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Film Festival Honors 150 Years Of Yosemite

Feb 27, 2014
Originally published on February 27, 2014 1:13 pm

The Range of Light Film Festival kicks off today in Yosemite Valley. The festival marks the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Yosemite Grant in 1864, which established Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove and was the first land grant to protect wild lands for the public.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with festival director Steve Bumgardner about the festival’s highlights.


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This is HERE AND NOW, from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

And there is a film festival starting today at Yosemite National Park to celebrate the park's 150th anniversary. Steve Bumgardner is the festival director, and he's with us from Yosemite Valley. Steve, first of all, tell me what it looks like outside your window right now.

STEVE BUMGARDNER: Right out the way here, I can look up and see the tallest waterfall in North America: Yosemite Falls, 2,500 feet tall.


BUMGARDNER: Well, we've actually finally got a break from our long drought, and a little bit of rain is falling down. It's a pretty dramatic winter day here in Yosemite Valley.

HOBSON: OK. So tell us about this festival, and what you're hoping to do with it.

BUMGARDNER: Well, this is part of the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant in 1864, when Abraham Lincoln set this aside for protection. We're celebrating that this year, and we have a lot of different events associated with that. So the idea of doing the film festival came up. And we've got a lot of films that talk about Yosemite's past, but we've also got some new films that will actually be debuting, tonight, for example, a short film that's going to be a - making a world premiere tonight here in Yosemite.

HOBSON: Well, one of the films that's going to be shown is called "Rebels Without a Cause." It looks at a group of activists who fought developers from taking over some of the beautiful areas there in Northern California. Let's listen to a clip from the trailer.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This was a seat-of-the-pants, off-the-cuff, let's-go kind of operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Nobody thought we'd prevail in it. At the time, we were called conservationists, which is kind of a dirty word. You were the next step below a communist. And that was true.

HOBSON: Tell us about that film.

BUMGARDNER: Yeah. This is interesting. This is one of the films that's not about Yosemite, but it's a very similar story. One of the things a lot of folks don't think about is: How does a national park come to be? This film is talking about Point Reyes National Seashore, which is about four hours from here, and the history of its creation.

And it's one of those things where, again, when you go to a national park, you may not know the story behind the scenes. How did this place get protected? Who were the individuals who helped create this wonderful preserve for all people to enjoy? So it's a really neat, behind-the-scenes story of a creation of a very popular national seashore, and also an area that, you know, millions of people from the San Francisco Bay Area enjoy regularly.

HOBSON: Another one of the films is about an L.A.-based senior church group. They are African-American, and they get a chance to visit Yosemite for the first time. Let's take a listen to a clip from that.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My mother and - we - she had to work in order for us to survive. To have a vacation, a real vacation, it just wasn't for us. I didn't even allow myself to think about leaving home. This was a dream for poor blacks years ago. We were not included. We never heard of anything like this. And so to hear about it was a dream.

HOBSON: Steve, why did you pick that film?

BUMGARDNER: Shelton Johnson's kind of become famous as an African-American ranger here in Yosemite, who has appeared in a Ken Burns film, has been on "Oprah." And after seeing the "Oprah" episode with him, these ladies down in Southern California decided they wanted to see the park. And, you know, it is a really powerful film.

I just watched it again the other day as we were testing the theater, and I was reminded of what a neat story it is to see people come to Yosemite for the first time and literally be moved to tears, which this place is very capable of doing.

HOBSON: So this film festival is marking the 150th year of Yosemite. Is it in any danger at this point, or is it going strong? How would you describe the health of the park right now?

BUMGARDNER: No, I don't think Yosemite is in any danger. You know, we have concerns outside the boundaries of the park, things like air quality and climate change, that, you know, we - concerns us about what the long-term fate of some of the natural resources might be. Yosemite is a place that is very well-loved. We do get about four million visitors a year, and we are often trying to manage the balance between the visitors and the national park.

Some of the films that we're showing at the festival discuss that. There's a great film from 1989 called "Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven," one of my favorite films, that looks at that conflict between people and preservation, and tells a really fascinating story of it. So, I think Yosemite is doing pretty well.

HOBSON: Steve Bumgardner is the festival director of the Range of Light Film Festival, which starts today in Yosemite National Park in California. Steve, thanks so much for joining us.

BUMGARDNER: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: And this is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.