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This weekend, don't miss the American Conservation Film Festival (ACFF) taking place in nearby Shepherdtown, West Virginia. The weekend promises to be packed with documentary films highlighting latest nature conservation efforts at home and abroad, featuring engaging discussions and even a filmaking workshop.

To give you a taste of the festival, I'm offering a preview of this weekend's festival accompanied by a glimpse into the annual Best of Fest highlights of last year's festival. We caught up with with Jennifer Lee, the ACFF's Development and Communications Director earlier today to find out all the details.

Ivan Petrov: What can the audience expect from this year's festival?

Jennifer Lee: Our audience can expect their choice of 46 very compelling, beautiful mostly documentary films on topics ranging from agriculture and food to climate change to wildlife with lots in between.  Films are arranged in thematic blocks and range from 2 minutes to almost 2 hours. As well, we are welcoming over 30 filmmakers and special guests who will introduce and speak about their films.  This adds a unique and personal dimension to the films .  

IP: What are the main highlights of this years festival (any special guests, filmmakers in attendance, new/innovative program/activities)?

JL: Our first block on Friday night - Wild, Wonderful, Endangered West Virginia - features films about two critical threats facing West Virginia - the coal mining industry and water quality.  It will include three filmmakers and two subject matter experts to answer questions from the audience.

On Saturday, at the National Conservation Training Center, where films and programs are offered on a "pay as you can" basis, we have four superb film blocks focused on wildlife and nature.  Two blocks are specially targeted to children - Block 4 for young children and Block 6 for older children.  
Three filmmakers will be in attendance for both of these blocks and a hands-on educational tool kit to teach youth about endangered species will be presented following Block 4.

This is our 4th year of our Conservation Filmmaker Workshop, where seven sessions on conservation filmmaking will be presented by industry experts from around the country to aspiring and seasoned filmmakers.  This workshop occurs at NCTC on Saturday the 24th and Sunday the 25th and is a great opportunity for filmmakers to hone their craft and network with others in the field.

On Friday and Saturday nights following the films, we welcome filmmakers and audience members to join  us at after-parties at two fine eating & drinking establishments in downtown Shepherdstown - a great chance to discuss the films and mingle with new and old friends.

IP: What are this year's most anticipated and talked about films?

JL: Merchants of Doubt is our Green Fire Award Winner - the award bestowed on the film selected as the most outstanding by our selection committee.  It is a critically acclaimed expose on the "spin industry" about people hired to confuse the public on things like pharmaceuticals, tobacco, and climate change.

Unbranded is currently among the top-ranked documentaries in the WORLD!  It is the story of four young men who adopt, train, and ride 16 wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada.  A great adventure with lots of life lessons along the way.

Cowspiracy is a chilling examination of industrial farming and its impacts on our food system and environment.

We are proud to welcome four US Premiers and three World Premiers to this festival.  It really is an incredibly strong line-up of films.

IP: Will the festival feature any discussions of the latest nature conservation efforts close to home, in Maryland?

JL: It will feature discussion of conservation efforts close to home in West Virginia, but not Maryland specifically.  One of our world premiers, City of Trees, is based in Washington, DC, and profiles the effort to put unemployed people to work planting trees.

Many of the issues addressed in the films apply to everyone - agriculture, climate change, waste and consumption, wildlife preservation - and present lessons applicable on a global basis.

Although the festival calls Shepherdstown its permanent home, this year's Best of Fest evening took place at the Frederick's historic Weinberg Center for the Arts on February 28.

The annual Best of Best event offers a lively evening of films, music and engaging discussion and serves as a good preview and introduction to the ACFF.


ACFF's Board Member Dave Kirkwood on stage for the official audience welcome.


Last year's audience award winning film DamNation documents the movement to reclaim thousands of water dams across the country in an effort to return American rivers and its inhabitants to their natural state.  


Serena McClain of American Rivers and Jim Thompson of Maryland DNR discuss dam removal and river rehabilitation efforts in Maryland.