask),” director Francisco Saco imagines where it goes from there – through the air, sticking to a statue, on to a car, then sticking to a statue, glomming onto a highway truck and so on. It’s a whimsical journey for these ubiquitous and disposable symbols of pandemic life. But then it lands on a beach and it stays there and we are reminded that most of these face coverings – how many have we all gone through in the past two years? – aren’t really disposable at all.

The film packs a wallop in its less than three minute running time, noting before the credits roll that some 129 million masks have been used monthly during the pandemic and that roughly 75 percent will end up slowly decomposing on beaches, parks and in oceans.

Such is the power of a well-made short film and the kinds of visual and narrative gems that the Wild & Scenic Film Festival brings on its national tour every year (well, usually every year). The always popular Aspen stops are back in-person for 2022 with two shows – different programs at each – at the Wheeler Opera House downtown and at the Arts Campus at Willits.

The films tend toward the inspiring, using the outdoors and our love of it to bring audiences together and often making a call to action. “I Am Cheo,” for example, follows a young boy who introduces himself and then goes through a series of “I Am” statements celebrating nature in the U.S. as we see hiking and backpacking,fishing and skating and bouncing from the Grand Canyon to mountain lakes and the shores of the Pacific. “I rise, I climb, I endure,” he says before the film turns and he notes all the places and things he’s identified are under threat from climate change. He then calls himself “caretaker of the Earth” and calls on viewers to be the same.

Adventure and advocacy are the centerpiece of the festival in 2022, but not all of the shorts in the lineup are so heavy. “One Star Reviews,” for instance, makes comedy gold out of the underwhelmed Yelpers taking to the web to complain about the Grand Canyon and other National Parks.

Hosted by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, proceeds from the event benefit ACES’

“I Am Cheo”

Tomorrow’s Voices program, which provides civics and environmental leadership education to local high school students.

The Willits program is focused on food, with films about family farmers, Native food sources and the effect of climate change from Craig, Colorado in the film “Craig, America,” to Costa Rica in “It’s Bean Too Hot.”

“Craig, America” will be of particular interest to Western Slope residents. It takes an unflinching look at how the small town on the Yampa River is grappling with the future as it transitions from the coal mines and power plants, expected to shut by 2020 and eliminate most of the Yampa Valley economy as it now exists.

The film strikes a surprisingly hopeful tone as subjects, planning to lose their livelihoods, look to recreation on the river, diversity and renewable energy to find new community life.

“There’s going to have to be some creative thinking from the community,” plant manager Tom Osborn says at the start of the film. “That’s a hard pill to swallow. What does it really mean? It means we do things differently. … Coal is a thing of the past as far as I can tell in the state of Colorado.”