Inaugural Film Festival Inspires Outdoor Advocacy

Local filmmaker Greg MacGillivray and Hallie Jones, executive director of Laguna Canyon Foundation, talk about the importance of public lands after a screening of MacGillivray’s “National Parks Adventure.” Photo by Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell | LB Indy

Nature lovers and film buffs alike gathered at the Festival of Arts grounds last weekend for the inaugural Coast Film Festival—a celebration of the great outdoors and the importance of environmental conservation.

But unlike a typical film festival, attendees didn’t just fill venue seats—they practiced what the films preached by picking up trash at Aliso Beach on Saturday morning and enjoying Laguna’s natural areas with a hike later that day.


Photo courtesy of Coast Film Festival

“Perhaps what made the event most unique and inspirational was how we created a variety of relevant experiences beyond the films to augment the festival theme,” said Ben Warner, founder and executive director of Coast Film Festival. “Outdoor experiences included a trail hike at the James Dilley Preserve with Laguna Canyon Foundation sponsored by REI, and a beach clean up with Surfrider at Aliso Beach.”

Warner added that opening night on Thursday included a sold-out presentation by big wave surf champion and environmental activist Greg Long at Hobie, sponsored by Patagonia. The festival also hosted presentations for students at El Moro and TOW with Long, and at LBHS with advocate mountain climber Erich Roepke.

Photo courtesy of Coast Film Festival

“We curated the content (28 films, 18 speakers, 40 artists) and experiences with the purpose to engage people of all ages with stories about places from the mountains to the sea and the space in between,” Warner said. “As a showcase for films, speakers and artists, the event recognized some of the best and latest stories that inspire people to get outside and to do their part to help protect the environment for future generations to enjoy. Our mantra ‘come curious, leave inspired’ rang true over the three days.”

The festival included short film blocks at the Forum Theater on the FOA grounds, which Warner said “were a big hit” with attendees. During one such block, local filmmaker Greg MacGillivray and Hallie Jones, executive director of Laguna Canyon Foundation, talked about the importance of public lands after screening MacGillivray’s “National Parks Adventure” film, narrated by Robert Redford.

Photo courtesy of Coast Film Festival

MacGillivray told the crowd that the film was three years in the making, including about a year of research and overcoming some obstacles along the way—like getting drone access over landmarks such as the Grand Prismatic Spring.

MacGillivray emphasized the importance of the public keeping a watchful eye on the natural areas that are important to them.

“Conservation is a never-ending battle,” MacGillivray said. “The forces on the other side—profit and development—are so fierce…and if you’re not vigilant, watch out. The profit interests will get in there and get what the public should have.”

After the weekend concluded, MacGillivray said he hopes the festival will continue for decades to come—perhaps even in the form of joining forces with the Laguna Art Museum’s Art & Nature program, which occurs each year in November.

“This year‘s festival was fun, and enlightening, and brought to the community films which we would never see in any other way,” MacGillivray said. “Plus the educational programs, one of which was delivered to the two elementary schools in town, was significant in its impact.”

The festival also included Friday and Saturday evening events at Seven 7 Seven. The backdrop for the event included an art exhibit curated by Charlie Adler featuring 40 artists such as Andy Davis, Wolfgang Block and Art Brewer.

Photo courtesy of Coast Film Festival

A near-sold out crowd Friday night was entertained by the West Coast premiere of “Fire on the Mountain,” an action packed film of snowboarding, skiing and surfing with a Grateful Dead soundtrack, “Roadless” and “Winterland.” Post-screening conversations were led by Laguna local Pat Parnell with the filmmakers and subjects of the films.

Saturday night’s ocean theme began with “Endless Summer” cover artist John Van Hammersfeld’s documentary and poster signing, followed by “Transformed” and surfer Giovanni Rousseau’s talk. “Part of Water” about Ben Carlson, the Newport Beach lifeguard who died while rescuing a swimmer in 2014, “ended the festival with a sense of wonder and appreciation,” Warner said.

He thanked this year’s sponsors, partners and volunteers who helped make the event a reality.

“The first annual Coast Film Festival was a success and proved to us that the concept is a great fit for Laguna,” Warner said. “We will continue it next year!”

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