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Hamptons Life

Inaugural wildlife film festival hopes to inspire action

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Erin Geismar   Sep 21, 2010 12:54 PM

Not many people have ever seen the cotton-top tamarin of Colombia, or the hairy-nosed otter of Cambodia. Nor are they likely to have worried much about either endangered species or worked to protect them.

Christopher Gervais, the organizer of the Conservation and Wildlife Film Festival slated for this weekend in Sag Harbor, is hoping to change all that.

“Jacques Cousteau once said, ‘People will protect what they love,’” Mr. Gervais said. “By watching these films, I’m hoping people will understand these species and through education and understanding, they’ll love what they see. People need to learn first before they can choose what to protect.”

The inaugural festival of what Mr. Gervais expects to be an annual event will feature screenings at Bay Street Theatre from Friday night to Sunday of about 50 documentaries from 20 countries. Each focuses on an endangered species or a significant conservation or preservation issue. Mr. Gervais said he knew there would be a lot of interest in the festival because it satisfies a very large niche, and there is nothing like it on the East Coast.

“We got more than 400 submissions,” he said. “That’s really quite remarkable considering this is a first-year event.”

Mr. Gervais, of Manhattan, a lifelong conservationist and wildlife enthusiast, will also take the festival to South Carolina, Arizona, California and Colorado this year. He said the films range from shorts up to 30 minutes long to 30- to 90-minute feature films, including multiple world premieres. He believes the festival is filling a void in conservation-minded circles, and while he expects plenty of interest from people in related fields, he said the festival will also appeal to anyone curious about wildlife locally and around the world.

“The people coming to this festival are very conservation-oriented, coming to see what other conservation groups are doing around the world,” he said. “But for others, perhaps, they are just interested in seeing what’s out there. With the Gulf oil spill, people are very interested.”

Mr. Gervais said he suspects the recent oil spill will be a hot topic throughout the festival. The keynote speaker, Fabien Cousteau, who will host a question-and-answer session at the opening reception Friday from 6 to 7:45 p.m., just returned from the gulf and will go back on Sunday after the festival ends. Another filmmaker, Landon Lott, just finished up shooting in New Orleans for his documentary screening this weekend, “Skimming the Surface,” which will shed light on the early damage of the oil spill.

Betsy Berry, who helped organize the festival locally, said she thought the East End would be an appropriate place for the festival because of its history of hosting other film festivals and because local residents are concerned about the environment.

“This was the perfect place because of our history of concern for preservation,” she said. “It’s so beautiful here, when you look around you see birds, deer, beaches, pine barrens—it’s a process of preservation that you can actually see.”

Mr. Gervais said the Group for the East End will show its film, “Faith in a Seed,” a 13-minute short on conservation on the East End and the group’s efforts to protect farmland and forests from being developed.

Many of the filmmakers will be traveling to Sag Harbor to host Q-and-A sessions after their films are screened, Ms. Berry said. She said she has also received calls from environmental, marine biology and forestry colleges from up and down the East Coast that have expressed interest in entering student films and in having students attend the festival.

“I think it will be a relaxed environment,” she said. “But everyone will get their questions answered; I think everyone will be satisfied.”

Tickets are $15 per film session; and $85 for the Friday night cocktail party and opening reception, at which Mr. Cousteau will speak. Part of the proceeds from the opening reception will benefit Mr. Cousteau’s foundation, Plant a Fish. Tickets can be purchased at the Bay Street box office, 725-9500.

A complete schedule of films can be found at wildlifefilmfestivals.com. For more information, call Ms. Berry at 265-1655.

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