It’s AIFF time

Fear that the world is coming to an end because of climate change fuels the passions of an environmental activist in “The Reluctant Radical,” one of many documentaries being shown during the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which opens today.
The festival runs through Monday at locations throughout Ashland and the Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford. A full schedule can be found at
The antagonists in “The Reluctant Radical” are greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and human ignorance and inaction. Ken Ward’s weapon against these foes is simple. It’s action. We see Ward, 61, an otherwise easygoing husband, father and resident of the Columbia Gorge, blocking big ships with his small boat, standing in the cold at gas stations with a sign that says “evil,” and cutting chains so he can close gates on big oil pipelines.
He does all this openly and spends lots of time in courts and jails. Why?
“It’s the end of civilization happening now,” he says in the film. “I’m trying to preserve life on this planet for us, our children and grandchildren. Arctic ice is melting, so what do we do? We go to the Arctic to drill for more oil. This is insanity. So, I figure out ways to block it. I’m thinking about my son. I’m obligated to do this.”
Americans are used to marching, calling Congressmen and writing letters to the editor, but Ward says he abandoned these responses in the ‘90s.
“Normal activism and politics didn’t work,” he says. “My activism is out of desperation. We’re still confronted with a terrible set of challenges. One is money, the influence of industries making money off the collapse of the planet. We humans are very challenged by dealing with long-term problems. We’ve got too much immediately in front of us. It’s a failure of civilization to have ecological values in how we understand the world.”
Ward is often labeled a “radical” in the media, but rejects the title, noting, “They are the radicals, not me.”
The film, directed by Lindsey Grayzel, shows at 6:40 p.m. today and Sunday at Ashland Street Cinema. Ward and Grazel will be there to answer questions after the show.
Showing with it is “Symphony for Nature: The Britt Orchestra at Crater Lake.” This film is richly engaging and mysterious, with the musicians joining with drummers and chanters of the Klamath Tribe in its millennia-old homeland, now a national park, to make sounds you never dreamed you would hear.
Through countless generations of Klamath Indians, Crater Lake has been a place for healing and prayer, they say, as they create a serenade to nature with 130 Britt musicians. Says Music Director Teddy Abrams, “So much is about our relationship to nature. … For the tribe, it’s so deeply spiritual.”
The film, directed by Anne Flatte, mixes in photos and tales of geological and native history along with William Steel’s long, heroic efforts to preserve this national treasure from progress. Musicians, obviously touched by the experience, make comments that verge on poetry.
In the Locals Only “On the River, On the Land” category, you’ll find an amazing bouquet of films:
“Bigfoot’s Lament,” by Puppeteers for Fears, is a rib-tickling charmer, depicting Sasquatch as a neurotic recluse who has no friends and whose big hangup is his giant feet. Including some scenes in Lithia Park, it’s directed by Aubry Hollingshead, with lyrics and music by Josh Gross. It’s performed by Scott Howard and the Teen Wolf Experience.
In “Ashes of Time,” director Ryan Niemi creates a captivating and beautiful fast-motion immersion in many scenes of Southern Oregon and Northern California, most in nature. Sunrises, sunsets, cloudscapes of Mount Shasta and Mount McLoughlin, rain in the desert, lightning episodes over the valley, the dreaded summer smoke rising from dry forests, richly flaming forests in nighttime close-up, actors on stage. Viewers will revel in seeing so much of the land they love, in all her moods, packed into four minutes.
In “Bee Girl,” directed by Natalie Faye, we have Sarah Red-Laird narrating her life passion and love affair with the world of bees. Troubled by school and relationships, she found joy in nature — and in realizing her “environmental ethic.” Beekeeper, educator and conservationist, she founded the “Bee Girl” organization to further those goals and has given a TED-x talk and presented to thousands of people. The film is shot at her hive haven on East Nevada Street outside Ashland.
In “Protected: A Wild and Scenic River Portrait,” author and river-lover Tim Palmer takes viewers along many rivers that empty into Oregon’s Wild Rivers Coast, helping his audience fall in love with the peace, surrender and beauty of the waterways saved by a landmark act of Congress in 1968. Palmer has written many river books and shot this 12-minute film, directed by Jeremy Monroe and David Herasimtschuk. It’s an uplifting reminder that we live in the region that has the most protected rivers in the country.
In “The Road Between Us,” noted Ashland photographer Christopher Briscoe shoots a moving paean to the love between father and son, as they bicycle 58 days from Santa Monica to Chicago on or near romantic old Route 66.
He is 64. Son Quincy is 24. This seems the bouquet and bright bow tied around their lives together. Dad says he’s not sure he has it in him, but the important thing is they forget about the distant goal and embrace each moment, and creating memories that will live forever in this poignant, 14-minute film directed by Joanne Feinberg and Kathy Roselli.
It could be a crisp travelogue, but the men pull back the curtains on their emotional journey, too, making themselves vulnerable and their tears visible to the camera. You forget they are on their way to Chicago, they realize, because they are already where they wanted to go.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at

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