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The Gorge Impact Film Festival Faces Change With Pragmatism and Hope

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

“We weren’t really interested in any films with pictures of emaciated polar bears on tiny icebergs. We had those. They didn’t work.”

By Chance Solem-Pfeifer, Willamette Week

October 31, 2023 at 5:41 pm PDT

In a skiing and windsurfing hub like Hood River, the founders of the Gorge Impact Film Festival didn’t want to put on just “another mountain outdoor festival.” After all, in the contemporary festival landscape, there’s a nearly endless supply of handsome, well-intentioned films in which outdoor adventurers strap on a GoPro or environmental activists grieve a decimated ecosystem via drone-captured overhead shots.

Instead, festival directors Alan Hickenbottom, Leith Gaines and Sean O’Connor tried to curate a specific thesis for the festival’s inaugural year. On Nov. 4, at The Ruins in Hood River, they’ll program a day of 16 films posing the question “Now what?” with a subtitle of “Joy, Hope, and Optimism on a Changed Planet.”

“We didn’t want to be Pollyannaish about it,” Hickenbottom tells WW. “The challenges we are undergoing as a planet and society are real. But as we like to say, the planet is not going anywhere and neither are we, so what do we do?”

The directors have seen short-lived film festivals come and go in their cumulative decades in the Columbia River Gorge, so they’re striving for the organizational and logistical balance to create something sustainable. Festival director Hickenbottom has decades of experience in renewable energy and entrepreneurship; program director Gaines is immersed in Hood River’s art scene as an administrator and nonprofit director; and creative director O’Connor (a filmmaker himself) carries firsthand knowledge of independent filmmaking and the international festival circuit.

The result is a one-day slate of films featuring panthers, surfing, regenerative farming, the Klamath River, and much more. On a human level, many of the selections emphasize how the visions of driven individuals ripple into a collective impact.

That includes Paddle Tribal Waters, about Paul Robert Wolf Wilson’s efforts to prepare Indigenous youth to kayak the whitewater of the Klamath River when major dams are removed in 2024; Between Earth & Sky, about the transformative canopy science of ecologist Nalini Nadkarni, whose contagious enthusiasm and treetop research innovations evolved her field; and Ultimate Citizens, about Seattle

guidance counselor Jamshid Khajavi employing a Frisbee (among other tools) to help make sense of immigrant and refugee experiences.

“We’ve all met those special human beings that just radiate positive force,” Gaines says of Jamshid Khajavi, who will attend Nov. 4. “They can’t help themselves.”

Most of the Gorge Impact selections—picked from a pool of nearly 100 submissions—are hopeful in tone but thread a needle of bracing reality and forward thinking. “It’s sort of a glib thought, but we weren’t really interested in any films with pictures of emaciated polar bears on tiny icebergs,” Hickenbottom says. “We’re past that. We had those. They didn’t work.”

The Gorge Impact Festival also marks a long-awaited homecoming for O’Connor’s own film: Kumari: A Father’s Dream. A decade in the making, Kumari spotlights the life and work of trekking guide Jagat Lama and his mission to bring essential health care to his remote Nepalese village before and after a catastrophic 2015 earthquake.

An official selection of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, Kumari kicks off the Nov. 4 festival’s evening block of films—the first time many of its Oregon supporters will have a chance to see it. “Oh, man, I’m going to cry,” O’Connor says in anticipation of the local premiere. “It’s going to be humbling and beautiful to show my neighbors what it is.”

Nobody wants to get ahead of themselves a week before a film festival’s inaugural run, but the Gorge Impact Film Festival was 70% of the way to a sellout with two weeks to go, with the only notable hiccup being the closure of the Hood River-White Salmon Bridge the weekend of the festival.

Hickenbottom, Gaines and O’Connor say they intentionally designed this year’s event as a manageable single-day outing catering to a little more than a 100 guests. If all goes well, the long-term goal is an annual presence as Hood River’s first long-running film festival.

“Our little vision is that Hood River is overrun in one of the first weekends of November every year with filmmakers and film fans,” Hickenbottom says. “That’s what we’d love to get to.”

SEE IT: The Gorge Impact Film Festival screens at The Ruins, 13 Railroad St., Hood River, 541-308-0700, Various showtimes Saturday, Nov. 4. $30-$75.

Chance Solem-Pfeifer

Chance Solem-Pfeifer writes about film, music, books and boxing. He's the host of the genre-hopping movie podcast Be Reel, Guys.

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Source: Willamette Week

Original article here.


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