MONTEREY — The annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival — a key outreach event for the Ventana Wilderness Alliance — kicks off this week with a virtual showcase of 14 short films exploring everything from Native American rights and the healing ability of nature to conservation successes and climate change battles.

a person standing in front of a forest: Ohlone elder Ann Marie Sayers is featured in "In the Land of My Ancestors,"  one of the short films being shown during the Ventana Wilderness Alliance's Wild & Scenic Film Festival (Courtesy VWA) Film by Rucha Chitnis

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Ohlone elder Ann Marie Sayers is featured in “In the Land of My Ancestors,”  one of the short films being shown during the Ventana Wilderness Alliance’s Wild & Scenic Film Festival (Courtesy VWA) Film by Rucha Chitnis

Ventana’s focus is on protecting, preserving and restoring the wilderness qualities and biodiversity of the public lands within California’s northern Santa Lucia Range and Big Sur Coast. The film festival is the nonprofit’s biggest outreach event, now in its eighth year.

Richard Popchak, communications and development director for the Wilderness Alliance, said the short films are part of dozens belonging to a touring collection that staff reviews and selects every year. Because of COVID-19, this year’s presentation will be a virtual event beginning Oct. 8 with a live broadcast and running through Tuesday, Oct. 13.

“We sit down and go through the films with the aim of providing a balanced program that motivates people to get involved and get inspired,” Popchak said.

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the nonprofit’s website: Tickets will allow viewers to watch any of the films as many times as they would like until Oct. 13. Popchak noted that all of the films have something that will resonate with Central Coast viewers.

For example, “In the Land of My Ancestors” is a nine-minute film by Rucha Chitnis, a South Asian photojournalist who looks at Ohlone elder Ann Marie Sayers, who has devoted her life to preserving the stories and culture of her ancestors. It will examine the effects of colonialism on the Ohlone people of the San Francisco and Monterey bay areas.

Last summer the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, part of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, closed escrow on 1,199 acres in Big Sur known as Adler Ranch as part of a $4.5 million acquisition involving the state and an Oregon-based environmental group.

Another film about the Native American experience is “Iniskim,” shot in the Blackfeet buffalo drive and inspired by a true story that follows a young girl’s journey from trauma to recovery by reconnecting with the ancient power of the buffalo.

And in “Last Wild Places: Gorongosa,” a 12-minute film by Carmen Radke, women in Mozambique have stepped up to become leaders in the preservation of wildlife in the war-torn east African nation. Their success rests on their ability to work with the local communities. Today, Gorongosa National Park has become a model of successful conservation efforts.

The touring film series originated some 14 years ago in the community of Yuba City and the efforts made by the South Yuba River Citizens League to preserve the sensitive ecology of the Yuba River watershed. Their work was noticed by Patagonia, which partnered with the league to spread the word through films of successes and challenges of other peoples, the environment and the preservation of wild places.

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