Missouri River Relief hosts ninth annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Local festivalgoers were ready to support Missouri River Relief while educating themselves on environmental issues, either close to home or around the world.


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As the winter weather took over the city of Columbia, Missouri, as environmentalists and film fanatics gathered in The Blue Note for the ninth annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival. This year, Kevin Tosie had the opportunity to plan the event as the operations manager for Missouri River Relief, a local nonprofit organization that hosts the festival.

“In Columbia, historically, I think we were just kinda looking for something to break up the winter madness a little bit, you know,” Tosie said. “[Missouri River Relief is] an action-oriented nonprofit here in Columbia, and for us to stay in all winter it’s kinda hard, so it developed out of that.”

Even though the festival is small, Tosie had to begin preparations for the festival early in order for everything to run smoothly. With only four paid positions through Missouri River Relief, the majority of the festival is run by volunteers.

“I laid the groundwork in August,” Tosie said. “That’s when we talked to The Blue Note about securing the venue and then November was pretty much when I started with the Wild and Scenic. We have to start pretty early watching the films and going through over 70 films and that takes a lot of time. There’s a committee that helps us watch these films and grade them and see what would be best.”

The films that are chosen by the staff and volunteers at Missouri River Relief are not based on one specific theme. However, all films are usually focused on an aspect of nature and about interesting places in the world in order to connect the audience to the mission of Missouri River Relief in Columbia and raise awareness about environmental issues. Gale Johnson, Missouri River Relief crew member, outdoor cook and watercolor instructor for Missouri River Days, has been a volunteer for the organization for eight years now and has witnessed how the festival impacts those who attend.

“There are a lot of people that feel strongly about our environment [and are] learning ways to protect it and doing things differently,” Johnson said. “That’s what they know they’re going to come see today.”

Steve Schnarr, the current director of Missouri River Relief, had the responsibility of running the audio and visual parts of the festival this year. As the director of the association, he has to make sure they make enough funds to pull off river education events, river cleanups and other recreational events. The Wild and Scenic Film Festival helps largely with fundraising most of the events that the group hosts, since Missouri River Relief only hosts activities from March to November.

“This festival helps by getting the word out to people about what we do and connect[ing] us to new people in the community,” Schnarr said. “It’s also a fundraiser to help us pull off the programs that we do on the Missouri River.”

The festival is something to look forward to in the community and is not only restricted to residents of Columbia.

“We’ve sold out of The Blue Note the last two years at 500 people, so it’s a pretty decent-sized crowd,” Tosie said. “People come from Washington, Missouri, the Kansas City area, St. Louis, so it’s not just Columbia as well. It’s really awesome to see the kinds of people that will come out in the snow. Last year there was an ice storm during the festival and we still sold out.”

Jeff Barrow, member of the original cleanup crew in 2001 and former director of Missouri River Relief, has seen how the organization started and how it will change in the years to come.

“I was on the original crew back in 2001 and we had like 300 volunteers and we picked up 30 tons of trash and it was really cool, so we decided to keep it going by forming our own organization,” Barrow said. “Without us there would be a lot more trash and litter and not just litter like plastic bottles but also like refrigerators, propane tanks, all sorts of big stuff. We get dozens and dozens of tires that wash down.”

Johnson has been on countless river cleanups hosted by Missouri River Relief and has been able to see how it affects those who participate in gathering pollution from the river.

“We’ve had all walks of life that have come to our clean up, and most of the time people are really at the end of the day extremely moved by what they have just participated in,” Johnson said. “It gives everybody a chance to get out in the river and nature and we are doing good at the same time.”

Overall, The Blue Note is in full support of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, especially since people come together to learn ways to protect the environment and make connections, Johnson said.

“The Blue Note donates this space to us for free and they make the money with the bar sales and we pay for the payroll for their employees,” Barrow said. They’re a really big supporter of ours.”

The film festival is predicted to grow in the next coming years and may even be split up into two separate days, Tosie said. Until then, Missouri River Relief continues to help the river community and community of Columbia.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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